Shoppers fear introducing parking charges at Chatham Dockside will “kill off” the centre.
A poll carried out by KentOnline revealed 85% of readers will stop using the complex, near St Mary’s Island, once the charges are introduced later this month.
Yesterday, it was confirmed that from Monday, September 25, shoppers will only be able to stay at the complex for one hour for free.
Chatham Maritime Car Park Ltd, who manage the car park, said the decision to charge visitors who stayed for more than an hour had to be made after a survey revealed more than 200 cars were left overnight by people not using the shops and attractions.
It is believed they are residents and people working nearby who will now have the option to buy a permit that can only be used outside of trading hours.
A number of free passes will be available to employees in a new staff parking scheme.
When asked ‘Will paying for parking put you off going to Dockside?’ More than 1,500 KentOnline readers said yes. Only 15% said no.
People visiting the cinema at the Odeon yesterday echoed the views of readers.
Friends Sandra Shepherd and Margaret King enjoy a trip to the cinema together after playing bowls and said they “like to make an afternoon of it”.
Sandra from Gravesend said: “We’ve just heard about the parking charges and it has put us off. Sometimes we come in separate cars.
“I shall be going to Bluewater, it’s easier for me. We spend money here, usually have a look around Marks & Spencer and have a coffee.
“You don’t want to be looking at your watch to see how long you’ve got.”
Margaret from Strood agreed and said she would be going to Cineworld in Strood from now on.
Rosalind Fletcher was on her way to the Odeon with her husband Frank.
The 75-year-old from Walderslade said:” My husband is disabled so we don’t pay.
“But I can see it will certainly put some people off especially, if you are watching the pennies.”
Taxi driver Angelo Filippone said he wouldn’t be coming back to the cinema.
He said: “There’s nothing much down here any way, apart from The Range, and if that suffers with parking charges the outlet centre will be dead.
“The parking charges will kill the centre.”
The 63-year-old from Rainham said he would now be going to the movies in Strood or Sittingbourne.
He said:” I won’t be coming back. I also drop people off here and I’m concerned I might get fined for coming in and out.
“There are not many places to eat here.
He added that if he wanted somewhere to eat, he would go to Hempstead Valley where parking is free.
The cost will be £1.25 for one to two hours, £2.50 for two to three hours, £3.50 for three to four hours and £5 for four to five hours. There’s a charge of £8 for more than five hours and to park overnight will cost £10.
The shopping centre opened in 2003 and parking charges were initially brought in but scrapped after public backlash and fears it wouldn't survive.
In a trading update for the centre in July 2019, CHD Property reported the site shopping centre has an annual footfall of 2.15m, while the nearby Odeon cinema has 400,000 visitors per annum.
And now, it has 100% occupancy in the Outlet centre, several restaurants and two gyms.
Tenants of the centre can see the benefits of the charges and don’t think it’ll put people off.
Richy Williams, who runs a restaurant Pad Thai Live in the Dockside Outlet Centre, said: “I don’t think it will prove to be a deterrent. But it is that extra step. People can’t just pull up and get something to eat.
“But when you hear that more than 200 people park there and don’t use the shops and restaurants, I think it could be a positive move.
“It means there will be more room for our customers.”
Mr Williams, who runs the eatery with his Thai-born wife Nic, also offers a takeaway service.
The couple run similar businesses at the Royal Star Arcade in Maidstone and at Borough Market in Gravesend.
Tess Carslake, the boss of Scoots Clothing, ploughed her redundancy money into the business two years ago - and never looked back.
Her shop selling clothes aimed at scooter and motorbike fans with brands like Lambretta and Trojan, has proved a roaring success.
The 58-year-old gran said: “I have mixed feelings, we’ll have to wait and see if it makes an impact.
“But I can understand why they have done it. There’s a lot of upkeep to pay for, like lighting and security.
“They have had a problem with youths gathering here. Nobody likes change, but everything costs money.
The mum-of-three added: “This centre is fully occupied and there are some good shops here. You go to some shopping centres and they are half empty.”