NEW shops, a cultural quarter and protecting the town’s heritage have been picked as priorities in a blueprint for Witney town centre.

Extra stores in the Woolgate Shopping Centre and Welch Way are part of the future vision.

West Oxfordshire District Council’s draft town centre strategy, revealed last night, sees High Street and Welch Way maintained as Witney’s main shopping centre.

Officials hope to maintain a “strong and diverse shopping core” with a mix of independent retailers and have no plans for out-of-town units.

They also aim to create a “cultural quarter” in Corn Street and Market Square, encouraging cafes and leisure facilities to thrive.

The historic character of Church Green is also protected, with a policy of restraint on commercial spread, and a market in Market Square maintained.

The draft document is part of the council’s core strategy, which outlines where houses, transport links and infrastructure will be built until 2026. If adopted, it will affect whether planning applications get approval.

Witney Town Centre Forum, a group of business leaders, schools and councillors, has been consulted on the plans.

Chairwoman Lesley Semaine said: “I am quite excited about the whole plan. The council is certainly going in the right direction.

“It is not going to change the face of Witney. It will keep it as a market town, and it will benefit everyone – people visiting, the general population and businesses.

“If we have more shops, especially more independents, it will just add to the interest of Witney.”

Councillor Brenda Churchill, chairman of the town council’s planning and development committee, said: “It really is a good vision for Witney.

“I like the idea of encouraging more specialist shops because it will make Witney different and make people want to visit.”

The document aims to create a “phased, organic” extension of the Woolgate Shopping Centre and at Welch Way, where plans to convert Merlins and an area behind it have been mooted instead of creating a major new shopping quarter.

Officials hope to use cash from developers to fund more paved pedestrian areas, benches, bins, signs, shop fronts and cycle parking.

But the document does identify threats from the expansion of nearby shopping centres, including Oxford’s Westgate redevelopment.

Councillor Warwick Robinson, district council cabinet member for strategic planning, said: “It continues the policy we have followed in the past of maintaining the vitality and vibrancy in the centre of Witney.”

The document will be taken to the council’s cabinet on March 14 and, if approved by councillors, will go out for a final round of comment in late May.

The council then hopes to take the core strategy to the planning inspector in late July or August and adopt it in March 2013.