30, St Giles, Oxford OX1 3LE
Tel. (01865) 513243 Fax (01865) 513243 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
11th April, 2018
by ROX – backing oxford business
Time for Positive Change and Action in Oxford
Our wonderful city of Oxford is facing many changes, some for the positive but some, which, if not addressed quickly, will see a decline in its overall appeal.
Under the guardianship of the City Council, this once magical shopping centre has been left to decline through neglect and mismanagement, whilst the Council has continuously sought to increase the rents to unrealistic and unfair levels. The Council has boasted that it is pumping £1.6 million over four years to refurbish the fabric of the building. This is all very well, but the maintenance of this listed building should have been spent over the last twenty years. This money may well spruce the building up but the cosmetic look of the building will not address the fundamental flaws which have now reached a tipping point. Commercial viability depends on the right mix of retail being encouraged and chosen for the pitches in the first place.
Having agreed a strategy for the selection of type and balance of tenants, the council has to appoint a dynamic, incentivised individual to attract the right type of retailer to take up units in the market and to promote the virtues of such an historic and covered shopping venue. There must be a policy to attract local, start-up/pop-up businesses. There must be a flexible policy on rentals charged to specifically encourage the young entrepreneur with a good idea who would like to find a small affordable pitch to start trading. We all know from our travelling experience that there is much to be learned from other covered markets around the UK and overseas.
An alternative approach would be for the City Council to gracefully accept that they are not capable of exacting these urgent necessary changes. If it does not have the will or capability then the council should consider using others to resurrect what should be the jewel in the retail crown of this city.
In addition, the council must restrict the competition to the Covered Market. By allowing and encouraging periodic markets in Broad Street they, together with the growth of small chain supermarkets, have gradually sucked the ‘fresh food and produce’ lifeblood out of our original, beautiful and unique Oxford Covered Market.
Appeal to Landlords
Now that the new Westgate has finally opened, there is obviously increased competition and pressure on independents and trading outlets in the more historic parts of the city.
It is now time for the colleges and the City Council, the important retail landlords in the city, to adopt a new refreshing approach which can be witnessed mostly in London. The Howard de Walden Marylebone Estate along with the Cadogan Chelsea Estate and Grosvenor Westminster Estate all have a policy of selecting tenants who balance their portfolio of properties and complement each other to ensure a thriving retail offering. They adjust their expectations of rental income from individual tenants to achieve a balanced retail offer. This could easily done by all the Oxford landlords in our city cooperating to ensure we minimise charity shops and the explosion of cheap souvenir type shops. We need a code of practice from landlords that encourages the right sort of tenant that will help to provide a distinct range of small but quality shops.
Oxford has a huge challenge to find ways to resolve this problem, which, at the moment, does no favours for the appearance of our beautiful city centre or the rough sleepers themselves.
It is important to distinguish between the organised and professional rough sleepers who can earn up to £200 per day tax free and all of the genuine homeless.
Many of the sleepers have complex issues with which they are struggling. There are many homeless and health agencies involved in trying, admirably, to find accommodation and appropriate support.
However, the current state of affairs is unacceptable, with businesses daily having to clear up doorways of detritus, including the occasional needle, before they can open their premises.
Something has to be done more urgently, with the needs of the rough sleepers being the first priority but the state of the streets should not be ignored.
The Environment and Cleanliness.
The advances in vehicle technology to help bring about a cleaner environment are bounding along at quite a pace.
Many of us from our personal experiences or from those of friends and relatives will know what it is like to suffer from asthma or similar respiratory problems and will welcome progress to reduce pollution in our streets.
However, the nonsensical plan to pick on six central streets in Oxford to become “zero emissions” in 2020 needs to be well and truly kicked into touch.
We feel that it is almost mischievous to suggest that a scheme can be introduced in just two years’ time. Clearly, this will not be possible because, in spite of the advances made on zero emission vehicles, the range of vehicles required to service the disparate types of business and institutional premises in the selected streets will not be available.
