Westgate Oxford, White Rabbit Or White Elephant

Half yearly trips back to my Oxford roots have for the last three years featured curiously peering into the 440 million pound Westgate shopping centre rebuild. The old building was decidedly shabby and run down so this trip I got to see the opened and nearly finished article. Standing on the roof terrace looking down into the three layers of 100 shops and 25 cafes and restaurants I was getting mixed messages.

Wind tunnel is the biggest criticism I had read and heard about and on this arctic chilled January day I could feel their point. Ok I know I have been spoiled by all my years in Tenerife but I thought comfort was the big consideration for modern shoppers. The building layout reminded me of prison wing landings but this chocolate box collection had some nice thoughtful touches. Little scattered seating areas around coffee and snack stalls were nice and informal, and I liked the references and quotes from Lewis Carroll, alias Oxford scholar Charles Dodgson, who wrote Alice In Wonderland. As a true Oxonian I would have liked a few nods to “town” heritage such as William Morris, rather than just “gown” references.

The five screen Curzon cinema was a work in progress but promises to offer more relaxed viewing habits than the many other screens in and around Oxford. Social, is a collection of taste experiences from around the world, such as noodles, nachos, and designer burgers, all in a self contained dome. The Junkyard Crazy Golf looked tempting with dance music and pulsating lights as players pick their way around wrecked cars and other obstacles. Maybe at this point I should drop some store names, Hugo Boss, Mint Velvet, Moss Bros, Primark, and Ted Baker, There are also health and beauty shops. The two bus companies have stops just outside the centre and frequent Park and Ride links but the roads into the city centre are still a nightmare.

The crowning glory is the Roof Terrace with views of the spires and hills of Oxford, the tourists will love it in the summer as they can sit a little bit worryingly near the edge of the roof. The restaurants and cafes are all very up market and expensive, even the churros and chocolate by the plastic grass. I met a friend for afternoon coffee at The Alchemist, a nice relaxed setting although the multi coloured vapours coming off the cocktail mixing at the bar made me yearn for a real ale. Drinks are on the house in the Roof Terrace but only in an altitude way. The posh watering holes are open to 1 am Friday and Saturday and 12.30 other days.


I was told the opening days entertainment in the main square was spectacular, if they can have regular promotions and events, that will draw people back. The centre has no doors, I walked through a couple of nights, security have their work cut out, and I wondered how the ghosts are coping with the changes. I will have another look on my next trip over, but as I fancied a proper beer I adjourned to The Castle opposite, newly refurbished by Hook Norton and brimming with real ale.



April 28th, 2018 3:04 pm

Colin you don’t actually conclude whether the new Westgate centre is a White Rabbit or White Elephant.
I myself have just visited the Westgate a couple of weeks ago.
The first thing that stuck me was that it wasn’t a completely covered enclosed centre……and you could definitely feel the chill on a moderately cold April day.
Colin you say you like the references and quotes by Lewis Carol, but if you take a closer look all those quotes are mere clever decoration to cover up empty shopping units………I counted at least 16 empty shopping units with the said quotes.
Whilst the Westgate is impressively large in scale, there is currently a disappointing lack of variety of types of shops, most of them are either fashion or food establishments.
Other city centre shopping centres like Bristol, Reading and Milton Keynes have managed to get the variety of shops much better.
For example currently there was no specialist home entertainment shop, no electrical shop, no computer shop, no stationery shop, no newsagents, no video or music shop, no gaming shop, no toy shop, no card shop, no budget shop (i.e poundland etc).
There are plenty of fashion and clothes shops…….but none of the other shops I mention, which is a bit ironic since the old much much smaller Westgate Centre did have some of those shops that I have mentioned.
For a 440 million pound development, I found the new Westgate pretty disappointing……..not to mention the fact that at least half a dozen shops have moved from Oxford Corn market and High St to the new shopping centre……..which leaves boarded up shops on the High Street, at time when most brick and mortar shops are struggling……and empty boarded up shops are becoming a normal sight on the High St in Oxford and other towns and cities in the UK.
Unfortunately I have to conclude that the new WestGate was a big opportunity missed……. a huge White Elephant!

April 30th, 2018 7:54 am

I lef the title open as the Westgate seems to have been received like Marmite, and it wasn´t all finished on my trip home. I had to come back again a few weeks ago and they were catching up with some of the finishing touches. I liked the Gromit trail, they will need lots of promotions to pull people in. I agreee it´s a wasted opportunity, they had so long to plan it but missed some obvious touches. Summer will see it at its best, especially the roof area. Time is going to be the best judge. Thank you for taking the time to add a comment, I like to get feedback. Colin