ELECTRONIC signs could be placed on roads approaching Oxford to tell drivers how many spaces are free in the city's car parks.

The signs would encourage more people to use park and ride sites by highlighting when city centre sites are full, highway bosses hope.

Oxfordshire County Council wants the technology to be in place in time for the opening of the revamped Westgate Shopping Centre.

The idea was welcomed by councillor Jean Fooks, who said it was 'well overdue'.

And she said making better use of capacity in Oxford's car parks could also remove the need for the controversial expansion of Seacourt Park and Ride.

Mrs Fooks said: "We've got to tell people how many spaces there are before they drive their cars all the way into the city and cause more traffic jams.

"It's a good idea and well overdue because they do this in lots of other places already."

There are currently three park and ride sites serving Oxford, at Redbridge, Seacourt, Pear Tree, Water Eaton and Thornhill.

County council spokesman Martin Crabtree confirmed the authority was working on a proposal for new signs with Oxford City Council, which owns the Redbridge and Seacourt sites, and the Westgate Oxford Alliance.

He added: "There is no cost at this stage."

Mrs Fooks said the scheme could also mean there was no need to expand the Seacourt site, a project embroiled in a string of controversies.

She said: "If you look at Redbridge Park and Ride, there are hundreds of spaces that are regularly left unused.

"By telling more people to use that site with electronic signs, we could remove the need to expand Seacourt Park and Ride."

The expansion plans have been put forward by Labour-run Oxford City Council, which owns and manages the facility, to increase the number of spaces there by 650.

But opposition councillors have claimed the project is 'out of control', with cost estimates jumping from £2.1m to £4.1m and residents' groups raising concerns about flooding.

In an address to full council on Monday night, Oxford Flood Alliance member Liz Sawyer warned expanding the car park could pose 'a risk to life'.

She told councillors: "As you know, the site for the proposed car park extension is in the functional floodplain,

and will flood far more regularly than the existing car park does.

"Parts of the proposed new car park would a full two metres lower than parts of the existing one.

"That is deeper than a fully-grown man before the floodwater starts to come close to the Botley Road."

City council planning boss Alex Hollingsworth responded: "I'm committed to making these plans as complete as possible and will make sure we address this."