The cluster of empty shops in Oxford’s city centre is the result of a “perfect storm” of council policies, a business leader claims.  

This week, more than 50 empty retail units were documented by the Oxford Mail in the city centre.

Oxford’s vacant units are on streets such as High Street, Queen Street and Cornmarket as well as in the Covered Market and Clarendon Centre.

READ MORE: Oxford's closed shop units

Oxford Mail: Just some of the empty units closed in Oxford city centreJust some of the empty units closed in Oxford city centre

Many of the units are in a state of disrepair, with cracked windows and graffiti and old posters covering the store fronts.

Jeremy Mogford, managing director of The Oxford Collection, said: “Oxford is really suffering from, what I call, a perfect storm.

“Council policies have been very short-term and there has not been a long-term vision for the business side of the city centre.

“It is all very ‘knee-jerk’, short-termism from the council.”

Oxford Mail: Jeremy Mogford. Picture: Oxford Mail ArchiveJeremy Mogford. Picture: Oxford Mail Archive

Mr Mogford said while the understands the council’s attitude to traffic - because of the congestion at peak times - he believes the car parking charges are very high and put people off visiting the city.

“A message has gone out from the council over the years, which has resulted in people thinking ‘Oxford is too difficult to get into, I will never be able to park, it is just not easy enough,” he explained.

Mr Mogford also feels the Westgate Centre was a “catastrophe” for the city centre.

He believes it “sucked the life out of the traditional main shopping streets.”

Oxford Mail: A selection of empty units in the city centreA selection of empty units in the city centre

“My message always been that the councils, the city council and the county council, must embrace business. They cannot take it for granted.

“There has to be policies that attract shoppers, the people who are going to spend money,” he added.  

The documentation of the city’s empty units by the Oxford Mail comes as the Levelling up and Regeneration Bill was announced by Prince Charles in the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday.

READ MORE: Oxford has nine empty shops on just one street

The new bill will seek to force landlords in England to let out empty high street shops.

Oxford City Council stated the current vacancy rate in the city centre is 4.9 per cent,  is below the national empty unit vacancy rate is 14.1 per cent according to the British Retail Consortium.

Oxford Mail: Oxford City Council leader Susan Brown. Picture: Oxford Mail ArchiveOxford City Council leader Susan Brown. Picture: Oxford Mail Archive

Leader of Oxford City Council and cabinet member for inclusive growth, economic recovery, and partnerships, councillor Susan Brown, said: “Having done everything we can to support businesses through the pandemic, we’re now focused on the future and ensuring Oxford city centre continues to thrive.

“We recently consulted on our City Centre Action plan to make Oxford City Centre a great place to work, live and do business. 

“We are currently making final changes to the plan to reflect the excellent suggestions we got back as part of our consultation and are working on delivering it.

“The plan is based on a range of themes. These include supporting retailers through this period of national change in shopping habits and improving the experience of the city centre for the people who live, work, study and visit here.

Oxford Mail: There are a huge number of empty units in the city centreThere are a huge number of empty units in the city centre

READ MORE: Oxford is getting a new LGBTQ+ nightclub

“This will create a supportive environment for local businesses to thrive.

“In the coming months, we will be setting up task groups with key partners to implement the plan.”

A spokesperson for Oxford City Council said: “As of end of March 2022, there were just 29 of Oxford’s 591 ground floor units actually available to rent.

“The number of vacant units may look higher when walking around the city centre but 49 of these are in the process of being refurbished, redeveloped or being negotiated on to take up a tenancy.”

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