Building work on the £50 million expansion of Didcot’s shopping centre could start this Spring after councillors approved a controversial road traffic order moving bus routes from High Street to Station Road through a pedestrianised square.
Oxfordshire county councillors approved the order at County Hall in New Road last Thursday, which was the ‘last stepping stone’ before the Orchard Centre development can begin.
Planning permission was granted by South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) six months ago.
The order means buses would drive down a residential part and pedestrianised part of Station Road in front of Cornerstone Arts Centre before joining Broadway.
SODC leader John Cotton, told the Guardian diggers could move in in just a few months to start building 24 extra shops including a Marks and Spencer’s food hall, six restaurants, a gym and 105 parking spaces east of the existing Orchard Centre.
Cllr Cotton said: “I’m hopeful that we could see them on the site in the coming months, by Spring.
“We are very excited about these plans and now that this hurdle’s been climbed, we’re happy to finally see the plans come in to place.”
Developers Hammerson previously estimated the extension would be ready to the public by this Christmas, but Cllr Cotton said it could open next summer.
Nick Hards, Oxfordshire county councillor for Didcot said he has concerns for the eateries which have outside dining on the pedestrianised square, such as Boswells and Wildwood Kitchens.
Cllr Hards said: “This will make a huge difference to those businesses and I think SODC are blind to think that this won’t have long-term implications on the success of these companies as this will cause disruption to their services for 18 months.
“At the end of the day, this bus plan was not practical and just isn’t sensible.”
Station Road is currently a dead end to traffic and runs into a pedestrianised walkway.
Tom Cochrane, asset manager at Hammerson, said: “The proposed changes to the traffic restrictions were accepted by Oxfordshire County Council.
“We welcome this decision and are continuing to work on the necessary steps to be able to make a start on the expansion of the Orchard Centre.”
The route will replace the current service road between Broadway and Hitchcock Way, which will be built on as part of the centre’s development.
David Calvert, supervisor at Wildwood Kitchens, said: “We think there will be an impact in the summer as many customers will probably not want to sit outside during the works and when there’s buses.
“It will likely affect us more due to the noise of it all but we’re not overly concerned.”
A total of 500 Didcot residents were surveyed at random last July by market research company Future Thinking to find out what they thought about the proposed expansion.
The results showed 35 per cent disagreed with the bus route changes but 88 per cent backed the centre’s expansion.