Oxford is listed among Britain’s most boring high streets, with chain stores choking independent traders, a new report warns.
The iconic high street of Oxford has taken a dive from “border town” status, recorded in a 2005 report, to now being in the top 25 “clone towns” in Britain.
Despite the bad news, Oxford students can take some comfort in the fact that the UK’s highest-scoring clone town is Cambridge, now officially the home of the worst shopping in Britain.
The findings were published earlier this month in a report by the independent think tank, New Economics Foundation (NEF). The term “clone town” is used to label the phenomenon of disappearing charm and character in Britain’s high streets, as local shops are replaced by identikit chain stores.
Overall, 41 per cent of the towns surveyed in Britain were categorised as clone towns, while 23 per cent were border towns, and 36 per cent were home towns.
Christophe Piarrart, manager of Olives, the celebrated independent delicatessen located at 42 High Street, agreed with the report’s categorisation of Oxford. He said, “I agree there should be more independent shops – not just here in Oxford but in any high street. I source all the sandwich ingredients myself and make my own recipes, that’s part of the reason why we are so popular.”
However, not everyone seemed concerned with the findings of the report. Mr Durkin, manager of Cardew & Co, a shop in the Covered Market which sells a range of teas and coffees, said, “Oxford can be called a clone town in that you will find the typical shops in the main shopping area, but if you look a bit closer, at areas like the Covered Market, you will find some really special independent shops”.
The Covered Market has historically been a haven for independent shops. It was created in 1774 in order to clear “untidy, messy and unsavoury stalls” and small traders from the main streets of central Oxford. Today, the only nation wide chain in the Covered Market are the key cutters Timpsons. All other shops are either completely independent or part of local chains.
A spokesman for Oxford City Council, defended the range of shops in the town. “We have a lot of independent retailers in the High Street, Broad Street and Turl Street and this is complemented by the high street brands in Cornmarket, the Clarendon Centre and the Westgate centre. We are also looking at exploring the potential of creating a loyalty card for the city centre which could support our local traders.”
However, the spokesperson conceded, “We are trying to attract other well known brands to the centre including John Lewis.”
This is the second clone town report to be published by the independent think tank, NEF. They warn, “Retail spaces once filled with a thriving mix of independent butchers, newsagents, tobacconists, pubs, bookshops, greengrocers and family-owned general stores are becoming filled with faceless supermarket retailers, fast-food chains, and global fashion outlets.”
The report, entitled “Reimaging the High Street: Escape from Clone Town”, states that “Many town centres….lost their sense of place and the distinctive facades of their high streets under the march of the glass, steel, and concrete blandness of chain stores built for the demands of inflexible business models that provide the ideal degree of sterility to house a string of big, clone town retailers.”
Paul Squires, the co-author of the report said, “The towns most dependent on the big chains and out of town stores have proven to be most vulnerable to the economic crisis. It’s not all doom and gloom; we found many towns that are thriving with initiatives to retain local diversity.”