Two of this week’s stories shine a light on how different two nearby towns can be.
Most property stories about Oxford these days seem to be about science and laboratories and so the fact Mission Street has two schemes which will replace retail units in Botley Road with modern lab space, perfectly illustrates a very recent trend.
Retail is fading fast and demand for laboratories has rarely been so great so while those who like face-to-face shopping may be disappointed, it can be hoped the new labs will lead to greater and more widespread benefits.
Meanwhile in Swindon the empty Debenhams may now become a StoreAway self-storage centre. A massive prime town centre shop will likely be home to a series of lock ups.
The problems faced by these two centres couldn’t be much further apart. In Oxford, the city is so wealthy, housing is unaffordable to many, while in Swindon housing is much more affordable but the town offers little to attract the visitor.
The Designer Outlet Village is the envy of many but it’s probably too far from the town centre, even though it has the historic Bristol Street tunnel under the main line so visitors can walk there largely unimpeded.
Oxford has both the Westgate Shopping Centre, full of big brand names, and the Covered Market, full of smaller or independent ones. Its Clarendon Shopping Centre is giving way to lab space in a new mixed use development.
But sadly in Swindon the ailing Brunel Shopping Centre offers little. Kimmerfields may be an impressive regeneration scheme but as far as attracting visitors is concerned, it’ll hardly be noticed outside the town.
While Oxford is best known for its university, Swindon is perhaps best known for a large roundabout. Swindon even lost out on a bid to house the head offices of the new Great British Railways. Given the town’s history, this is a travesty.
But the Government is striving – and polls suggest, failing – to pay back the north of England for switching allegiances from Labour to Conservative in 2019 and so Swindon, the true home of railways, missed out because of transitory politics.
Oxford city centre is bustling with students and tourists while high-end science parks proliferate around the outskirts. Swindon is in desperate need of a focal point. Some Arthur Daley-style lock ups in the centre of town really aren’t the answer.
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