In a rethink brought about by the nearly unanimous protests of the council's own environment and policy review panel and town traders, the cabinet decided this week to substantially water down the proposed hike.

The cabinet was planing to increase fees in an effort to raise money and balance the council's books.

But the move prompted the environment and policy review panel to call in the decision and demand changes — a measure backed by shops throughout Farnborough and Aldershot.

Cllr David Clifford spoke for many members when he said: "It would be foolish to go through this consultation exercise and then not listen to what we have heard."

As a result, the cabinet decided that the catchy ‘Free after three' Aldershot parking deal will win a stay of execution.

During the next 12 months shops will have to prove that it makes a difference to trading.

Members indicated that if traders were able to demonstrate the positive effects of the scheme its long-term future might be secure.

The same conclusion was reached on Sunday parking. If the importance of the no-fee deal to business could be proved, the cabinet would retain it.

Cabinet members were also prepared to moderate their view on parking for shop workers by introducing a concessionary scheme.

But they were keen to differentiate between employees of independent traders and those of chain stores.

The cabinet decided that having received opposition to parking price increases from shops like Sainsbury's and Asda, they and not Rushmoor Council should subsidise their staff parking.

But basic price increases will go ahead as planned.

Hourly charges of 30p will rise to 40p, and those of 40p to 50p.

Speaking afterwards, cabinet member Cllr Peter Moyle said: "No-one wants to put charges up at any time but you have to look at this in respect of the council tax."

He said if council tax rises were to be kept to a minimum while maintaining services then the money would have to come from somewhere.

Cllr Andy Straker, who initially called in the cabinet's decision, said: "It's nice to see that they took some notice and made some changes.

"Whether the changes they have made will make any difference, only time will tell."