A letter was issued by Hart District Council to residents and businesses on Thursday 16 July regarding their proposal to make temporary changes on Fleet Road, or fleet high street. It is part of the Council’s COVID-19 recovery plans.
Although BID (the Fleet Business Improvement District) knew that central government funding had been applied for by the Hart District Council, it did not know the status of the plans from Hart District Council or that a letter would be sent to businesses.
Fleet BID met on Friday 17 July with Hart District Council and spoke with several businesses along with the BID Board that represents businesses from most of the town’s sectors. Fleet BID supports the plans for trialling pedestrianisation of Fleet’s central area. We strongly agree that the priority is public safety.
Our View on the Pedestrianisation Trial
We view this trial road closure as a chance to utilise space in order to promote our town centre that can ultimately include a broad array of events and attractive landscaping.
Pedestrianisation, which has been successful in many other cities and towns, increases footfall and dwell time for family-friendly environments. It has been documented in numerous studies and the town of Fleet would financially benefit most of the levy payers here.
However, we realise that businesses are faced with short-term challenges. Therefore, BID intends to work closely with stakeholders in order to ensure that the transition goes as smoothly as possible.
We believe this strategy aligns with the strong need to ensure that Fleet is a safe town to visit. We do not underestimate this task and acknowledge there are fundamental changes occurring to town centres all around the country.
We are committed to working constructively and positively with all stakeholders.
Additional Information on How We Reached Our Decision
Potentially, this project is the biggest challenge that the town centre has faced since the 1990s when it opened the shopping centre. It is occurring against a backdrop of the incredible changes in how we shop, work, live and almost everything else. We understand that:
- Car-free town centres succeed
- Coronavirus and the impact it is having will be around for quite some time (we don’t know for how long)
- Shopping must be experience-led instead of a chore
- Using online shopping will continue to increase
- Traditional retail will keep declining
We believe public safety needs to be paramount. High streets are no longer shopping destinations and must change to prevent their fortunes from continuing to decline.
High street decline has been accelerated by COVID-19. Online shopping is up 30%, footfall has dropped 50% and many high street businesses will end up closing. All of us see the negative social media posts about Fleet, about individuals travelling to other towns or preferring to purchase online. The area we live in is affluent, but numerous residents do not do their shopping in Fleet since they don’t think their needs are met by the town.
Each year the Fleet Carnival, Christmas Festival and Food Festival attract tens of thousands of individuals to town. There are numerous studies regarding town centre transformation. The Grimsey Review most recently set out the need for change with high streets no longer being shopping destinations. A mix of different business types is needed along with events and amenity space in order to attract more people to a particular town.
COVID-19 has offered a one-time chance for Hart District Council to be able to apply to receive central government funding in order to try out something different. This will allow community groups and businesses to: use this space for events and markets; provide people with good reasons for visiting the town and allow them to do this safely; and to let all of us come together as one community, to support our great businesses and enjoy the experience.