Traders in Oxford have blamed the development of the Westgate Centre, the lack of parking and the introduction of LTNs as reasons for a trend of business closures.

Hundreds of businesses in Oxford shut their doors for good last year, with new figures from the Office for National Statistics showing around 560 ceased trading, up from 440 the year before.

It comes as more than 345,000 businesses shut in the UK in 2022, the most since records began in 2002.

Founder of Independent Oxford, Rosie Jacobs, believes the development of the Westgate shopping centre was one of the contributing factors to closures in Oxford city centre.

She said: “The problem with the Westgate is that it has had an impact on the other streets and sections in the city centre.

“It has drawn footfall away. It is a shopping centre that is too big for the city that it is in. It always feels like a slightly incongruous space.

“It means people drive to the Westgate and shop there and don’t venture out.”

The shopping centre denied it was hitting trade, saying it had brought shoppers into the city by attracting new brands.

Ms Jacobs also said the cost of living crisis has impacted businesses but believes shoppers still want to shop locally.

She said: “It’s tough out there. We have got the cost of living crisis and, in Oxford, we have got challenges in terms of the transport network. That has impacted businesses.

“But actually, if you look at local businesses and social enterprises particularly, they are better doing nationally than the bigger chains.

“I think there is still an appetite to shop local and support local businesses. The Covered Market has got some really exciting new independents opening the market. The offer there is definitely more enticing than it has been for a long time. “

During the summer months, the Covered Market had 310,283 visitors in 2023 compared to 297,302 in 2019 and only 238,243 last year. 

She added: “I think people are more conscious of how and where they spend their money, wanting to invest in the local economy and really thinking about bang for their buck.

“People are conscious of every pound that they spend at the money so they want to know they are effectively investing in something that is going to support the local community and economy. “

Clinton Pugh, the owner of restaurants Café Coco and Kazbar also highlighted the Westgate shopping centre as a problem for city centre businesses. He said: “In the centre of town, why all the businesses are closing is because it is a backlash from when they introduced the Westgate centre.

“If you bring in a new shopping precinct and provide the largest and cheapest car park in Oxford, it makes everyone from out of town go there. “

Mr Pugh, the father of actress Florence Pugh, has long been a critic of the county council’s LTNs, which were introduced in May 2020 and has previously put up banners outside Café Coco in Cowley Road.

He said that national problems such as interest rates and the Covid pandemic have contributed to business closures but LTNs have “accelerated” the problems.

 “Cowley Road won’t be the same since the LTNs as it has been if all these businesses continue to close,” Mr Pugh said.

“If you are going to do it, let’s do it properly. Let’s not pretend by doing one sweeping action that is pushed through in lockdown when LTNs were brought in with no proper thought and they haven’t gone back and reassessed.

“If you were creating a sports car you don’t create the first one and say that’s done you would tune. You tweak it and make it better. “

He claimed businesses on Cowley Road had been left to “deteriorate and die”.

The lack of parking has also been criticised with calls to make Park & Ride services cheaper.

Ms Jacobs said: “You want people to come into the city so you want to make sure there is a lower barrier to entry and Park and Ride needs to be better value for money to entice people to do that rather than drive into town. We are a city in the middle of a really big county which is actually quite rural so it is difficult for people to get us into Oxford.

“There needs to be more support for the bus companies to provide a really good service so getting the bus seems like the better option.”

Labour Oxford City Council leader Susan Brown said: “Consumer behaviours are changing across the country, but we are working hard to ensure local areas and businesses can adapt to these changes.

“Recent data for the city centre shows that Oxford’s footfall continues to increase on last year. The increased footfall also shows that people are not only visiting the Westgate Centre, but they are taking in the wider city. 

“While our vacancy rates are still above pre-pandemic levels, they are moving in the right direction.

“In the most recent count, there were 32 available units that are not under negotiation or refurbishment compared to 39 earlier this year, 49 in October 2022 and 20 in March 2020. Oxford’s vacancy rate is below average.

“The Covered Market recently announced four new businesses and continues to report footfall above pre-pandemic levels."

An Oxfordshire County Council spokesman said: “LTNs are intended to make residential streets safer and more comfortable for walking, wheeling, and cycling.

“They are designed to work with other measures to reduce the need to travel by car and improve journeys made by walking, cycling and public transport. We continue to monitor the LTNs on a site-by-site basis and evaluate their impact.”

A spokesperson for Westgate Oxford said: “Westgate Oxford is a leading retail destination that offers guests a unique day-to-night experience that compliments the popular retail scene in the city. We take our responsibilities to helping to generate commercial and social benefits for the city of Oxford very seriously – driving in new visitors, supporting new businesses, and creating value for our business partners and for local communities.

“In 2022/23 we supported almost 1,500 local jobs through our brand partners and supported a total economic contribution of £65m to the local community in Oxford. Landsec Futures, our £20m social impact fund, will enable us to continue to grow this, working with those within the community who are already working hard to make a positive difference.

“We’re also pleased that Westgate has helped to welcome 78 new brands to Oxford city centre. We’re working with our brand partners to offer something new and different in our available units, driving tourism and footfall for the city to benefit from.”