Hart District Council have published the independent review they commissioned to understand whether the temporary pedestrianisation of Fleet Road is having a negative impact on retailers and businesses in Fleet and to assess the nature of their concerns.
The report was conducted by Rise Associates and concludes: “Given that there is no clear consensus on high street pedestrianisation, with those in favour and against being evenly balanced, and a quarter of all businesses interviewed adopting a neutral stance, it is recommended that the scheme is extended until its impact can be properly assessed. However, any extension should include further investment and incorporate changes to help businesses overcome problems with deliveries.”
COVID has accelerated the decline in high streets as shopping destinations, more people are now shopping online and fewer people visited Fleet in August than before lockdown. As the Business Improvement District we are focusing on the economic recovery for the town and welcome the recommendation in the report for long term change with the scheme “seen as a testbed to create a new more community focused environment to support the high street…supported by a long term vision for Fleet which seeks to redefine its high street offer and create a distinctive destination, ideally supported by a strong events programme.”
The report can be downloaded here.
Summary of findings
99 businesses were interviewed.
- The consultation did not find conclusive evidence that the pedestrianisation scheme was “destroying the high street” and likely to cause a significant number of businesses to go bust.
- Many businesses reported favourable trade, despite difficult conditions caused by Covid-19, and said the scheme had not affected their takings. In some cases businesses said they’d had to take on more staff as a result and were doing better.
- Some of Fleet’s biggest and well known businesses were in support of the scheme and there was clearly a sizeable body of opinion, albeit not a noisy one, that want the scheme to succeed. This was a diverse group, across all sectors and of different sizes, from startups to major high street names. Their support of the pedestrianisation scheme was largely driven by three reasons, these being:
- Business benefits derived from pedestrianisation
- An appreciation of the new environment that is being created
- A recognition that high streets need to change and a willingness to try something new.
- A cross section of businesses opposed the scheme including the longest established business in Fleet. Most of those that opposed the scheme felt that high streets functioned best when people could nip in and out to make quick purchases. They believed the loss of this convenience was damaging. Other reasons as to why they opposed the scheme included a view that it had damaged business (though this was sometimes difficult to prove), inconvenience caused by problems associated with deliveries, frustration that passing traffic weren’t able to see their shop window and a strong dislike at how the changes were implemented. The latter was arguably the most common reason for people wishing to overturn the scheme.
- Almost a quarter of all respondents identified as ‘neutral’ and many felt that they were unable to pass proper judgement on the scheme because it had not been given enough time. Some of those that registered opposition also indicated they were close to neutral too. Conversations with businesses, however, showed that a good number did not feel strong enough either way to oppose or support the scheme. The reasons for this largely centred around it not having any real impact on their business and that it was too soon to say whether it was good or bad.
- All of the biggest anchors on the high street, reporting the highest volume of sales, were either in favour or neutral.
Fleet BID statement submitted to Rise Associates
COVID is accelerating the decline in high streets as shopping destinations. More people are now shopping online and fewer people visited Fleet in August than before lockdown. As a BID we believe that brave decisions need to be made and something needs to change or Fleet will continue to decline. For a town to thrive it needs to be a place that people want to visit. In this context, Fleet Road temporary pedestrianisation has been an opportunity to trial something different. The scheme was implemented by Hart District Council to allow more shoppers to maintain social distancing and support the economic recovery for the business community.
As a BID we had reservations about the scheme, particularly the speed with which it was announced and the lack of detail which would show the opportunity this presents for Fleet. Having spoken to businesses in favour and against the scheme, Fleet BID decided to organise COVID safe activities and events to support economic recovery of the town by encouraging people to come back into Fleet, benefiting both them and the businesses they support. Feedback on these events has been overwhelmingly positive and the events have brought people into the town so that business have the opportunity to benefit from the increase in footfall. We have encouraged businesses to get involved and we know that businesses have benefited from these events.
We have been saddened to see the hostility that has been directed to those expressing support for the trial and, for a town that has a reputation for being safe, friendly and welcoming, we are concerned that this reputation has been damaged by the negativity and division which has been created, particularly on social media. Whatever the outcome of the review, we hope that this will be a catalyst for all organisations and the wider community to come together to create and deliver a shared vision and regeneration of our town that meets the needs of the local community and enables businesses to thrive.
Read the report and other here.