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Westgate revamp to be scaled down

February 11, 2011
10:30am Thursday 10th February 2011By Chris Buratta »

OXFORD’S Westgate shopping centre will get a revamp but it is likely to be a scaled back version of previous plans.

The Crown Estate and Land Securities Group PLC consortium is discussing a new scheme and will meet Oxford City Council planning chiefs next week.

The Oxford Mail understands it will be smaller than the £330m scheme agreed in 2006 for a mall, garden building, market building and John Lewis store, because of the economic downturn.

The regeneration of the site, which stretches from Queen Street to Oxpens Road, is seen as a major catalyst for economic growth in the city.

And its importance has grown in recent months with news that a proposed retail development in St Aldate’s has fallen by the wayside.

The Carlyle Group last month withdrew its plan for a £22m open air shopping centre between St Aldate’s Tavern archway and Queen Street.

The Westgate consortium has been conducting a feasibility study into options and will meet the city council on February 21 to discuss revised options and timescales.

The council, which owns land that part of the extension could be built on, will have the final say.

Donal McCabe, spokesman for the Westgate Oxford Alliance Partnership, which represents the two developers, said: “We are wholly committed to improving the Westgate Centre.”

Colin Cook, the councillor responsible for city development, said Oxford could still pull in major projects but he expected a smaller plan for the Westgate, which opened in 1972.

He said: “Realistically, I am not expecting [the developers] to do something on the same scale as what went previously, but I hope they will aspire to something close to that size.

“Clearly we want to see a redevelopment of the Westgate and the renewal of that whole West End area.”

Oxfordshire Economic Partnership director David Doughty said the project was vital for the city.

He said: “It’s important it is a good scheme and well designed, but it is important it goes ahead as we have already seen the St Aldate’s scheme fail. We cannot afford to keep delaying.”

Graham Jones, spokesman for traders’ group Rox, said: “It would create renewed interest from shoppers both in Oxford and across the area.

“Seeing movement will be great news.”

The redevelopment was first mooted in 1999 and planning permission was renewed in November, although councillors expected a redesign.

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BUSINESS LEADERS GATHER IN OXFORDSHIRE

November 30, 2010

More than 100 business people from across the county attended the annual Oxfordshire Business Leaders Event hosted by the Oxfordshire Economic Partnership and sponsored by Unipart Group

Each year, Oxfordshire Economic Partnership brings together the leading business people from across the county for a formal dinner to recognise the achievements of our partners in creating a stronger economy for Oxfordshire.

Unipart Group, one of Europe’s largest independent logistics and consultancy companies, sponsored the event which was held in the restaurant at the company global headquarters in Oxford.

Guest speaker for the evening was Dr. Ralf Speth, chief executive of Jaguar Land Rover. Dr. Speth has over 22 years experience in the European auto industry, including senior roles at BMW, the Premier Automotive Group of Ford Ltd and Linde Group.  At the dinner, he championed the role of UK manufacturing and stressed the importance of aligning research and development between universities and high value manufacturing companies.

In welcoming guests, OEP Chairman Frank Nigriello said that OEP has a critical place in Oxfordshire in representing the voice of business bringing together organisations like the Institute of Directors, the Federation of Small Business, Oxfordshire Town Chambers Network and many others.

“In the last two years under David Doughty’s leadership as chief executive, OEP has brought business people together to step in when our local authorities struggled to get things off the ground,” he said.

“The Innovation and Growth Team, for instance, was brought together by OEP as was the county’s Learning and Skills Partnership.

“We supported the city council and helped to set up the Destination Management Organisation to grow tourism in the county

“And in the midst of recession, we organised Job Clubs to help those recently redundant — and worked with local bank directors to get the best advice and help for businesses.

“We brought together mentoring organisations with support from NGAGE and introduced Fredrick’s Fund to help small businesses facing financial difficulty.

“We took the issue of skills head on by working with Oxford University and local businesses to create an Oxfordshire workplace learning model and – working with Oxford Brookes – we ran a massive skills research project that spanned the entire county.

“We’ve also engaged with the health industry in two projects – one locally for the Thames Valley and one as part of a European cluster – looking at health care innovation.

“OEP also ran a series of events including Skillsfest, nearly 20 Horizons and Futures seminars and the Digital Summit in September, at which Ed Vaizey, the minister for communication culture and the creative industries, helped us launch a campaign to get superfast broadband and better mobile telecoms in the county.

