Thames Tap consultant and long-term resident of Oxford, Hugh Blaza, prompted discussion among professionals when he spoke out about the future of the city. He summarises the responses and looks at where to take this debate.

In the Thames Tap edition 218, I suggested we should be thinking radically about how the centre of Oxford could be reconfigured to provide residential accommodation.

The piece provoked a great deal of interest – more than 200 views directly from the newsletter and 2,000 on LinkedIn.

And, with an extremely supportive response from a number of readers, it appears there’s a lot of enthusiasm for seeing how the concept of giving a significant part of the centre over to residential occupation could be achieved.

Added to which, the Oxford Times has profiled the proposal of Cllr Michael Gotch to pedestrianise the centre part of St Giles.

And then we’ve had the widely publicised report from the Social Market Foundation. Its  conclusion is that the decline of the traditional high street cannot be reversed by policies which seek to turn the clock back to a time before online shopping, particularly as the trend towards it has been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Undoubtedly, there are any number of ideas for how the centre could be used. And balancing all of the potential uses of the buildings – for hotel accommodation for the visitors we want to attract, the retail opportunities, offices, laboratories – will be no mean feat.

But as one reader put it: “…a dead city centre will retreat us back to the 16th Century of high walled colleges and very little else happening.”

And the reader who wrote: “I’ve lived here nearly 20 years and central Oxford has become increasingly ‘meh’ over that time,” echoes my views perfectly.

And I’ve lived here for 50 years and have watched with dismay as the interesting, traditional shops have closed down to be replaced by so many tawdry souvenir outlets. 

At one of the last gatherings before lockdown, Experience Oxford’s Cultural Platform, broadcaster John Simpson was the main speaker. His description of Oxford city centre: “It’s all a bit scruffy and it doesn’t do justice to its history.”

So, in order to give the topic some real and positive momentum, we at UK Property Forums will be canvassing ideas, identifying the potential obstacles and looking for inspirational suggestions. In doing so, we hope to pull together the views of as many influential people as possible.

This is our challenge: to match the city to its reputation. And to my mind, bringing a permanent residential community into the centre will breathe new life and longevity, out of which symbiotic businesses will flourish.

Tell us if you want to be involved and in the meantime, watch this space..!


Image: Steve Daniels / Cornmarket Street in Oxford

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