ONE quarter of units at a shopping centre are empty as the high street continues to struggle.

Currently, five out of the 20 units at Marriotts Walk in Witney are empty, with the coronavirus pandemic also playing its part in adding to the woes.

The Debenhams at the shopping centre closed in January, adding to Dorothy Perkins, Evans and Wallis, which all closed last year.

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Simon Jones, centre manager for Marriotts Walk, said it was not the only retailer facing difficulties.

He said: “It will not be news to say that high street retailing is currently facing significant challenges.

“These difficulties are not unique to Marriotts Walk and are being experienced throughout the UK.

“The list of retailers struggling to survive against online competition coupled with the recent Covid-19 lockdown is very long.”

Mr Jones however remains hopeful for the future of the shopping centre and said negotiations with interested parties regarding the empty units are ongoing with all of them.

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“During the lockdown, our Marks & Spencer store stayed open, its food hall generating record sales,” he said.

“As soon as the lockdown restrictions were eased, Caffè Nero, FatFace, Trespass, Phase Eight, Hobbs, New Look, JoJo Maman Bébé, Crew Clothing, The Shop, Subway and Whittard of Chelsea all opened their doors again to the public of Witney.”

Meanwhile, Cineworld showed films on its five screens again at the end of July.

Mr Jones said the owners of the shopping centre had recently commissioned a survey asking the Witney public what it wanted to see replace Debenhams, Dorothy Perkins and Monsoon, after those stores did not renew their 10-year leases last September.

“The results of this can already be seen with The Shop Witney, a new local business run by two Witney businesswomen that has already attracted a great deal of positive comment and interest,” Mr Jones said.

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“Negotiations are ongoing with several local and national companies which see opportunities to open successful businesses at Marriotts Walk.

“The owners are keen to maintain and enhance the scheme’s reputation as the best shopping location in Witney and are reflecting the current challenging climate in attractive rental deals.”

Mr Jones also said that a significant amount of money has recently been spent refurbishing the multi-storey car park.

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, West Oxfordshire district councillor Luci Ashbourne urged the public to support local businesses.

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She said: “That the unoccupied units on Marriotts Walk remain empty is indicative of the struggles the high street faces.

“This combined with the unprecedented challenges the pandemic brings, means it is more important than ever that we shop local wherever possible, in support of the businesses doing all they can to survive, the people employed by them, and the vibrancy of the town itself.”

It was reported last week that clothing chain M&Co is set to close three of its Oxfordshire stores, including its shop in Market Square.