FEWER motorists are parking in Oxford to use the Westgate Centre than expected, leaving the city council with much less in car parking charges than it had hoped.

The authority said it took £494,000 less than it expected between April and June because fewer drivers used its city centre car parks than predicted.

Revenue from Oxpens and Worcester Street car parks was particularly badly hit and the council said that had ‘a significant impact on income’.

The loss of potential income is a blow, but the council said the number of people cycling, using public transport and dropping off cars in the city’s park and rides had gone up.

Green Party group leader on the city council Craig Simmons predicted the authority would lose out on parking charges when it allowed the Westgate Centre to set its own charges.

Last summer, in preparation for the Westgate’s reopening in October, the shopping centre announced its 1,000-space car park would operate on the same tariff as the council’s Oxpens car park nearby.

Now it seems hundreds of shoppers are choosing to park at the Westgate instead of the council car park.

Mr Simmons said: “I think what’s happened is there has been movement to the Westgate [car park], which has had an impact on the city revenue.

“[The council is] not willing to admit it but I think that’s what’s happened.”

He added: “To rely on car park revenue is not great, particularly when you’re trying to make Oxford a zero-emissions city.”

The city council said Oxford provided a ‘vibrant shopping experience’ and that footfall was up following the Westgate's reopening.

However a visit to Worcester Street car park yesterday lunchtime showed more than a quarter of all spaces were empty. There were 53 spaces free – of 200 – at 12.30pm. Oxpens car park has 420 spaces.

The council said any loss of potential revenue has been cushioned by an unexpected boost in another area: between April and June it received £400,000 more in business rates from Westgate traders that it had estimated.

Board member for finance and asset management Ed Turner said: “Oxford city centre continues to see a vibrant shopping experience that brings in more and more visitors.

“Figures show that there was a 16 per cent increase in footfall in the city centre in the first quarter of 2018, compared to the same period last year.

"But many may choose not to drive into the city centre, choosing alternative means instead – train, park and ride, or bike. All of this aligns with the council’s aim of reducing the amount of traffic in the city centre and hence we are likely to see a reduction in car park use. This is however likely to be mitigated by an increase in income from business rates.

"The council has recently started a refresh of its four-year medium-term financial plan which will examine all such budgets in further detail.”

Simon Hunt, of Oxford cycle group Cyclox, said he did not know whether the number of people cycling had increased around the city over the past 11 months.

However he said there were two opportunities that had been missed by the council and developers when the shopping centre was reopened on October 23, 2017.

The first, he said, was to ensure bike racks were in place to accommodate shoppers at that time, and the second was to improve routes around the shopping centre so that people could cycle in more easily and change their travelling habits.

They were ‘fundamental things that were got wrong,’ he said.

He added: "It was a really big opportunity that has been wasted, lost. It cannot be retrieved now."

Car parking in the Westgate car park and Oxpens car park for just an hour is £3, while a four-to-five hour stay costs £9.

Worcester Street car park costs £4 for up to an hour and £6 for a one to two hour stay. A four to six hour stay would set a motorist back £15.

In other figures in papers which will be discussed at the city council’s finance panel on Monday, the floor space used for job development across Oxford was just a fraction of what had been hoped between April and June.

It had a target of 3,750sq m – but achieved just 278sq m.

However the council has said that 'significant development', including the plans for the Oxford North development, will help boost job development figures.