Plans to trial pedestrianisation of the central area of Fleet – the views of the Fleet Business Improvement District
Hart District Council issued a letter to businesses and residents on Thursday 16th July on their proposal for temporary changes to Fleet Road as part of their Covid-19 recovery plans.
The BID was aware that Hart District Council had applied for central government funding but was unaware of the status of Hart District Council’s plans or that a letter was going out to businesses.
Having met with Hart District Council on Friday 17th July and spoken to a number of businesses and the BID Board who represent businesses from most sectors in the town, Fleet BID is supportive of the plans to trial pedestrianisation of the central area of Fleet. We are strongly in agreement that public safety is the priority.
We see the trial road closure as an opportunity to utilise the space to promote the town centre and which could include a wide range of events and ultimately attractive landscaping.
Pedestrianisation has been a success in many other towns and cities increasing footfall and importantly dwell time in family friendly environments. This is documented in many studies and, in Fleet, would be of financial benefit to the majority of our levy payers.
However, we recognise the short term challenges faced by businesses and, as the Business Improvement District, it is our intention to work with stakeholders to help make the transition as smooth as possible.
We feel that this strategy is in line with the overriding need to make Fleet a safe place to visit. Clearly, we are not underestimating the task in hand and acknowledge the fundamental change to town centres across the country.
As such we are committed to working with all stakeholders in a positive and constructive manner.
More information on how we came to our decision
This project is potentially the greatest change to the town centre since the opening of the shopping centre in the 1990s. It comes against a backdrop of the extraordinary changes to the way we live, work, shop and do just about everything else. We know that:
- Traditional retail will continue to decline
- Use of online shopping will increase
- Shopping needs to be experience-led not a chore
- Coronavirus and its impact will be around for a while (how long we don’t know)
- Car free town centres are successful.
We believe that public safety has to be paramount. In addition, high streets are no longer shopping destinations and they need to change or their fortunes will continue to decline.
Covid-19 has accelerated high street decline. Footfall is down 50%, online shopping is at 30% and many high street businesses will close. We, as you, see the negative posts on social media about Fleet, about people who travel to other towns or prefer to buy online. We live in an affluent area, but many local residents don’t shop in Fleet because they do not feel the town meets their needs. Yet every year the Fleet Food Festival, Christmas Festival and Carnival attract tens of thousands of people to the town. There are plenty of studies about town centre transformation, most recently the Grimsey Review: Build Back Better, Covid-19 supplement for town centres, which sets out the need for change as high streets are no longer shopping destinations but need a mix of business types as well as amenity space and events to attract people to a town. We would urge anyone with an interest in this to watch this video of Bill Grimsey making a compelling case for the need for change: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuqQK164WaY&feature=youtu.be
We believe that something needs to change. We have heard from and spoken to many businesses, both those in favour and those against. As a BID, we also had reservations about the scheme, particularly the speed with which this was announced and the lack of detail which would show the opportunity this presents for Fleet. We know that people tend to fear change, but we also know that the traditional high street is in decline. Hart District Council have yet to make a decision and councillors may decide not to go ahead. We know that those who are against have made their feelings known, and we know that those in favour, as well as the silent majority, are likely to have stayed quiet, particularly publicly. We know that we have attracted some criticism for supporting this proposal but sometimes brave decisions have to be made.
This is not ideal but we are not in an ideal world. This is a trial. It is temporary. Covid-19 has provided a one-time opportunity for Hart District Council to apply for central government funding to try something different, to allow businesses and community groups to use the space, for markets and events to take place, to give people a reason to visit the town, to enable them to do it safely and for us all to come together as a community, enjoy the experience and support our fantastic businesses.
The Grimsey Review Build Back Better, Covid-19 supplement for town centres published June 2020
We would urge anyone with an interest in this to watch this video of Bill Grimsey making a compelling case for the need for change: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuqQK164WaY&feature=youtu.be
You an read the BID’s summary of this report here.
You can download the full report here.