All businesses and residents were sent a letter by the Hart District Council on Thursday 16th July, detailing a proposal to make changes, temporarily to Fleet Road, as a part of their Covid-19 recovery plans.
That the Hart District Council had made an application for government funding was known to the BID, but it was not aware of the status of the plans of the Council nor that it was sending letters out to businesses.
A meeting with the Hart District Council on Friday, the 17th of July, and also having contacted several businesses and the BID board who are representatives for the town’s businesses in most sectors, has led Fleet BID to support the plans for carrying out a trial pedestrianisation in Fleet’s central area. That public safety is the priority is what we strongly agree with.
Our view of the trial road closure is that it makes for an opportunity to use the space for promoting the town centre, through a wide range of events and eventual attractive landscaping.
Comparing to Other Cities
In many other cities and towns, pedestrianisation has been successful in increasing footfalls, and more significantly the time spent in family-friendly environments. There have been many studies where this has been documented, and hence in Fleet, we feel, it should bring benefits, financially, to most of our levy payers.
However, there will be some short-term challenges that businesses will have to face. We, the Business Improvement District, intend working with stakeholders so that they make the smoothest possible transition.
This strategy, we feel is met with the overriding need to ensure that visits to Fleet are always safe. The tasks at hand are not being underestimated, and we have understood that across the country fundamental changes are being made to town centres.
This has led us to work constructively and positively and with a commitment to the stakeholders.
Here is why we came to this decision:
Since the shopping centre opened in the 1990s, this project can make the greatest change to the town centre. There have been extraordinary changes that have changed our way of living, working, shopping and doing almost anything else. We are aware that:
- There will be a continual decline in traditional retail
- People will make more use of online shopping
- Shopping must not be a chore and needs to be experience-led
- We do not know for how long the impact of the Coronavirus will be, as it is expected to be around for a while.
- Town centres that are free of cars have been successful
It is also our belief that public safety has to be given the highest priority. High streets are no more just shopping destinations, and they will need to change so that their fortunes do not decline.
The high street decline has been accelerated because of Covid-19. Footfalls have reduced to half, while 30% of online shopping has led to the possible closure of some high street businesses. We have all seen on social media the negative posts about Fleet, and how people prefer to buy online or go to other towns. The area we live in is affluent, but even so, most residents do not do their shopping in Fleet as they feel their needs are not being met in this town. To experience Fleet you have to be there physically, to take it all in and the surroundings.
Tens of thousands of people are attracted to this town every year for the Carnival, the Fleet Food Festival, and the Christmas Festival. Most recently the Grimsey Review in “Build Back Better, a Covid-19 supplement for town centres”, has joined the many others who studied town centre transformations, it has set out the changes that are needed as high streets are not shopping destinations any more, and this needs them to have mixed businesses, events, and amenity space so that people are attracted to any town.
Hart District Council has been given an opportunity, that will never come again, to use Covid-19 to ask for funding from the central government so that they can try to do something different, that can allow community groups and businesses to utilise the space for events and markets to be staged so that people have a reason to visit the town, and be safe while doing it. It can help the community to come together, support our fantastic businesses, and also enjoy the experience.