Agenda item

Agenda item

Tourism Review Group Update

This item will provide the Committee with an update on progress with recommendations flowing from its recent Tourism Review Group.

Councillor Mary Clarkson , Cabinet Member for  the City Centre, Covered Market and Culture and  Matt Peachey, Economic Development Officer,  have been invited to attend for this item.

The report will follow as  a supplement.


Tom Bridgman, Executive Director Development,  introduced the report by reminding the Committee of the profound effect Covid-19 had had on the visitor economy and the City centre with footfall down by some 39%, contributed to in some  part by many peoples’ current  reluctance to use buses. Implementation of many of the review group’s recommendations remained partial, this was principally due to the limited capacity of the Economic Development Team which had had to divert its attention, temporarily, from work on the City Centre Vision and the Economic Development Strategy (which will frame the response to the matters raised by the review) to focus on the more immediate demands of responding to Covid-19. Going forward, this work would seek to address the recovery of the Visitor economy at a County level through the Economic Recovery Plan which OxLEP is required to deliver to central Government by the end of the year.

Matt Peachey, Economic Development Officer, said the review had been and would continue to be valuable in framing the City’s economic strategy. He went on to highlight some key points from the report.

The Chair noted that not all of the Cabinet responses were covered in the report and was anxious that the spirit of the original recommendations should not be lost.

The Committee recognised the particularly difficult challenge of addressing these matters in the present environment. 

It was intended to brief members on the City Centre Vision before Christmas. Publication and engagement with the wider stakeholder groups was likely to be best timed after Christmas.

Budget discussions to confirm what bids might be made to support this work were ongoing. Given the significance of the challenges facing this sector, efforts would be focused on the countywide economic recovery plan (and ultimately central Government funding) referred to above.

It was noted that the “Rediscover Oxford” scheme had been beneficial. It was agreed that a future version of it (one was proposed for Christmas) would benefit from refined messaging to emphasise the measures taken to ensure the safety of visitors.

While not one of the original review’s recommendations, it was noted that the previously rehearsed arguments for a cable car in the City might be better framed as a tourist attraction rather than, principally, as a transport option.

In relation to tourist coaches coming into the City it was hoped that they would be subject to the same emission requirements as those vehicles based in the City.

The community toilets scheme had been recognised as being important for visitors (the absence of which was a recognised factor in visitor dissatisfaction). The City Centre Manager had been in touch with local businesses about the scheme. There was awareness of a similar scheme in Bath and it had been flagged as something which may be brought forward as part of  the City Centre Strategy.

Recent applicants for Covid-19 Discretionary Grants had been asked if they paid the Real Living Wage (RLW). While the Council is clear that the aspiration is for employers to pay the higher Oxford Living Wage (OLW), asking the question about the RLW has provided a starting point for further engagement with those employers.

Experience Oxford had made a significant contribution to the City’s visitor business. The recent closure of its Visitor Information Centre as a result of the Council’s decision to cease its funding was regrettable and the Committee was keen to see how its contribution might be replaced. Experience Oxford was being encouraged to move to a more commercial model but experience elsewhere suggested that visitor information services could rarely operate successfully on a solely commercial basis. The future was likely to be best served by a stronger digital presence.

Persuading residents that the City centre is a safe place to enjoy remained a challenge. Some of the initiatives already taken had proved helpful (e.g. use of the Re-opening High Street Safety Fund; pedestrianisation of some areas; and use of  tables and chairs outside) but as we moved into Autumn and a new phase of behaviours (less people on holiday for example) and less welcoming weather, further thought would need to be given to this. In relation to the use of tables and chairs businesses had, so far, and understandably, been reluctant to invest in such things as coverings to protect customers from the rain and heaters, due to the temporary nature of provision. It was to be hoped that as businesses became more confident in the potential of outdoor seating as a model for the future so they would make a greater investment. Such outdoor seating had to be licensed and seeking agreement for those licences to extend into the evening required a good working relationship with Thames Valley Police, who, as statutory consultees in relation to licence applications, might not naturally support such applications.  

70% of people coming into Oxford do so by bus and so it would continue to be important to ensure that buses were (and were perceived to be) safe.

While the City did not lend itself to the provision of open spaces in the public realm, efforts would be made to secure them for the enjoyment of and use by the public. The ambition would be to expand the pedestrianisation of some streets. Work would also be done to encourage more overnight stays.

The Chair noted the continuing importance of addressing how best to deal with the matter of tourist coaches, drop off and layover. It was explained that the necessary discussions were continuing and it was, indeed, a standing item on a regular monthly meeting with County Council representatives.  A survey to gather evidence to inform the best way forward had been delayed because of the virtual cessation of tourist coaches as a result of Covid-19 but it was hoped to take this forward in 2021. In the meantime, more immediate interim means of taking the pressure off coach parking in St Giles were being explored.

The Committee was very supportive of the proposed development of open spaces and, in particular, of taking that opportunity to provide a sense, for all residents, of ownership of the City which, it was felt, was often lacking. This might be taken forward as a co-production project which could include, among others, young people. This proposal chimed with an element of the recently agreed Council Business Plan, which included an objective to “make the City centre to a wide range of people.”  In the longer term, the development of Oxpens provided a significant opportunity to provide high quality public realm open spaces.

It was noted that a number of colleges had erected a marquees with open sides to eat meals outside but under cover which might provide a model for future public spaces.

The Committee noted the potential for Low Traffic Neighbourhoods to contribute to the provision of open spaces.

It was agreed that a further update would be brought to the Committee in due course.

The Chair thanked the officers for their contribution to this important debate.


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