“It is a testament to that fact that so many of you are here tonight as either members or friends of OEP; and that you have been joining us for this dinner recognising business leadership in Oxfordshire for many years. “


Oxfordshire wins enterprise battle

October 30, 2010

 

 

5:25pm Thursday 28th October 2010

By Maggie Hartford »

OXFORDSHIRE has won the battle to have its own standalone ‘Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP)’, which will replace the South East England Development Agency Seeda by 2012.

Council leader Keith Mitchell masterminded the successful bid for an Oxfordshire ‘City Region’ enterprise partnership with boundaries following those of the county.

He said: “It was against the odds because the Government thought these things ought to be across county boundaries, but we had the support from businesses and all the district councils, plus the two universities.” The chief executives of BMW and Oxford Instruments also backed the bid, he said.

He added: “How much it brings us we don’t know. There’s no money around so it is not going to bring great wealth.”

Iain Nicholson, a director of the Oxfordshire Town Chambers Network, said: “After years being seen in government as part of Milton Keynes, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire or the Thames Valley, this is a brilliant opportunity for Oxfordshire business to help shape its own destiny.

“Now begins the huge task of turning the Oxfordshire LEP vision into a practical reality that delivers.”

West Berkshire District Council had wanted to form a Thames Valley LEP consisting of Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire (except Aylesbury), Swindon and the M4 corridor, but the Government has approved a Thames Valley Berkshire LEP and a separate Oxfordshire one, leaving holes in the map for Buckinghamshire and around Woking.

Failed bidders are being advised on how to submit fresh plans.

Government ministers say LEPs will “transform the economic geography of the country”. They want to see equal representation of business and council leaders.

Oxfordshire was one of 24 local enterprise partnerships given the green light this week. Business secretary Vince Cable confirmed that the emerging council and business-led local enterprise partnerships will receive no funding for administration costs from the Government. However, there will be a £1.4bn Regional Growth Fund, The abolition of Seeda by March 2012 is expected to cause 90 job losses, and will have a knock-on effect as economic growth projects lose funding. Its budget for 2010/11 was £120m, including nearly £40m of EU funding.

The Oxfordshire Economic Partnership (OEP) will no longer be funded by the county council, but chief executive David Doughty said the organisation would continue, backed by a core membership of about 30 firms.

He said: “I still think the OEP has a role in representing business. There are so many businesses in the county and they can’t all sit round the table with the LEP.

“We have just got some European funding for a health project and and we are looking for other similar projects. We also want to be a lobbying organisation to ensure the LEP fully represents the needs of businesses in the county.”

Mr Mitchell, who is on Seeda’s board, said support for farmers was likely to suffer next year, but he hoped that rural broadband pilots previously supported by Seeda could be taken up by local business partnerships.

He added that Seeda had been very good at promoting the South East to foreign investors and companies wanting to move in — a role due to be taken over by the Government.

“My fear is that the Government will send it to the North East and other areas which need regeneration. We will have to have our antennae to the ground to make sure we don’t miss out.”


Focus on Oxfordshire broadband

September 24, 2010

4:25pm Thursday 23rd September 2010

By Chris Koenig

OXFORDSHIRE’S ‘digital future’ will come under the spotlight this weekend at a conference called OxOnline 2010: Connecting Oxfordshire.

The Euro MEP for the South-East Region, James Elles, will join communication minister and Wantage MP Ed Vaizey on Saturday for the event at the Culham Conference Centre, organised by Oxfordshire Economic Partnership (OEP).

David Doughty, chairman of the partnership, said: “This digital summit is the first step in a campaign to make sure the county is hardwired into the nation’s digital future. There will be a series of events involving local authorities and planners, culminating in a formal strategy round about the middle of next year.”

He added: “Planners need to know exactly how to instruct builders and developers to install fibre into all new developments.”

According to experts, only about a third of the county has a better than 50 per cent chance of receiving the next generation ADSL by 2015 — and rural areas more than five miles from a BT exchange are most likely to be ignored. At present, mobile signals often fail only a few miles from Oxford city centre, and broadband is “patchy” at best in many areas, according to Mr Doughty.

To book a place at the conference, email d.doughty@oep.org.uk.

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Fight over quango shake-up

September 24, 2010

4:23pm Thursday 23rd September 2010

By Chris Koenig »

COUNCIL leaders are battling it out over who should control the new Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) — which the Government would like to see replacing Regional Development Agencies.

