Liberty International’s decision to reconsider its Westgate development will hold Oxford back from climbing up the rankings of the UK’s best shopping destinations, according to research organisation CACI.

Liberty sent shockwaves through the retail property industry last week by announcing that it had put on hold its£300 million Westgate scheme, which was due to be anchored by John Lewis.

“Being anchored by John Lewis should be a recipe for success and Westgate was filling a gap,” said CACI principal consultant for location strategy Nielsen Harrap. “We were predicting that it would lift Oxford up by about five places in [our] UK rankings to about 30th.”

In its interim results to June, Liberty International – which is managing Westgate through subsidiary company Capital Shopping Centres (CSC) – said: “While we are positive about the long term prospects for Oxford as a retail destination, present market conditions do not meet our criteria for an immediate redevelopment of the Westgate centre.”

“We are working closely with our partners to optimise this development opportunity and will reconsider commencement when market conditions allow.”

CSC was first granted approval for the centre in March last year. It has jointly invested in the project with Coal Pension Properties – the British Coal Industry Pension Fund that owns the present Westgate centre – under the Westgate Partnership banner.

The Westgate Partnership put the wheels in motion for the project in September 2004 when it produced a masterplan. After getting the final go-ahead last year, it had intended to be on site by the beginning of this year.

The redevelopment works would have added a John Lewis department store and a further 90 stores, taking the centre to 750,000 sq ft (69,675 sq m).

John Lewis has signed to open a 230,000 sq ft (21,370 sq m) department store at an investment cost of£40 million.