SHOPPERS could be charged to park at Lakeside in a bid to quash recurring traffic problems around the shopping centre.

The shock announcement came as £100million proposals - to include new bars, restaurants, a hotel and a bowling alley built around a town square, covered street and waterfront space - moved a step closer after getting the backing of Thurrock Council’s planning committee.

At the meeting, councillors discussed whether parking charges could be brought in to encourage shoppers to get the train or bus in - therefore leaving their cars at home.

It has been free to park at Lakeside since it opened in 1991 and shoppers reacted angrily to the idea, with many saying they would not use the centre at all if charges were introduced.

Paul Lancaster, regional centre director for intu, the firm that own Lakeside, said: “We would rather not charge for parking, but instead encourage people to use public transport in the first instance.”

Lakeside is also proposing to install electronic traffic update signs at roundabouts around centre.

Mr Lancaster told the meeting people coming to the centre by bus was up 20 per cent - and by train up 10 per cent since it began working more closely with transport providers Ensignbus and C2C.

This issue will be cleared up in April, when more detailed proposals are submitted to the council.

John Kent, leader of the council, said: “This development will play a significant part in delivering our vision and the Town Square will provide a major new focal point for the whole of the Lakeside Basin.”

Lakeside shopping centre already employs more than 6,000 people and plans for a more extensive leisure offering will create a further 1,000 jobs - and 660 construction jobs.

Mr Lancaster added: “We’re very pleased with this step forward, and we look forward to being in a position to share more details on the project shortly.”

Tory Chafford Hundred councillor Tunder Ojetola told the meeting: “I hope people no longer say they are going to Bas Vegas but that they are going to Bas Lakeside.”