In addition, no consideration seems to be given to the fact that whether organisations or individuals, not all will be able to replace their current vehicles so quickly. Businesses, including bus companies, have to commit budgets on their fleet vehicles several years ahead. Even the two councils trying to bring this in will have major problems financing new fleets of zero emission vehicles over the next five years.
What we need instead is serious dialogue about how best we can reduce the levels of pollution in the city centre over the next few years, while everyone can plan their future vehicle needs for when appropriate technology is in place.
Recently, the City Council has taken steps to improve the cleanliness of the city centre.
To consolidate this effort, ROX and The Oxford High Street Association, working with OxClean and the Oxford Civic Society, has launched Spotless Oxford to encourage businesses and organisations to keep their frontages clean. We hope more will take this up.
Positive signs but a long way to go, with a new bout of unsightly graffiti springing up not helping the situation.
Management of Tourists
Oxford depends on tourists for many of its jobs. Unfortunately, because we do not welcome and manage them as well as we could, they are too often seen as a nuisance rather than an asset.
While Oxford, with so many wonderful attractions, is hopefully becoming more of a destination for overnight visits, we cannot ignore the needs of those who come on day trips.
We need to treat our coach visiting tourists with more respect instead of having them turfed off and picked up in limited spaces in St Giles and then complained about by those who should be doing something positive about it.
It has been clear for many years that Oxford needs a new purpose built general bus hub located near the station. If this dream scenario was to occur, then we believe that the existing Gloucester Green Coach Station would offer the perfect central location for the drop-off and pick-up point for coach borne visitors, as seen in so many places elsewhere. It has public toilet facilities, rather scarce in other parts of the city centre, and a small mix of retailers and restaurants for those arriving or awaiting departure. Also, it should be possible to vary tourist walking routes from there so that we don’t have them all crowded on the same pavements at the same time.
Transport in and around Oxford City Centre
The current work being carried out by Phil Jones Associates and ITP has presented some new ideas, stirred up some old ones and even emotions from some quarters.
However, although it would be great to see far less buses in the High Street, we have reservations about putting so many down Holywell Street and through Broad Street or round an outer loop, which would be a great disadvantage to bus users, with longer walks required.
As we have suggested under the heading “Management of Tourists”, the two councils must seriously consider the merits of a new purpose built transport hub at a new railway station, where facilities for long distance, London, airport and local buses, as well as the trains, can provide an opportunity for easy changes for passengers.
The suggestions for improved pedestrian and cycle routes need to be worked upon so that, before too long, people can feel safer in their experience of visiting the city.
Also, thoughts need to be given to the idea of “jump on jump off” single deck electric vehicles liveried in an appropriate soft blending colour, with suitable facilities for the less abled and parents with young children for quick and accessible transport across the city centre. These could be free of charge with, we firmly believe, appropriate sponsorship.
Also, we think that the terms of reference for the consultants were too tight as they did not allow for possible, part but significant, solutions to Oxford’s city centre problems found beyond the ring road.
The Cowley Branch Line, often spoken about elsewhere, could provide a quick transport link to the city centre, to science and retail parks, pleasure parks, including Oxford United’s ground, and, with supporting shuttle buses, to hospitals. It could reduce the quantity of buses in the High Street and St Aldates. This option should be given greater priority.
New Park and Rides, like the one envisaged near Eynsham, could greatly reduce congestion in and around Oxford.
With some of the changes taking place, now is the time for Oxford City Council, through stronger planning policies, to help restore some of the former glory to some of our historic streets. Cornmarket, where St Michael in the Northgate, Grade A, and twelve grade II listed buildings are almost lost amongst the bland concrete and brick frontages of the late 20th century is one that needs rescuing, as does Merton Street with its famous cobbles in disarray.
So, we strongly urge all who care about our city to work together to help make this city something we can enjoy for all of the right reasons.
Message Ends 11/04/18
Contact for further information: Graham Jones ROX as given above