Banbury’s town centre has started to look a little bit different thanks to the work of the town’s co-ordinators, and they are not finished just yet.
With the news that Waitrose has announced plans to bring a 29,000sq ft store to Southam Road last week, and planning permission already approved for the Castle Quay Shopping Centre extension, it is now more important than ever to boost the town centre to make it more attractive to shoppers and visitors alike.
And work is going on behind the scenes to make that happen. Neil Wild and Iain Nicholson were employed by Cherwell District Council as town centre co-ordinators in April.
They were employed on a 12-month, part-time contract to lead the project and work with existing town centre partners such as the Old Town Association, the Chamber of Commerce, Castle Quay Shopping Centre and Banbury Town Council.
Their brief also included helping to identify any gaps in the town’s retail and leisure offer, promoting Banbury to would-be new town centre businesses, and helping to develop initiatives that encourage people to shop in Banbury town centre rather than going to other places.
Since their appointment they have been hard at work trying to revitalise the town and make good use of units that are currently lying dormant in the High Street and other town centre areas such as Parsons Street and Broad Street.
And they continue to get interest from parties wanting to set up in town.
Less than a year on from being put into their new roles, an audit of empty and available units in Banbury’s town centre by Cherwell District Council showed 53 units in May and 40 in October. The figure has continued to drop.
During that time new businesses have set up shop in Banbury. The ex-Peditank unit in Market Place was refurbished as the new cafe The Whistling Kettle and opened in November, while the former Veritas wine bar on North Bar has been transformed into the Little Amsterdam Cafe and cookery school.
Other notable openings include Games Workshop in Church Lane, Lucha Burrito in High Street and Naomi’s Cafe Bar – Art & More on Bridge Street, which regularly hosts open mic nights in the town.
Another empty unit to be brought back to life is in Parsons Street, where Simon Hammans opened his specialist outdoor clothing and equipment business freshairjunkie in October.
The unit was the former Bernard Smith’s curtain shop and it had been empty for more than six years.
And though work to open disused units in the town continues, other businesses have had to close their doors.
Formal menswear specialist Moss Bros on High Street closed on February 21, with a spokesperson confirming the closure due to ‘standardisation’. The move leaves some customers having to pick up outstanding hire orders from the next nearest branch in Leamington.
It has also been announced this week that Edinbugh Woollen Mill, which has been trading in Banbury for about 30 years, is set to close on March 23.