A letter was issued to residents and businesses by the Hart District Council on the 16th of July that detailed a proposal to conduct temporary adjustments to Fleet Road to form a portion of their Covid-19 recovery plans.
The BID at this stage knew that Hart District Council had made an application for government funding. However, they were not aware of the Hart District Council’s plans or the fact that they had sent letters to businesses.
After meeting with the Hart District Council on the 17th of July, along with consulting with various businesses along with the BID Board, an organisation that represents companies from many of the sectors in this town, Fleet BID showed their support for temporary pedestrianisation for the central areas of Fleet. We strongly agree that the safety of the public is a top priority.
We view this trial closure of the road as an opportunity to use this space to promote and improve the centre of this town which may include various events and attractive landscaping.
Pedestrianisation has proved to be successful in various other cities and towns, increasing foot traffic along with important dwell time in a family-friendly environment. This has been proven in several studies, and for Fleet, this would prove to be financially beneficial for most of the levy payers.
However, we are aware of many of the short-term challenges that businesses face, and as the BID (Business Improvement District), we plan to work alongside stakeholders to assist with making sure this transition goes through smoothly.
We believe that this tactic matches up to the prevailing need to turn Fleet into a safer area to visit. We have not underestimated this task and we are aware of these fundamental changes to many town centres around the country.
For this reason, we commit to working alongside every stakeholder constructively and positively.
Additional Information Surrounding How We Came up with This Decision
This is a project that we believe will become the largest change to this area since the opening of shopping centres in the 1990s. It is also linked to the extraordinary and unusual changes to ways in which we shop, work, and live along with everything else that we do. We are already aware that:
- Traditional retail will carry on declining
- Online shopping will carry on increasing
- Shopping should become experience-led rather than a chore
- Covid-19 along with its impacts is going to be with us for a long time (the duration we do not know)
- Town centres that are car-free are successful.
We strongly advocate that the safety of the public should be paramount. At the same time, high streets will no longer be a popular shopping destination. These businesses need to undergo changes or their income and fortunes will carry on declining.
The coronavirus has sped up the decline of high streets. Foot traffic has already decreased by 50%. Online shopping is currently at 30%, which means that many of these high street companies will need to close. We are aware of the negative feedback and posts currently trending on the social media platforms about Fleet, along with people that prefer buying online or travelling to another town. This area may be affluent, yet many of the residents prefer not to shop in Fleet since they are under the impression that this town does not match up to their needs.
Each year the Christmas Festival and Carnival, and the Fleet Food Festival, attracts many visitors to this town. There are also many studies associated with the transformation of town centres, with the most recent (titled Grimsey Review: Build Back Better) Covid-19 supplement dedicated to town centres. This review explains the need for drastic change since the high streets are now no longer popular shopping destinations. Instead, they require a variety of different businesses, such as the toy store in Fleet, along with events and amenity space that will attract visitors to these towns.
Opportunities for a New Approach
Covid-19 has offered a distinctive opportunity for Hart District Council to submit an application for “central” government funding in order to try a different approach, that allows community groups and businesses to make use of this space for events and markets. This will also attract more visitors, and allow them to use these spaces safely, and for everyone to join together as a tight-knit community in order to enjoy the support and experience of our wonderful businesses.