PROPOSALS to build 50 houses on a town centre car park have provoked a backlash from councillors and residents.

New housing could be built on Witney's Woodford Way Car Park, off Welch Way, after the site was identified as a potential development as part of West Oxfordshire District Council's Local Plan.

Work would not begin until 2022 at the earliest, but the plans have already drawn criticism from groups concerned about the lack of parking spaces in the town.

The district council's Parking Strategy has identified the need for 600 additional off-street spaces in the town by 2031, but Woodford Way could be developed to help the district meet its target of almost 16,000 new homes by that date.

An unconfirmed number of spaces would remain, but many drivers who regularly use the car park during the working week would be forced to find spaces elsewhere.

Earlier this month, district councillor Andrew Coles, whose Witney Central ward covers the car park, joined county councillor Laura Price in talking to residents worried about the plans.

Mr Coles said: “I remain deeply concerned at plans to re-develop the car park and the impact it will have on the town.

“The council recently identified that an additional 600 spaces were needed in the town so it makes no sense to be reducing the number at Woodford Way particularly after spending money installing new height restriction barriers.

“The loss of this car park will have very serious consequences for many of our shops and businesses and will be very inconvenient to local residents living nearby.

“Residents and businesses are entitled to some clarity as to the future of the site and a reassurance.

“We desperately need some joined-up thinking here and a common sense approach, which is currently sadly lacking.”

The district council recently spent £7,000 installing new height restriction barriers at the car park after travellers twice camped on the site in 2016. Woodford Way is in high demand during the week, with all 255 spaces usually filled around 9am.

The car park is particularly popular with people working in Witney, who take advantage of the 12 hour free parking to leave their vehicles in a secure location during the day.

While many of these individuals would need to find alternative spaces, there are also concerns fewer parking spaces would dissuade West Oxfordshire residents from shopping in the town.

Rosa Ashby, whose shop Rosa’s Flowers has been based on nearby Wesley Walk for 21 years, said: “It doesn’t make more trade for small businesses so I'm not enamoured with building more houses.

“We’re very fortunate to have free parking but if they do away with more parking spaces from a business point of view it won’t positively impact trade.”

A post on the Witney Labour Councillors Facebook page regarding the plans attracted comments from residents worried about the impact on parking.

Claire Himmens said: “The only thing keeping Witney thriving is the number of free car parks in the town.

“Why do we need more development, especially on top of a car park. Bonkers move!”

Flora McKenzie added: “Who came up with this ludicrous idea, there aren’t enough parking spaces now.

“The car park is always full, surely that says something.

“Ideas like this have to be money orientated, they certainly aren’t resident orientated.”

Woodford Way is one of two smaller sites allocated for the Witney area in the Local Plan, alongside a 125-home development on the western side of nearby Minster Lovell.

The document, which was accepted by the Government Inspectorate last month and could be formally adopted by councillors next week, states it is 'reasonable to expect' a residential scheme could come forward before 2031.

It adds: "It is a highly sustainable location for residential development being within easy walking and cycling distance of a broad range of services and facilities."

District council leader James Mills argued the lack of parking spaces in the town may have been addressed by 2022 and added that there was an environmental benefit to building on Woodford Way.

He said: “Nothing will happen until at least 2022, by which time other car parking in the town may have come forward.

“Building on brownfield town centre sites such as this helps protect the West Oxfordshire environment and could provide much-needed affordable homes closer to community facilities and buses.”

The Local Plan sets out how the district can meet its housing target between 2011 and 2031, while protecting against speculative and inappropriate developments.

It identifies sites the council believes are best suited to new housing and accompanying infrastructure, with developments in Witney, Hanborough and Eynsham included.