The leisure extension of Castle Quay Shopping Centre will 'transform' Banbury town centre, the council leader said at a ground-breaking ceremony for the project today (Thursday, July 4).
Cherwell District Council's lead member for finance Tony Ilott and a representative from contractors McLaren were applauded as they dug up the first bit of soil for the £60m project.
Work can now begin on Castle Quay 2, as it is described, which will feature a Lidl supermarket, a Premier Inn and a multi-screen cinema plus several restaurants and bars.
Council leader Barry Wood said: "We're going to transform the middle of Banbury and use the canal which we've never utilised properly before."
The council took on the project in December, 2017, after the previous shopping centre owners, Aberdeen Standard Investments, pulled out of the scheme.
Cllr Wood said the £60m is not being spent 'glibly' and is supported by council finance officers and all councillors.
The scheme has faced delays, with work meant to have started before Canal Day 2017, and last year's event being cancelled and uncancelled so the council could continue developing the plans.
But the council leader said it would be 'important for the future of Banbury and it's community'.
"Yes it's taken time for this project to start, very often these things do take time but that's why Cherwell District Council intervened in the marketplace here and we're making sure we do this ourselves," he said.
"I think this place will act as a magnet for the surrounding hinterland of Banbury and bring more people into the town as a whole."
A big part of the project is to make the most of the canalside for recreation, especially with the plans to convert the old BHS store into a food/drink/entertainment space to be called Lock29, which will have seats by the water.
Cllr Ilott said: "Up until now, we have turned our backs on the water whereas this will bring this area alive and bring a lot more people to the town centre."
Cllr Ilott disagreed with the notion that CQ2 would cause the high street to be neglected, saying: "The idea behind this is to bring more people into town who, while they're here, will go, 'oh I wonder what is up there, I'll go and have a look'.
"And Banbury actually has quite a low rate of empty shops compared to similar towns."
Cllr Ilott was confident there would be enough parking spaces, especially with Lidl, and the existing multi-storey would be modified with wider spaces and electric charging spaces.
He added: "People have been waiting a long time so the excitement has been building, we were talking about a multi-screen cinema some years ago and where are people going to shop as supermarkets disappear.
"Well they should be excited about that because a supermarket is coming back into the centre of town and a multi-screen, high-tech cinema is coming here, super-duper restaurants that people actually want to go to, they can have a drink, they can sit by the waterside - this is going to be the destination point in this area."