THOUSANDS of Boxing Day shoppers clogged up main roads and side streets around Bicester Village in a repeat of problems that plagued the town last year.
The shopping centre even took the unprecedented step of telling bargain hunters to stay away yesterday, despite it being one of the busiest days of the year for the retail industry.
Instead, drivers were advised to turn back and return using public transport later in the week.
Residents living near the centre reported cars parked on verges and in their streets, and traffic on the A41 was backed up to its junction with the M40 from around 9am onwards.
Drivers reported journey times from Oxford to Bicester of more than hour, a trip that would normally take about half that.
And the county’s ambulance service have warned patient safety is being put at risk after paramedics were delayed attending an emergency due to irresponsible parking.
Sallie Wright, 68, who lives in Colne Close, off Kings Avenue, said the problems were the same as last year, when about 30,000 shoppers descended on Bicester Village for the Boxing Day sales.
The forecast for yesterday was 40,000 shoppers and Mrs Wright said: “They’re parking absolutely everywhere, and at one point an ambulance tried to get down here and they really struggled.
“They park all the way up Kings Avenue and they basically turn it into a single-track road, which does make it incredibly difficult.
“We have a lot of visitors in the close on Boxing Day, and it’s all very difficult to find places for them to park.”
South Central Ambulance Service spokesman James Keating-Wilkes confirmed one of its crews had encountered problems in the area after it was called to Evenlode Close at 11.25am. An ambulance and emergency responder was sent to deal with a 79-year-old woman who was found unconscious, and what was supposed to be an eight-minute journey had taken 12 minutes because of difficulties in getting through. He said: “The ambulance service is urging the public to park responsibly in the vicinity of Bicester Village to facilitate access for the emergency services.
“Irresponsible parking can cause delays in responding to incidents and this can affect a patient’s outcome.”
At about 4pm on Christmas Day, staff at Bicester Village used their Twitter feed to warn shoppers to visit later in the week as they were expecting “severe traffic congestion” on Boxing Day. Oxfordshire County Council retweeted it to its followers to try to alleviate problems.
Bicester Village community relations director Miranda Markham said the centre had put a series of measures in place this year to try to deal with an estimated 40,000 customers, a third more people than last year.
She said: “It was busy, we were expecting it to be busy and we prepared for it.
“We had two park-and-rides in place, and they were well signposted and that was very successful.
“We also moved all our staff parking to the garden centre, which was closed, and Tesco was also closed so we had the benefit of their parking.
“We have been watching the traffic situation closely and through our website we have been pushing for people to come by train from December 27.”
But she believed the long-term solution to the problems was a substantial amount of investment in local infrastructure, which is included in proposals for the expansion of the village.
The expansion plan is due to be heard by Cherwell District Council’s planning committee on January 3.
If approved, it would allow Bicester Village to expand into the current Tesco site with 30 new shops, take over the current 350-space parking area and fund a 700-space park-and-ride at Kingsmere.
If approved, the company hopes to have the majority of the work completed by 2015.