CITY employers could be forced to pay up to £600 a year to use each of their parking spaces as part of a radical plan to cut congestion.

Oxfordshire County Council and Oxford City Council said the package – that could cost between £60m and £100m – could be a ‘paradigm shift’ in the way people get around.

Other major proposals as part of their Connecting Oxford plan include restricting access on some of Oxford's busiest roads to cut journey times for buses.

The councils said the outline plans could be rolled out by 2021 at the earliest.

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A consultation opens today and will run until October 20.

Long mooted by the authorities, a workplace parking levy could mean employers would need to pay between £400 and £600 per space per year.

That charge would be imposed on about half of the city's 18,000 parking spaces.

It would pay for a ‘rapid, frequent’ bus service the councils hope would reduce the number of drivers on Oxford's roads and cut travel times.

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Yvonne Constance, the county council’s cabinet member for environment, said: “The intention, of course, is to do something about congestion, not just the inconvenience and time wasted but the impact on air quality, air pollution and the importance of getting people out of their cars and on their bikes and walking, if possible.”

The charges and bus service would run in what the councils refer to as Oxford’s eastern arc.

The John Radcliffe, Churchill and Nuffield Hospitals, Oxford Brookes University and the Oxford Business Park would all be affected.

The councils stressed the charge would be paid by employers and not workers.

Under current proposals, only employers with more than 11 parking spaces would be affected.

Bus gates, like those currently used on High Street, would be introduced on congested routes. They could include South Parks Road and St Cross Road in the city centre, if plans are adopted.

Other routes affected could be Marston Ferry Road, between Summertown and Marston, and Hollow Way in Cowley.

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The councils said ‘new and improved cycle and walking routes’ would be built to make the most of less congested roads.

Alex Hollingsworth, the city council’s cabinet member for planning and sustainable transport, said the project would face up to traffic problems like Oxford tackled in the 1960s and 1990s.

The country’s first park and rides were built in the 1960s as a reaction to vast, unpopular road plans for the city centre.

City centre roads were pedestrianised after pollution problems in the 1990s.

Mr Hollingsworth said: "What happens if you do nothing is it doesn’t stay the same, it gets worse. That’s what was happening in the 1960s and in the 1990s and that’s what’s happening now.

“The data shows the traffic on the edge of the city is edging upwards. It takes longer to get from A to B.

“There’s a real risk that far from it getting better if we do nothing, what will happen is that more and more people will give up getting buses because those buses are stuck in traffic jams, they’ll return to their cars and the buses will end up getting stuck in traffic jams.

"You end up with a slow spiral of decline.”

The authorities said they had based part of their work on a workplace parking levy that was introduced across Nottingham.

A charge of £415 per space is currently paid by employers there.

The councils said more than 60 per cent of all journeys in Oxford are currently done by car.

They said employers would 'contribute' to the costs of cutting congestion – but would 'directly' benefit from staff getting into work more easily.

For full details of the plans, visit oxfordshire.gov.uk/connectingoxford