BUSINESSES and organisations from across Oxford are working with council leaders to bring empty units back into use.

Representatives of more than 30 local businesses and organisations, including those with experience of retail, food and drink, culture and co-working have been invited to put forward ideas for short-term, ‘meanwhile use’ of empty units following a council-run event on the issue.

Those attending were also asked to think about the potential for using buildings outside the city centre that are empty short term before work begins on regeneration projects.

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The council has also written to a number of landlords and agents with vacant city centre units to ask if they would consider ‘meanwhile use’ while work continues to get them let longer term. A number have already responded positively.

Oxford Mail:

Mary Clarkson, cabinet member for culture and city centre, said: “We’ve been working hard with landlords to help fill vacant retail units, and we’re looking at a range of ways that we can keep our shopping areas vibrant and varied places to visit.

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“We know that online shopping is changing the way people are using our high streets, and we’re working with landlords and businesses to help them change the way they fill the space and keep people coming back.”

Oxford Mail:

One aim is for the council to act as a facilitator, connecting potential users like small businesses, co-worker groups, cultural bodies, retailer collectives and others, with city centre landlords that have a temporarily empty unit.

By reducing the risk of a long contract they can test the success of a central location and may move to future pop-ups, a Gloucester Green stall, a Covered Market unit or a city centre property.

Oxford Mail:

While the UK High Street Index for footfall is down 2.6 per cent year on year, Oxford has seen a rise of 4.1 per cent.

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Shopping in Oxford has been affected by the opening of the Westgate Centre in 2017 which led to well-known chains relocating there from streets like Cornmarket.

The former Moss Bros menswear store near Carfax remains boarded up and there are other vacant units nearby.

Oxford Mail:

Last year the council established the Oxford City Centre Taskforce – which includes city centre businesses, local authorities and landlords – to work in partnership to develop the city centre.

Oxford Mail:

A council spokesperson said: “At the last official published count in March the number of vacant retail units in the city centre was 72 – 12.4 per cent of the total 579 retail units.

Oxford Mail:

“This figure includes units in The Covered Market, The Clarendon Centre, Gloucester Green and the Westgate.

"Since then a number of units have changed hands and others are listed as ‘under offer’, so that the council believes the next official count, due in mid-September 2019, could show a reduction in the total number of vacant units.”