Oxford city centre has 'bounced back' this summer after being hit harder than most UK city centres during the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Recent footfall data from Oxford City Council has found that the city centre saw a 14.6 per cent increase in summer footfall this year, bucking the national trend, which saw an average 0.3 per cent decrease across the UK. 

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The data shows that: 

  • Between June 2023 to August 2023, Oxford city centre saw an increase in visitors compared to the same period in 2022, with July close to pre-pandemic numbers and August surpassing them.  
  • Eight and a half million people visited the historic city centre between June and August this year, compared to just 7.5m in 2022. Approximately 3m people visited the centre in August 2023, compared to 2.5m in 2022 and only 2.9m in 2019.  

In addition to the increase in visitors, the city centre has had 26 new businesses open this year and 35 are currently under offer or negotiation in the city centre, Covered Market and Westgate. 

The city council said its latest figures related to the city centre and the Covered Market while the Westgate Centre would report on its figures separately.

Oxford Mail: Susan Brown, leader of Oxford City Council and cabinet member for inclusive economy and partnerships, said: “This summer’s rise in footfall shows Oxford city centre continues to be a thriving destination, despite national trends and despite the challenges of the Botley Road Bridge closure.  

"It’s been wonderful to see the city’s streets and businesses busy over the summer and we have a lot of exciting projects planned - including the redevelopment of the Covered Market and the Clarendon Centre – that will help to keep the city centre vibrant.”

Oxford Mail: The Covered Market

The 2023 vacancy rates in the city are still above pre-pandemic levels but are moving in the right direction, the council has said.

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In the most recent count, there were 32 available units – units that are not under negotiation or refurbishment – compared to 39 earlier this year, 49 in October 2022 and 20 in March 2020.   

Oxford has a 5.6 per cent vacancy rate. This is below the southern (12.5 per cent) and northern (25 per cent) vacancy rates. 

The city centre's increase was also reflected in the Covered Market’s footfall, which has been consistently ahead of pre-pandemic levels since April this year.  

Oxford Mail: During the summer months, the market had 310,283 visitors in 2023 compared to 297,302 in 2019 and 238,243 last year.  

This increase in footfall coincides with Oxford City Council’s trial of extended opening hours which launched in May 2023 following overwhelmingly positive feedback in a 2022 consultation.  

A variety of traders have been participating in the trial, which sees the market open until 11pm Thursday to Saturday.

There are currently only three available units in the Covered Market.  

The extended opening hours trial is part of the city council’s wider plans for the redevelopment of the market and city centre.  

The expected opening of The Store hotel in Cornmarket, formerly Boswells, is expected to give the city centre another boost.

Oxford Mail: Cornmarket StreetIt comes as traders in the city centre are having to contend with the closure of Botley Road at the rail bridge as a result of Network Rail's £161m upgrade of Oxford station.

A county council plan to introduce six new traffic filters across the city after October 2024 is being opposed by major traders' groups in the city.

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About the author 

Andy is the Trade and Tourism reporter for the Oxford Mail and you can sign up to his newsletters for free here. 

He joined the team more than 20 years ago and he covers community news across Oxfordshire.

His Trade and Tourism newsletter is released every Saturday morning. 

You can also read his weekly Traffic and Transport newsletter.