BUSINESSES in the city could have to fork out thousands of pounds every year for their parking spaces.

Oxfordshire County Council wants to introduce a Workplace Parking Levy (WPL) in the city by 2020 as part of its 20-year transport strategy.

The levy would see firms paying a set fee for parking spaces they own.

The council said the scheme could be modelled on that being rolled out in Nottingham.

From April, Nottingham City Council will charge businesses who have 11 or more parking spaces £375 per space each year.

In Oxford that would mean firms covered would run up annual bills of at least £4,000.

But business leaders warned the levy would be an unwelcome burden on firms who already pay business rates.

County council leader Mr Hudspeth would not be drawn on how much could be charged in the city, or where the zone would extend to.

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He stressed the idea was only under consideration, but the council's new report admits it could become "inevitable".

Mr Hudspeth said: "We will first seek to establish whether this charge is acceptable, but it would be a carrot and stick approach.

"If you provide better transport for people to get in to Oxford, businesses might decide they don't need to provide car parking for employees."

But Rob Lindley, chief executive for Harley-Davidson in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said the levy amounted to a "tax on employment".

Mr Lindley's Cowley offices have about 100 car park spaces for employees.

He said: "A levy like this would unquestionably make some businesses look outside of Oxford. We have 14 offices in Europe and not a single one is subject to a parking levy."

Oxfordshire Town Chamber Network director Keith Slater added that many businesses complained about the amount they pay in business rates.

He said: "A lot of businesses in the city provide parking for employees and clients, so I can't imagine there will be any great enthusiasm for this idea."

The idea of a levy has emerged as an alternative to a congestion charge, which the county council said would be unpopular and expensive to implement.

It came as the authority also revealed it will focus on bus travel for the next 20 years. Yesterday it announced plans for "rapid bus routes" through Oxford and a series of new park and ride sites as part of its £1.2bn transport strategy.

By 2035 the council said it wanted transport terminals at Folly Bridge, St Giles, Oxford Station and Magdalen Bridge, with tunnels between them going under the city centre.

They will be part of a network connecting the city centre and North Oxford with Headington and Cowley.

The council's cabinet is set to approve the proposals at the end of this month, before they go out to consultation.

Mr Hudspeth said: "There is no guarantee all of these schemes will come to fruition, but we must be prepared to show that Oxfordshire wants to grow and that we are willing to put in place the infrastructure required."

The tunnels under the city centre first suggested by Mr Hudspeth in October would cost in excess of £500m - about half of the transport plans's total budget - a report said.

"Stations" could be constructed underground below the city's attractions, the council said, although it admitted it had not "considered in detail the technical or environmental feasibility" of the idea.

"Premium cycle routes" are to run along main roads into the city, such as Botley Road, Banbury Road and Iffley Road, giving cyclists separate lanes to normal traffic.

The county council also hopes it will succeed in its efforts with Chiltern Railways to have the Cowley Branch Line opened to passengers.

Services from Water Eaton in the future could also use a trial "smartcard" system, Mr Hudspeth said, similar to the Oyster Card in London.

The council has said its new strategy would be paid for mainly by Government grant funding, business rates and developer contributions, as well as parking charges.

What’s in

  • Park and ride sites at Eynsham, Cumnor, Lodge Hill, Sandford and Begbroke.
  • Cowey Branch Line passenger service.
  • Bus tunnels under the city centre.

What’s out

  • A monorail system in the city.
  • Trams.
  • A railway link between Witney and Oxford.

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