A COUNCIL says there are 'very few' empty units in the shopping centre it owns despite the Oxford Mail reporting there were more than 15 vacant shops this summer.

In June, there were 18 shops in Castle Quay shopping centre that had closed down.

But Cherwell District Council - which owns the site - stated in its latest statement of accounts review that 'We have very few vacant units within the centre and we actively manage the space'.

Residents in Banbury have seen a dramatic drop in the amount of brands at Castle Quay - with all of its flagship stores now closed.

But despite this, the council says tenant interest in the centre 'remains positive' and footfall is 'exceeding the national average', with 104,309 visitors in the first week of September.

It added: "Some stores within the centre may appear void but are actually vacant and contractual agreements remain in place with the tenant so we are unable to do anything with those units until the agreements cease."

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Green Councillor Ian Middleton has hit out at Cherwell after details revealed in the council's annual financial statements show that the shopping centre is now worth £21.6m - less than a third of what the council paid for it three years ago.

The council already owned a 15 per cent share of the site when they paid around £58m for the remaining portion in 2018.

Mr Middleton, who is a business journalist and retail analyst, says the new waterside development - which consists of a Lidl, leisure complex and Premier Inn - with an estimated cost of another £60m, takes the council's overall investment in the site to around £130m.

It has been touted by Cherwell's Conservative leadership as being the key to revitalising the shopping centre, but the councillor thinks otherwise.

He said: "The supposed revitalisation of the town that was promised as part of the original purchase of Castle Quay in 2018 shows little sign of materialising. Instead we have a vanity project that's unlikely to provide much benefit to the people of Banbury whilst everyone in Cherwell pays for it through higher council tax and reduced services.

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"Given the council's fragile financial state at the moment, I would think there would be more concern over how this will impact on next year's budget."

Cherwell said: "Banbury is in a much stronger position than many other towns because of the council’s decision to purchase and develop Castle Quay.

"The development of Castle Quay Waterfront as a mixed-use destination will sustain and enhance the economic, social and environmental performance of Banbury and increase its attractiveness to businesses, investors, residents, and visitors, whether for leisure, tourism, culture or to work."

The council's statement of accounts review also says it 'has entered into a partnership with Happerley, a new venture which embraces and encourages the UK Food industry to validate provenance of food' at its Lock 29 food court in the former BHS unit of Castle Quay.

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However, in November 2020 Happerley's licence ceased 'following the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic'.

Mr Middleton also said that although he was supportive of the new waterside development, it seems to be a ‘pale shadow of what we were previously promised’ as there will be less restaurants to make space for a bowling alley - something that Banbury already has.

He added: "It really makes very little sense.

"The building of a hotel also seems incongruous when Cherwell is crying out for affordable housing. That site could easily have been used for a socially rented apartment block rather than another chain hotel."

The waterside development willl open in Easter 2022 feauring an eight-screen cinema, 10 lanes of bowling and a sun terrace overlooking the canal. 

Cherwell said: "This will be a unique, premium offer which we know there is demand for in Banbury."

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