UNDER-fire council officials have beat a hasty retreat from mass town centre coronavirus parking restrictions which sparked uproar on Monday.

Roads chiefs blocked on-street parking spaces in Greenock, Gourock, Port Glasgow and Kilmacolm in order to maintain two-metre social distance as non-essential shops emerged from lockdown.

But traders were left seething over the move, with one long-established local firm branding local authority officers a 'disgrace and an embarrassment'.

Now following further criticism from councillors who received a flood of complaints the local authority has relaxed the measures.

At a meeting of the governing policy and resources executive sub-committee, SNP group leader Chris McEleny said the decision was 'a mess'.

Councillor McEleny said: "We didn't need a mass closure of parking outside every shop because we effectively turned our towns and villages into ghost towns.

"I accept that officers were quick to react to that and I think that sometimes you've got to say, 'mea culpa' and that this was a mess.

"We took a very safety-first approach and it is clear it was not proportionate to the demand that was going to be there on the streets."

Cllr McEleny added: "The elephant in the room is that shops such as Sainsbury's in Gourock have all been open for the last three months and people have been shopping there without any new or additional physical distancing measures.

"I understand the unfairness expressed by small shopkeepers when they see supermarkets operating with large car parks without any restrictions."

"There was overwhelming and correct criticism of the council."

Council leader Stephen McCabe blamed the weather, rather than the rules, for the empty streets.

He said: "To be perfectly fair the parking measures that were put in didn't turn our towns and villages into ghost towns, the rain did.

"I was in Kilmacolm and there were plenty of parking spaces, both on-street and in the car park."

But Councillor Graeme Brooks told the meeting he had been told directly by constituents that they avoided Greenock because of the restrictions and went to the retail park in Port Glasgow instead.

Environment, regeneration and resources director Scott Allan said that council officers faced a 'big challenge' in the face of Scottish Government advice on the reopening of the high street and had just six days to decide on and implement the measures.

Mr Allan said: "Normally we would like to consult with businesses for several months.

"At the end of the day all we did was put out cones and cones are easily lifted."

The meeting was told that cones had been removed from locations 'to reflect pedestrian movement'.

Council officers will continue to monitor footfall and react accordingly, the committee was told.