Rushmoor Council's executive cabinet has been accused of being "totally out of touch" by making the decision, which, it is feared, will have a severe impact on local businesses.

The cabinet decided to introduce the charge despite the fact that many councillors from all parties were opposed to it.

On Monday a scrutiny panel had called in the proposals for reconsideration — but the following day the Tory cabinet decided to introduce the charge in September.

The move has angered David May, chairman of Aldershot Town Centre Management, who accused the cabinet of being totally out of touch and making a retrograde step on the future of the town.

"They (the cabinet) are only interested in getting the revenues they need but they won't even get that because people will just stop coming," said Mr May.

He said comparisons with centres like Guildford and Camberley were misguided. "People flock to those centres regardless. Free parking was our main marketing tool to encourage people to come into the town instead.

"The effect will be to reduce the amount of takings for commercial enterprises who may then move out.

"This comes at a time when it is not an easy trading situation anywhere. It may weaken us to the point where we can't recover."

These views were echoed by Gary Little, manager of the Princesmead Shopping Centre, who said the redevelopment of Farnborough and problems with the traffic infrastructure had already had a severe impact on the town centre.

"Farnborough is seriously in decline," said Mr Little. "The proposed charges could just cement people's already jaded perception of Farnborough and make them travel further afield to Guildford, Camberley or Woking."

"While we appreciate they will still have to pay for parking, the retail offer in other areas is far superior to that of Farnborough."

Cllr Keith Dibble, leader of Rushmoor's Labour Group who called in the issue, added: "It's a shame but John Marsh's (council leader) cabinet seems to blow right, regardless of what the consensus is.

"At the moment there is a piecemeal approach to setting charges which is causing confusion. This was a lost opportunity to take car parking out off the political battlefield."

Cllr Dibble said a proper review needed to be undertaken which involved traders so that a fair and workable solution for charging could be achieved.

On Monday evening councillors were spilt on whether to reject proposals to accept Sunday charging and the abolition of the concessionary ‘free after three' scheme in Aldershot.

Tory Cllr Mike Smith said setting up a working party was a waste of time because, he said, he already knew the public would say they did not want charges increased.

After further discussion councillors were split down the middle, with Tory Cllr John Wall refusing to give the casting vote, on whether to reject the cabinet's new charging regime or simply defer a decision.

Despite opposition in recent weeks, the cabinet unanimously agreed to press on with imposing the charge, which will cost Sunday shoppers 40p whether they stay for an hour or the whole day.

Cllr Roland Dibbs, who attended the scrutiny committee's meeting to answer questions, said: "At the moment there are no parking services on Sundays, but when the charging comes in the lifts will be put into operation and there will be someone patrolling the car parks."

In response to claims by councillors last week that the consultation and decision process had been too hasty, deputy leader Cllr Peter Moyle argued: "Last year we said we were going to defer it to this year so I'm amazed anyone was surprised.

"Consultation is a two-way exercise. People are not coming back to us but going to the press and saying this is being foisted upon them by the cabinet."

Last week Tory Cllr Roger Kimber was one of a number of councillors who attacked the cabinet.

He said: "We will be discouraging mums from taking their children into the towns they will be hit the hardest.

"The shopping economy is fragile and this will only add to the problems. It is a very serious and emotive point at the moment."