The deadline for bids to form LEPs was last week. Now business secretary Vince Cable and Communities and Local Government secretary Eric Pickles must ponder three proposals covering Oxfordshire.

Oxfordshire County Council leader Keith Mitchell wants to form a so-called Oxfordshire City Region Enterprise Partnership with boundaries following those of the county.

West Berkshire District Council wants to form a Thames Valley LEP consisting of Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire (except Aylesbury), Swindon and the M4 corridor, while Cherwell District Council wants to join a South East Midlands partnership as well as Oxfordshire’s.

Under Government plans, eight Regional Development Agencies (RDAs), including the South East Area Development Agency (Seeda) of which Oxfordshire is part, are to be replaced with LEPs by 2012.

Government ministers say LEPs will “transform the economic geography of the country”. They want to see equal representation of business and council leaders.

Business groups like the Confederation of British Industry, the Institute of Directors and the Engineering Employers Federation fear many of the proposed LEPs will be too small, but Oxfordshire County Council leader Keith Mitchell said: “There is strong evidence that Oxfordshire’s boundaries correspond closely to a functional economic area which is what LEPs are about. We have the support of our Oxfordshire MPs.

“I do not believe we have a lot in common with places like Reading or Slough. Our economy is different; our strengths and weaknesses are different.”

A statement from Cherwell District Council said it was not yet clear whether councils could be a member of two.

Christina Howell, of the Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce, said that because the Government had set such a short timescale, the chamber had simply presented a proposal for the Thames Valley as a consultation document.

She added: “However West Berkshire District Council was so sure that the Thames Valley proposal was the way forward that it submitted a bid to the Government.”

The county already has the Oxfordshire Economic Partner-ship (OEP), which is partly funded by the county council. Its chairman, David Doughty, said: “While this is being decided it is difficult for us to sign up members. But the OEP will continue.”


Is Oxfordshire special?

August 5, 2010

9:00am Thursday 5th August 2010

By Chris Koenig »

The fight is on for Oxfordshire to be recognised by central government as a stand-alone, single, viable economic area rather than part of a larger development region — according to the leader of the county council, Keith Mitchell.

A joint letter sent to council and business leaders from business secretary Vince Cable and communities secretary Eric Pickles has invited them to form new Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to replace Regional Development Agencies such as the South East Economic Development Agency (Seeda) — which is set to be abolished.

The thinking is that LEPs should represent identifiable “natural economic areas” — which would typically be larger than single counties — but Mr Mitchell is intending to ‘pitch’ Oxfordshire as an exceptional entity which should be allowed its own unique organisation to monitor the transfer of economic power from the public to private sector in the coming years.

He told The Oxford Times: “A fortnight ago, we called a meeting of representatives from 100 of the county’s top companies and we decided to put in a bid before the end of August for Oxfordshire to have its own Local Enterprise Partnership.

“We felt we could show that Oxfordshire is an identifiable, economically functional area in its own right “We have the best university in Europe here, and a top modern university too — and we have the backing of both vice-chancellors.

“We also have more publishers here than in London and a strong science base, including Harwell, the strength of which we have not promoted enough in the past.”

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg last month announced a £1bn Regional Growth Fund to help areas and regions particularly at risk from public spending cuts, but Mr Mitchell said he expected most of that money to go to areas in the north of England.

As a result, he reckons the county council would probably have to pick up the bill for the new LEP and he would not expect the private companies involved to pay.

But he expected the annual bill to be comparatively small, perhaps £150,000.

Legislation to set up LEPs will be included in the Devolution and Localism Bill, scheduled to be introduced to Parliament in the autumn.

Meanwhile, it is expected that at least half the members of the boards will be composed of local business, with the other half coming from local authorities.

The partnership boards will be chaired by a prominent local business person from the private sector.

Mr Mitchell said Seeda had never seemed very real to Oxfordshire. He said it seemed more relevant to “Kent, not us.”

But what real power will the new partnerships have, and how will they differ from the old regional development boards?

David Doughty, Chief Executive of the present Oxfordshire Economic Partnership (OEP) — funded at least until October by Seeda and the county council — listed among their roles: rebalancing the economy towards the private sector; tackling issues such as planning and housing, local transport and infrastructure and small business priorities.

A stand-alone Oxfordshire LEP would restore to Oxfordshire people the ability to administer European Regional Development Funds, which are currently administered by Seeda.

Now a not-so-polite tussle has developed between Messrs Doughty and Mitchell over the future of the Oxfordshire Economic Partnership.

