The Westgate Centre should increase its parking charges to match the city council's car park fees, according to Oxford Bus Company's managing director.

Phil Southall has responded in the debate over car parking charges and traffic congestion which emerged at a city council meeting.

Liberal Democrat city councillor Lib Dem opposition leader Andrew Gant said he had ‘considerable anecdotal evidence’ people preferred to drive to the Westgate off Oxpens Road to park, as opposed to using city council car parks in the surrounding area, like Worcester Street car park.

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Currently, Westgate charges £3 for up to an hour of parking between 6am and 5pm, Monday to Sunday.

Oxford Mail:

Phil Southall

The city council charges £4 for an hour or less at Worcester Street car park between 8am and 8pm, Monday to Friday.

Mr Southall said the city council should 'hold its nerve' and should not reduce its prices but instead said the Westgate should increase its charges.

In a letter to the Oxford Mail he said: "The Oxford Mail ‘Our View’ column said this week that parking must be made cheaper in Oxford to entice shoppers into the city. I would like to strongly disagree with this summation.

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"It was claimed Oxford City Council car parks should match prices of the cheaper Westgate car park to avoid traffic jams that occurred pre-lockdown. All this will do is add to the traffic jams as more cars try to access the city centre instead of using more sustainable modes.

Oxford Mail:

Traffic in Oxpens Road

"The column stated tailbacks caused by private motorists seeking to park in the cheaper Westgate means the council is contributing to congestion and air pollution. On the contrary, the council must hold its nerve and encourage Westgate to raise its charges.

"Cheaper car parking across the city will not solve the critical issues of congestion and air quality, it will simply make the problem worse. For Oxford to decarbonise by 2050, we need radical solutions incorporating political bravery and community engagement to create a vision of a zero-carbon future which everyone benefits from."

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He added: "This will require a blend of measures including embracing electric vehicles, car sharing, and an increase public transport use. Bus journey times need to improve to help provide a solution to congestion and pollution. Reducing the volume of private vehicles entering the city would help achieve this vision.

"In the past few weekends severe congestion has returned to Oxford and so the rudimentary economics used in the column to justify reducing car parking charges should actually point to increasing them, as the city centre’s roads have reached saturation point. Ultimately congestion will discourage people from visiting Oxford and I'm sure Westgate guests do not welcome sitting in a queue for 30 minutes to access the car park.

Oxford Mail:

Traffic queues in December

"The column also claimed ‘Park & Ride is not the answer in this time of Covid. People are scared and want to use their cars.’ Buses are safe to use and such comments simply fuel misinformation and concern."

Mr Southall said several international studies confirmed the risk of Covid spreading on public transport has remained substantially low throughout the pandemic.

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He added: "In fact, Dr Julian Tang, a professor of respiratory sciences at Leicester University said safety measures imposed on public transport since Covid have made them ‘the safest places on earth’. He went on to say if the same precautions were adopted in other crowded public places the level of risk there would reduce."