RELAXING strict parking rules at a shopping centre is a ‘no brainer’, according to a council leader.

Shoppers have complained that the four hour maximum stay in place at Didcot’s Orchard Centre is not enough time to enjoy everything the centre has to offer and is leading to customers staying away.

Cinema-goers in particular have faced fines if they wish to eat out as well as see a film and a no return policy has led to parents having to switch cars if they need to drop off and pick up their children.

Didcot Town Council has now written to the centre’s owners Hammerson in an attempt to get the rules changed.

Leader Steve Connel said: “People have limited free time and, when they come into town, try to do everything in one go.

“For many, four hours is just not long enough and they are having to choose to do one thing over another.

“I agree we should be using our cars less but when people live out in the villages with a limited bus service, that is sometimes not possible.

“I’ve also heard from people with disabilities who find it takes them longer to do everything they want to do.

“I want to encourage people to come into the town and I don’t see how the current timeframes benefit anyone.”

Parking at the centre is currently free for the first two hours, £1.70 for the third hour and £2 for the fourth.

Customers have offered to pay a premium to park for at least a further two hours on top of this.

Drivers are also not allowed to return to the car park within three hours of leaving and it is this, according to Mr Connel, that is causing an even greater issue.

He said: “If you drop off your children at the cinema or to meet their friends, you are not then allowed to pick them up again within the time limit.

“I’ve heard of some people having to take different cars or having to park elsewhere in town otherwise they will get fined.

“We’d like to see this reviewed and made less strict.”

The Town Council’s planning committee has passed a motion to try and get the issues addressed but the authority has no legal power over the private car park and it is up to Hammerson to decide the rules.

Mr Connel said he was hopeful its concerns would be listened to.

He said: “It will mean that more people are coming to the shops and staying longer and it will increase positivity around the centre.

“We have a good working relationship and there is a good chance they will listen.

“From a business and community perspective it makes sense for them, I believe.

“It’s a small change that will make a big difference.

“It seems like a no brainer.”

Andrew Berger-North, UK Director of Retail Parks at Hammerson, said: “We are pleased that shoppers are spending extended periods at The Orchard Centre enjoying the new retail and leisure offer, and appreciate the feedback from our customers as we continue to grow.

"We will certainly take these comments and suggestions on board.”