avvy commuters have been blamed for causing parking bay shortages and tailbacks on the town centre’s roads after snapping up spaces for a discounted rate.
Workers seized the opportunity to dodge expensive charges at other car parks when Fremlin Walk began to operate a £2 flat fee.
The shopping centre’s barriers have been out of service since they were damaged by the Christmas Day floods.
Last Friday, long queues formed on Fairmeadow because none of the 760 spaces were becoming available.
The outlet was advised by Kent Highways to close its three-storey car park for about an hour while the waiting traffic was cleared. It reopened at about 12.30pm.
Bosses at Vinci Park, which operates the bays, took the step on Monday to introduce a £9 commuter fee for motorists arriving before 9am.
A Fremlin Walk statement said: “It has become increasingly apparent that the car park is being used for long-stay parking due to its competitive price [compared with] other long-stay car parks within the town centre.
“As a result, the car park is full before 10.30am, not only causing traffic congestion but restricting our shoppers’ access to the centre.”
The centre said the changes were introduced at the start of this week to prepare for the anticipated busy trading period during the school holidays.
The £2 tariff was originally introduced seven-days-a-week until 5pm, but it was increased to £3 on Saturdays and an evening charge now applies.
The lower fee will continue until a new entry system is installed, which is expected to be in early March. Loss in parking revenue takings has not been disclosed.