DRIVERS heading to Oxford’s new Westgate Centre should have a mobile phone app directing them to parking spaces, according to a city councillor.

Traffic was high on the agenda as city councillors, planning officers and leaders of the Westgate Alliance met days before councillors are due decide if the latest scheme for the shopping centre should get outline planning permission.

The West area planning committee will decide on the plans at the town hall on Tuesday and councillors were briefed by officers on Thursday night.

Once completed, the shopping centre will feature 70 shops including a 110,000 sqft John Lewis, as well as cafés, restaurants, and a cinema.

A report to councillors says more than £230m will be pumped into the city’s economy every year if the scheme is approved.

thisisoxfordshire: Van Coulter

  • City councillor Van Coulter

The development is a project between the joint owners of the centre, the Crown Estate and Land Securities Group and the council has asked developers for a contribution of more than £4.3m towards local infrastructure, including investment in the park-and-ride system and a new pedestrian bridge across the Thames at Oxpens.

City councillor Van Coulter called for hi-tech measures to ensure shoppers heading to the Westgate car park were not caught up in congestion.

He said: “You could have a mobile phone app so drivers can see if there are spaces in the car park and are shown exactly where the spaces are so they are not circling around.”

County council highways officer Martin Kraftl told the meeting there was a “very real need” to co-ordinate and provide information on signs to drivers so they know when the car parks are full.

He added: “You can display the information to drivers before they pass the park-and-ride sites.

“Because of the capacity at the shopping centre this sort of information is essential.”

The Oxford Civic Society has claimed the transport measures to cope with extra journeys into the city were inadequate.

After the meeting chairman Peter Thompson said: “We are in favour of the development but we really want it to be successful.

“Everything I have heard suggests a triumph of hope over expectation, specifically with regard to the traffic issues.”

Following the meeting city council leader Bob Price said: “Transport is a key element in the concept of the new Westgate and we want to be innovative with signage and apps, and developing an attractive approach to park-and-ride.

“We want to expand Seacourt park-and-ride and work on Redbridge to accommodate more tourist coaches.

“You can also use IT to improve the visitor experience when they arrive at a park-and-ride, with visual cues telling them what’s on offer in the city centre.”

Sara Fuge, development manager for the Westgate Alliance, said: “It’s in everyone’s interest that accessibility for the Westgate Centre is good. We have worked very hard with county council officers, the city council, bus operators, highways consultants and stakeholders so that we understand all the issues.”

A £330m scheme in 2007 did not go ahead and the alliance hopes to open the new centre in 2017.

The West area planning committee starts at 6.30pm in the town hall.