On Thursday, 16th July, a letter was issued by Hart District Council to residents and businesses on their proposal for temporary Fleet Road changes as part of their Covid-19 recovery plans. Although the BID was informed of Hart District Council’s application to central government funding, it was not informed about the position of Hart District Council’s plans and that a letter was being issued to businesses.
Besides our Friday 17th July meeting with Hart District Council, we spoke to a few businesses and the BID Board that usually represent businesses from many sectors in the town; generally, Fleet BID shows support of the plans to trial pedestrianisation Fleet’s central area. Undoubtedly, we agree that public safety should be the top priority. The trail road closure seems to be an opportunity for us to take advantage of the space to promote the entire town centre – this might involve a wide range of events and, of course, appealing landscaping.
Pedestrianisation has proven successful in many other cities and towns, increasing footfall, and most importantly, dwell time when it comes to family-friendly environments. In general, this is published in numerous studies and could be of financial advantage to most of our levy payers in Fleet.
Nevertheless, we understand the short term problems encountered by businesses. Therefore, as the Business Improvement District, our primary objective is to make the entire transition as seamless as possible. Honestly, we think that this strategy is in alignment with the overriding necessity to make Fleet a safe destination to visit. That means we are not undervaluing the task in hand and, therefore, acknowledge the significant change to town centres throughout the country.
For this reason, we have dedicated ourselves to working with each stakeholder positively and constructively.
More Details on How We Made Our Decision
Since the opening of the shopping centre around the 1990s, this project is potentially the biggest change to the town centre. It comes against a backdrop of the uncommon changes to how we shop, work, live, and do just about everything else. As of now, we can agree that:
- There will be a constant decline in traditional retail
- Shopping is required to be experience-driven and not a chore
- There will be an increase in the use of online shopping
- Car-free town centres are quite successful
- Coronavirus and its huge impact will be around for some time (how long, we are not sure)
We strongly believe that public safety is of utmost significance. What’s more, high streets are not shopping destinations any more, and they change, or else, their fortunes will continuously decline.
Covid-19 has generally increased high street decline. Online shopping is down 30%, footfall is at 50%, and a majority of high street businesses might close. Like you, we see the negative posts throughout social media regarding Fleet, about individuals who travel to other cities or prefer to purchase online. Although we stay in an affluent neighbourhood, most residents avoid shopping in Fleet since they do not feel the town satisfies their specific requirements.
Every year the Carnival, Christmas Festival, and Fleet Food Festival attract tens of thousands of tourists through methods like the Find Your Fleet initiative. Generally speaking, there are lots of studies focusing on town centre transformation, with the most recent being the Grimsey Review: Covid-19 supplement for town centres (Build Back Better). It sets out the importance of change since high streets are not shopping destinations any more but require a combination of business types and amenity space and events to attract more people to a town.
Due to Covid-19, Hart District Council has a one-time opportunity to apply for central government funding and try something different, for events and markets to take place, to enable community groups and businesses to utilise the space, to give people a good reason to visit that town, to allow them to visit safely and for all of us to unite as a community, and support our great businesses.