Impact of the Westgate Shopping Development
The Committee has requested a report on the impact the re-opening of the Westgate Centre has had on the local economy and the visitor experience. The following additional guests have confirmed their attendance as invited speakers:
· Brendan Hattam, Westgate Shopping Centre General Manager
· Elaine Philip, Oxford City Council Markets Manager
· Graham Jones, Oxford High Street Association
Councillor Altaf-Khan left during this item.
The Economic Development Manager spoke to the officers’ report which provided a high level overview of how the opening of the centre had affected the local economy. He drew attention to a number of matters, including but not limited to:
· The local economy was affected by a number of factors of which the opening of the Centre was but one.
· The shift to online shopping has a profound effect on ‘high street’ shops.
· Business overheads and rates put significant pressures on retailers.
· The development had resulted in a significant increase in rateable value and increase in income for the exchequer and local government (from c. £9m to c. £27m).
· The centre employs c. 2,000 full time equivalents (3,600 headcount), generating c. £29m in wages.
· Footfall increases had exceeded expectations and the travel plan put in place as a planning condition was seen as a success with, among other things, an increase in bus and Park and Ride use.
· Vacancy rates of retail units elsewhere in the City had increased slightly.
· There were positive signs in terms of planning applications/investment around the City Centre (outside Westgate) with, for example, applications for two hotels and proposals relating to the reconfiguring of Jesus college buildings facing Cornmarket and Market Street, and the recent addition of Metrobank in Queen Street.
· The overall picture was a positive one but with residual concerns over the number of vacant units. Officers would keep the position under review and continue to work closely with stakeholders.
Brendan Hattam and Sara Fuge gave a brief presentation to the Committee drawing attention to a number of matters, including but not limited to:
· The Centre was intended to provide a “premium retail experience”, embracing leisure as well as shopping opportunities, in a safe, secure and well managed environment.
· The car park’s 1000 spaces, was a reduction on the number previously available and was part and parcel of the travel plan which appeared to be working well.
· Footfall in the first year (19m) far exceeded the level of the old Centre and exceeded the estimate (15m) for the first year.
· 97.3% of units were now let or in solicitors’ hands.
· 75% of the units were new to Oxford or second stores
· Aesthetically the building was a vast improvement on its predecessor, with a great deal of attention having been paid to its permeability and space, with an eye, among other things, to its use for occasional civic, community and commercial activities.
· Oxford’s place in the hierarchy of shopping destinations had been falling. The Centre was reversing that trend.
· The Centre was acting as a catalyst for further regeneration of the West End.
· The Centre had provided employment to 94 people who had previously been unemployed.
· The Centre worked with Oxford Homeless Pathways and Aspire as two of its partners
· Only one unit had closed since the opening. There was an understanding that a new centre would take three years to settle down and ‘mature’.
The Markets Manager spoke to the Committee about the position of the Covered Market. The retailers operating from it faced significant challenges as a result of consumers’ changing habits such as the overall preference for buying food from supermarkets. While rents were sometimes a factor in decisions to terminate leases, some recent high profile departures from the Market were driven by other commercial realities. A recent survey had indicated a 5% increase in footfall compared with 2012. The presence of many and varied traders could be very successful and she and her colleagues were working closely and collaboratively with the Market traders to maximise that potential. She noted the many of the traders were expressing concern at the possible consequences of the introduction of a zero emissions zone.
Graham Jones said that the Centre had given the City challenges as well as opportunities. He drew attention to the significant number of food outets in the City and questioned whether that would be sustainable in the longer term. Many shops had relocated to the Centre and Cornmarket appeared to becoming more of a transit route than a shopping street as a result. The street scene in many parts of the City was becoming a source of great concern. The Council had gained income from the Centre and some of that should be deployed to compensate for the negative consequences of the Centre. Business rates were a great concern and the Council should take a lead in seeking to address that.
In subsequent discussion the following matters were discussed by the Committee:
· The desirability of the Oxford Living Wage (OLW) was shared by all those present. Brendan Hattam explained that while Landsec (the management company) paid the OLW and could encourage tenants to follow suit it could not require them to do so. It was noted that pay rates in the Centre for retail staff were already amongst the highest in the UK.
· Consideration should also be given to the application of the OLW to those employees/companies providing “behind the scenes” support to the front line retailers
· It was agreed that the Centre would explore the possibility of a reward/recognition scheme for those tenants who do provide the OLW.
· There were concerns about the practicability of the introduction of the zero emissions zone. Would a low emissions zone be more realistic and practical?
· At the planning stage, retail consultants had advised that the Centre was likely to have significant knock on consequences for retail activity beyond the City centre; data about that would be helpful.
· Extended closing times for the Covered Market were being explored with its traders .
· A planning application was underway to improve the public realm aspect of the Castle complex in parallel with exploring a range of different users for the area.
· The car park was rarely full (regarded as a good thing in the context of the travel plan) and an eye would be kept on the desirability of an alternative use for some of that space if occupancy levels remained low.
· The car park spaces designated for electric vehicles were sometimes released for use by those who were, for example, pregnant or disabled.
· The use of the Centre for cultural events was welcome one had recently been had in partnership with the Ashmolean.
As a consequence of the discussion the Committee made the following recommendations to the CEB:
Recommendation 1: That CEB considers what further opportunities are available to promote and encourage the take up of the Oxford Living Wage among employers located in the Westgate Centre.
Recommendation 2: That CEB carries out a survey of the 125 retailers in the Westgate Centre to understand how many are paying the Oxford Living Wage as a minimum to all their staff.
Recommendation 3: That CEB engages with local retailers in the wider city to understand where improvements to the public realm are most needed, and that these are incorporated into the City Council’s scheme of works.
Recommendation 4: That CEB carries out a survey of retailers in secondary retail areas in the City (outside of the city centre) to understand what impact the redevelopment of the Westgate Centre has had on local businesses.