New figures show city centre has fewer empty shops

Published: Thursday, 26th September 2019

The number of vacant units in Oxford city centre looks set for a significant fall according to new figures from Oxford City Council.

The Council is working with landlords and agents on a city centre vacant units project, which started with an updated audit of those currently empty. Landlords and agents with vacant units were then approached to check on progress towards letting. Where units looked like being empty for some time, the landlords and agents were asked whether they’d consider allowing short term ‘meanwhile use’ of the unit or, if that was not possible, if they’d accept an offer to work with local businesses and organisations on improving the look with window or hoarding displays.

Latest figures on vacant units

The last published city centre count in March 2019 showed 72 vacant units, including the managed centres at The Clarendon Centre, Oxford Covered Market and The Westgate. With 579 ground floor units in total the percentage of vacants was 12.4%.

The Council’s audit six months on shows the total number of vacant units at 65, which includes two additional units because one of the existing vacants has been split into three. This makes the September 2019 percentage figure 11.2% of the now 581 total units.

But of those 65 vacant units, 17 are either close to terms on a new tenancy being agreed between their landlord and a would-be occupier, or under offer or currently occupied on a short term / pop up basis. If all those progress to lettings, the number of city centre vacant units will be down by a third.

A further 16 of the September 2019 audit of 65 vacant units are under development and so not currently available to let.

City centre investments

As well as renewed lettings activity, Oxford City centre is also seeing significant investment in the period following the opening of the £440m Westgate centre. This includes:

  • The £36m Northgate scheme on Cornmarket / Market Street by Jesus College
  • The £3.1m investment by Oxford City Council in The Covered Market
  • Development and renovation work at the former NatWest Bank and Mitre sites on High Street
  • The new Courtyard by Marriott hotel on Paradise Street and the new Premier Inn being built in Paradise Square
  • Plus refurbishment works by incoming shop or restaurant tenants including on Cornmarket and Queen Street, in the Clarendon Centre and Gloucester Green, and on High Street.

Council’s “meanwhile use” approach

The Council’s city centre management team is working with landlords and agents of the currently remaining 32 vacant units to explore the possibility of short term / pop up / ‘meanwhile’ uses while work continues to get them let. A first set of six proposals from local businesses and organisations who attended the Council’s meanwhile use event have been shared with landlords and agents.

Where the vacant units will remain empty for some time and meanwhile use is not an option, the Council is encouraging landlords to take steps to improve the look of the unit. It’s shared the first set of 10 offers from local businesses and organisations to create window or hoarding displays on vacant units with all the landlords and agents it’s working with.

 “City centres are facing a challenging business environment across the UK, but Oxford is doing well in tough times. Today’s figures are testament to the hard work being done by the landlords and agents of vacant Oxford city centre units to reach agreement with new occupiers Their willingness to work with the Council to explore potential meanwhile use options, and offers from local businesses and organisations to improve the look of empty units, is key to keeping footfall up to help secure long term leases and keep the centre thriving.”

Councillor Mary Clarkson, Cabinet Member for Culture and City Centre