WESTGATE’s cheap car parking prices might be leading to more traffic jams in the city centre, and there does not appear to be any concrete plan to hike them.
By contrast, Oxford City Council – which runs other car parks around the city centre – does not seem keen on lowering its prices to deter people heading for the shopping centre’s underground parking vault.
The council has been accused of creating a ‘double whammy’ of problems as a result: long traffic jams despite policies to reduce the number of cars on the road, and a loss of income to the council’s own car parks.
Traffic levels in the city centre reduced during lockdown, but the number of cars on roads is rising again as restrictions have eased.
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As the city council met last Monday (October 5), its Lib Dem opposition leader Andrew Gant said he had ‘considerable anecdotal evidence’ people preferred to drive to the Westgate to park, as opposed to using city council car parks in the surrounding area, like Worcester Street car park.
That evidence came from conversations with people, who told the councillor they preferred to use the Westgate car park ‘on a regular basis’.
Currently, Westgate charges £3 for up to an hour of parking between 6am and 5pm, Monday to Sunday.
The city council charges £4 for an hour or less at Worcester Street car park between 8am and 8pm, Monday to Friday.
When Westgate first announced car parking charges, prices at the council’s temporary Oxpens were lowered to match them. Picture: Ed Nix.
The council’s prices at the car park are consistently higher than the Westgate’s for longer periods of time, and for overnight parking outside peak times.
For four to five hours weekday parking in the Westgate for example, it costs £9; while it costs double that at £18 for four to six hours at Worcester Street.
The Westgate has agreed in its lease it must ‘have regard’ for city council-run car park prices when setting its own prices, but at the meeting Mr Gant asked if the Labour-run council’s deputy leader, Tom Hayes, believed this was truly the case.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Gant said the claim that the Westgate was taking other car park pricing into account was ‘clearly something wrong’.
The Westgate, Oxford
He added nothing had been done to enforce equal pricing, and said: “That was an agreement entered into by the city council, and clearly completely undermines both the objective of limiting car use in the city, as can be seen daily outside the car park, and their own income stream from their own car parks. Double whammy.”
During the council meeting, deputy leader Mr Hayes said the council had ‘no direct control’ over the prices the Westgate charges for parking, but added the council met with the Westgate Alliance, a group which owns the shopping centre, each year to negotiate a change.
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Following the meeting, the Oxford Mail asked the deputy leader if the council had considered lowering its own prices to match those of the Westgate.
There was no direct answer to this question, but Mr Hayes said the council was ‘committed to reducing traffic in the centre of Oxford’.
He added: “To this end the Park and Ride facilities that we manage offer an affordable alternative to driving into the city. At £2 for up to 11 hours parking, and £2.80 return bus fare, it compares well with £18 for between 6 and 12 hours parking in Westgate.
“For customers who do have a need to drive in, parking charges for up to an hour at Worcester Street Car Park are only slightly higher than at Westgate.”
The council is due to meet with the Westgate Alliance to carry out an annual review of parking charges in January 2021.
The Westgate Alliance is a ‘joint venture’ between commercial property development company Landsec and the Crown Estate, a sort of public company owned by the Queen, but which pays money into the Treasury.
Brendan Hattam, spokesperson for Westgate Oxford, said: “Westgate Oxford works closely with Oxford City Council with regard to parking prices.”
Since lockdown ceased in May, there has been a vast emphasis from Government and the grassroots for councils to permanently reduce the number of cars used for commuting journeys.
Prior to lockdown Oxford City Council had begun supporting several initiatives to reduce the number of cars on the roads, and the harmful pollutants they pump into the air.