FREE parking will be the centrepiece of Bicester’s new multi-million pound town centre.

Developers last night confirmed the long-awaited £70m redevelopment will open on Wednesday, July 10.

And they announced a new 526-space car park above the new Sainsbury’s store will offer free parking for two hours.

People will be able to drive straight into the multi-storey car park and vehicles will be logged by automatic number plate recognition cameras.

Parking will be free for two of a maximum of three hours – the final hour will be charged at a fee of £1.70.

The move has been welcomed by traders and comes after a long-fought campaign by town centre businesses who said free parking was essential to revitalise the area.

The development includes a new Sainsbury’s supermarket, seven-screen Vue cinema, shops, restaurants and a bus interchange.

Rob Douglas, of Henry’s Menswear, in Sheep Street, whose father Tony is a staunch free parking campaigner, said: “Any free parking in the town is welcome. I can’t see a bad side.”

Hayley Collier, of Bicester Beds, in Market Square, said: “Finally, recognition that the town needs free parking. Now the council needs to pull its finger out and at least give us an hour of free parking in its car parks.”

Town, district and county councillor Les Sibley, said: “It’s fantastic news. This is a victory for common sense and will allow the town centre to compete on a level playing field with out-of- town retailers.

“I think it’s not just good news for Sainsbury’s but other traders in the town centre. Everyone is a winner. All we need is for Cherwell District Council to follow suit.”

There will be real-time signs advising the number of places available and a traffic light system showing where unused spaces are.

A spokesman for Sainsbury’s said: “We know that this is something the local community have wanted for a long time and gives an added incentive for people to visit the town centre.”

Sainsbury’s store manager Vince Brimble said: “The new Sainsbury’s store is creating 300 new full and part-time jobs and we’ve had hundreds of people apply for colleague positions.”

Barry Wood, Cherwell District Council’s leader, said the council would monitor the new Sainsbury’s system before considering further changes to the town’s car parks.

Elsewhere in Bicester drivers can currently park in Market Square for 60p an hour and £1.10 for two hours.

Three-hour parking is also offered at Claremont, Chapel Brook, Franklins Yard and Victoria Road for £1.70.

And at the Cattle Market, drivers can park for up to four hours for £2.20 and for the whole day for £2.50.