PARKING in Oxford city centre looks set to get cheaper, but the changes to coincide with the opening of Westgate could lead to gridlock on the streets, it is warned.

Westgate has revealed the pricing structure it new 1,000-space car park, with fees undercutting the cost of parking at Oxpens by as much as £10 on a Saturday.

And the city council is now preparing to align charges at the 420-space Oxpens with prices of parking at the new shopping complex, which would mean reductions in fees.

David Thomas, leader of the council’s Green group, warns it could lead to long jams on the city's streets come opening day on October 24.

He said: "It was a huge strategic error for the council to cede control of the parking charges at the Westgate Centre.

"You can’t blame shopping centre managers for trying to make it attractive for shoppers to drive as close as possible to the shops so they can load their bags into the boot.

"But the knock-on effect of making parking cheaper at Oxpens could be to encourage more shoppers to drive in to the centre, and that could slow down public and private transport across the city.

"The council has given the Westgate too many concessions as the process of building a shopping centre has moved forward and it should have kept control of all the parking charges."

On Saturday at Oxpens it currently costs £15 to park for four to six hours while Westgate will charge £11 for six hours.

it is hoped once charges are levelled, shoppers will not be tempted to abandon Oxpens in favour of the 960-space Westgate underground car park on the other side of the road.

A report to the council said an increase in shoppers resulting from the new centre opening on October 24 would ensure the impact of reducing charges would be 'at worst cost neutral'.

Green city councillor Craig Simmons said Westgate charges were being set to encourage regular turnover of shoppers and 'efforts to improve air quality in the past decade would be under threat'.

City council leader Bob Price said he expected the new charges to be agreed.

He said it was 'entirely reasonable' for Westgate Oxford Alliance to seek control of the Westgate Centre car park following an investment approaching half a billion pounds.

Mr Price added: "They are paying us a significant sum of money as a fee for buying us out."

The city council leader hit back at the Greens for 'adopting a miserablist approach to everything'.

He added: "We don't know yet what the number of shoppers is going to be and some will use our very good park and ride system and very good bus and rail systems."

The report recommends aligning charges at Westgate and Oxpens car parks, while retaining the charges at Worcester Street and Gloucester Green car parks.

It said: "While the proposed parking tariff (at Oxpens and Westgate) is slightly different, the ethos of the scheme is very similar to the city council’s adopted policy, which endeavours to persuade customers who park for longer periods to utilise the park-and-ride sites."

It added that the council was working on a scheme with the shopping centre, the county council and Oxford Bus Company to provide a 'single ticket solution' at park and rides.

At present shoppers using park and rides pay once for parking and again for their bus fare, and a family of four parking at Redbridge Park and Ride would pay £6.80 for a return, compared to £7 for four hours in Westgate car park.

A new ticketing arrangement, which should be operational in time for the opening of the centre, will allow up to two adults and three children to park and travel on the bus with just one ticket for £6.80.

Phil Southall, managing director of Oxford Bus Company, said park and ride is a 'more cost effective' and 'less stressful' option.

The county council, which operates Thornhill and Water Eaton park and rides, says the service already offers 'excellent value for money' and that the new ticket will add to this.

The new centre is expected to attract 41,000 shoppers a day, with shopping trips expected to increase from five million to 15 million a year.

The retail complex will feature a new John Lewis, 100 new shops, 25 restaurants and a cinema.

Westgate Oxford Alliance has not commented on its parking charges.

Plans to provide another 650 spaces at Seacourt Park and Ride were delayed earlier this year due to environmental concerns.