An  emergency 'virtual' meeting last Friday saw Royal Borough councillors offer free parking to Windsor and Maidenhead's residents - as shops prepared to reopen after three months of lockdown.

The decision to allow Advantage Card holders living in the Royal Borough three hours free when they parked in a council car park for a month, was seen as a vital step in encouraging local people back to the towns' 'non-essential' shops when they reopened on Monday.

The potential loss in income to the council could reach £35,000 and the decision failed to win the support of one of the authority's most important officers, the director of resources Adele Taylor.

But council leader Cllr Andrew Johnson laid it on the line, saying: "The retail sector has been hit incredibly hard. Some will not survive in the long term - now, more than ever we have to use whatever mechanism we have to help."

Cllr David Cannon, the council's lead member for public protection and parking said the loss of £35,000 was a 'worst case scenario' figure, adding: "The purpose is to assist the recovery of our town centre and its retail outlets. It is realistic, proportionate and affordable."

By the middle of this week it appeared the gamble may have paid off, in terms of restarting the local economy.

Windsor and Eton Town Centre manager Paul Roach said: "As of yesterday 40 per cent of stores are open - the majority in Peascod Street and St Leonard's Road.

"It has been good to see one of the busiest days we have had in a long time.

"People have been sensibly queueing outside shops because numbers have to be limited with staff making sure they are all right."

He said the council has been in contact with retailers over two weeks leading to the reopening - to ensure the safety of customers and staff.

He said: "They have all played their part. We spoke to a number of managers who are all pleased just to be back and re-engaging with local people rather than people from four corners of the world."

The High Street and Thames Street - home to many bars and restaurants remain deserted. July 4 is the anticipated date when they will be allowed to reopen and Mr Roach said plans for necessary changes to ensure public safety were being made.