Oxford city centre top five in UK for specialist attractions - new report

Published: Monday, 28th October 2019

Oxford has the fourth best city centre in the UK for specialist attractions such as museums, galleries, theatres, bars and restaurants, a new report has found.

The Centre for Cities report found that, as a proportion of population, Oxford’s city centre had more specialist attractions than the capitals of Scotland and Wales – and Cambridge, which came fifth.

Only London, Manchester and Liverpool were ahead of Oxford, respectively.

Oxford has a wealth of specialist amenities, including the Ashmolean Museum, Pitt Rivers Museum, Museum of Natural History, Museum of Oxford, Story Museum, Modern Art Oxford, Oxford Botanic Garden, the Bodleian Library, Oxford Castle, Christ Church Picture Gallery – and wide range of theatres, cinemas, bars and restaurants.

The report, ‘What’s in store? How and why cities differ for consumers’, found that the strength of city centres across the UK was largely due to the strength of the city’s wider economy.

The report said: “There is a clear relationship between the economic strength of a city and the diversity of its amenity offer,” adding: “[The report] challenges the idea that we can revive the high street through direct interventions such as business rates cuts, online sales taxes, or cultural initiatives because these fail to address the fundamental reasons these economies are struggling: a lack of consumer spending power.”

Oxford has one of the highest performing economies in the UK. Last year Oxford was named as the top UK city for economic success and wellbeing of the community for the third year in a row, and separately as the best city in the UK for Growth Potential.

The number of vacant units in Oxford fell to 11.2% (65 of 581 units) last month. But 17 of those were 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. A further 16 were under development and so not currently available to let, including those within Jesus College’s £36m redevelopment of Northgate House in Cornmarket Street.

While the UK High Street Index for footfall is down 2.6% year on year, Oxford has seen a rise of 4.1%. The opening of the £440m Westgate Oxford brought 85 new retail units to Oxford city centre in 2017.

The City Council provides a range of measures to support city centre businesses. Alongside owning the Covered Market and 66 high street retail units, the City Council also facilitates £2.3m in Small Business Rates Relief to 743 businesses and leads the Oxford City Centre Taskforce to bring together businesses, local organisations and landlords to promote city centre vitality.

In July, the City Council also introduced a new initiative to help bring empty units back into use more quickly by connecting businesses and organisations with the landlords and agents of vacant city centre units.

However, research by the Centre for Cities found that, as a proportion of all commercial property in the city centre, Oxford had significantly more retail than the UK average – 48% compared to 26%.

The new Centre for Cities report concluded that city’s should remodel city centres away from a reliance on retail, adding: “The priority for high streets should be to attract jobs, rather than improve the retail offer.”

The City Council is currently working in partnership with Nuffield College on the redevelopment of Oxpens to bring new office space to the city centre, and with OxLEP, Oxfordshire County Council, Network Rail and University of Oxford colleges on the redevelopment of the area around the train station.

Meanwhile, the University of Oxford is looking to redevelop Osney Mead Industrial Estate to bring new high-skilled jobs to Oxford city centre.          

“Oxford has such a fascinating city centre, combining ancient colleges and renowned museums with modern shops and restaurants – and all of it tucked between large parks, open spaces and waterways.

“We’re all so lucky to live in such a beautiful city, and it’s lovely to see some metrics proving what we all already know. For any Oxford resident who has not visited the city centre for a while, I would recommend revisiting and exploring this wonderful city on your doorstep.

“The report shows the importance of maintaining a strong local economy to support a vibrant city centre, and that is something Oxford City Council is working hard on.

Councillor Mary Clarkson, Cabinet Member for Culture and City Centre