On Tuesday 24 October Oxford’s new £440M Westgate shopping centre finally opened to the public. The Cherwell Life went to visit.
The centre is a big improvement on the old development and has been many years in planning. I liked the roof terrace which provides a new and unexpected vista of Oxford’s famous dreaming spires. The cornerstone and anchor for the new Westgate is a John Lewis department store on 3 levels. There is also a large Primark on 2 levels.
If you enter the Westgate from Bonn Square and Queen Street (as I suspect most pedestrians would have been used to) you continue into the centre on the Upper Ground level. Much of the new development is initially hidden from view as the bulk of the new centre is in the area where the old multi-storey car park was. It is a bit like an iceberg, as the initial appearance belies the scale of what lies inside. Turn a corner and another lower Ground level of shops opens up ahead. The area is light, spacious. The scale of the development is impressive.
Unlike the old Westgate, the new centre is not enclosed – you don’t have to enter through doors – and whilst mostly covered it is also open and airy. There will be free access to the centre 24/7. At Middle Square there is access onto Castle Street which itself is much improved.
To make transport arrangements more suitable and avoid possible delays, changes have been made to bus stop locations with the opening of Westgate Oxford. Stops E1-E5 and M1-M6 are on Castle Street and you can now catch the 300 or 400 park&ride buses to/from Redbridge, Pear Tree, Thornhill or Seacourt.
I have long been a fan of John Lewis and it is great news that a long last local residents don’t have to make a long trek outside the county to the likes of Reading, Milton Keynes, High Wycombe or further afield. Oxford’s John Lewis store is at the far end of the centre. On 3 levels we entered on the Ground level (there is a second entrance on the Upper Ground level). I was asked to give some feedback to John Lewis management as they were keen to gauge customer reaction.
The store is light and airy yet still manages to pack a lot in. It is not as big as some of their other stores (you won’t find vast numbers of TVs or DSLR cameras or top end Mac computers here) and I guess there have had to be some compromises on the range of goods displayed. The furniture displays draw you in and are beautifully presented. Yet the store contains everything you need without being overwhelming – I’d say it is compact, altogether very Oxford! And a great addition to the retail offer.