Mr Doughty said: “Creating an Oxfordshire Enterprise Partnership could be as simple as changing the word ‘economic’ in Oxfordshire Economic Partnership to ‘enterprise’, since OEP already has the governance structure, strategic economic agenda and engagement with local businesses that is required for a successful LEP.”

But Mr Mitchell said: “The OEP would not be suitable as the new partnership. It has failed to get the confidence and engagement of key employers in prosperous companies.”

Mr Doughty countered: “We have a database of more than 3,500 Oxfordshire businesses that we have engaged with in one form or another over the last two years — either they have come to one of our events or they have met us at one of the business events that we have attended or we have been in correspondence with them over a business issue.”

He added that in any case employers’ organisations were coming out against the idea of a stand-alone Oxfordshire LEP.

Mr Doughty said the Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce favoured a Thames Valley LEP — a collaboration with neighbouring counties.

“Mr Mitchell has spoken to leaders of large companies such as BMW, but the opinions of the 35,000 smaller businesses in the county are also important. I think it unlikely the Government would allow Oxfordshire to form an LEP on its own.”

He added that the OEP would continue to exist as long as its members wanted it to do so.

Margaret Coles, chairman of the Oxfordshire Federation of Small Businesses, said: “We will meet up with other business groups next week to discuss this further.”

Meanwhile, Mr Mitchell is hoping that the fact that Prime Minister David Cameron was a local MP could be helpful.

He said: “It’s cheeky perhaps, but we have the ears of Government here, helping us to punch above our weight.

“We think it is worthwhile putting together a bid and that is what we are doing.”


Funding row hits £22m Oxford shops arcade

July 30, 2010

Oxford Times

8:10am Thursday 29th July 2010

 By Reg Little »

A £22m shopping precinct in the city centre is under threat following the collapse of talks with Oxford City Council.

The global equity firm, the Carlyle Group, submitted plans to create a new open-air shopping centre running from St Aldates Tavern archway to Queen Street, near the Marks & Spencer store.

The company said it was ready to defy tough market conditions to regenerate a neglected part of the city centre, creating new shops, offices, student accommodation and jobs.

But The Oxford Times can today reveal that a question mark hangs over the whole scheme because agreement cannot be reached with the city council over how much the Carlyle Group should pay into Town Hall coffers under a planning agreement.

The so-called section 106 agreements are legally binding and oblige landowners and developers to contribute to council works and services.

Business leaders warned failure to reach agreement could see the city lose a major opportunity to redevelop the site.

Carlyle submitted a planning application in 2008, with plans for nine shops, 17,000 sq ft of office space and accommodation for up to 96 students above the retail units.

But nearly two years on, the application has still not been considered.

A Town Hall spokesman said: “The scheme at St Aldates and Queen Street would require a significant section 106 contribution from the applicant.

“We have been unable to negotiate with the applicant a level of contribution that we feel we would be able to recommend to our members.”

Mark Harris, head of UK asset management for Carlyle, said: “We are very disappointed that we have not been able to come to an agreement with Oxford City Council with regard to the section 106 at our St Aldates scheme.

“During a time of significant economic uncertainty, we presented them with a viable scheme, which is compliant with current adopted policy in relation to section 106.

“We believe that it would provide enormous social and economic benefits to the local community.”

But Mr Harris said he remained hopeful the scheme could still go ahead.

“Despite the delays, we are still completely committed to the scheme. We have the funding in place to take this forward and hope to receive a positive response.”

David Doughty, chief executive of business group the Oxford-shire Enterprise Partnership, said: “We should do everything we can to encourage schemes like this before companies lose interest and go somewhere else.”

City councillor for the Carfax ward, Tony Brett said: “It is always a shame to see an important opportunity missed. At the same time the council cannot give things away. There seems a big difference between what Carlyle thinks it should pay and what the council wants. I understand we are talking about a factor of ten.”

He said it would be negligent of the council if it did not receive a “satisfactory” level of funding for infrastructure costs.

The section 106 money would go towards funding the West End infrastructure, such as Frideswide Square improvements.

Large areas of the site of the proposed development are owned by Merton College.

Much of the site has been acquired by the Carlyle Group on a 135-year lease. Part of the land, which is used as a private car park, is owned by the city council.

Work would have involved an eight-month refurbishment of existing buildings in St Aldates and later the demolition of the city council offices at St Aldates.


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