Hart District Council sent out a note to businesses and residents, informing them on their proposal for implementing some temporary changes to Fleet Road as one of their post-pandemic recovery plans.
While the BID already knew that Hart District Council had applied to get funding from central government, it wasn’t aware of Hart District Council’s intentions or that businesses and residents were going to receive such a letter.
After a meeting with Hart District Council and some discussions with businesses and the BID Board, Fleet BID agrees to support the plans to turn the central area of Fleet into a pedestrian one. We also consider that public safety should be the first and foremost priority during this challenging time.
We see this trial road closure as an awesome opportunity to make the most out of the town centre businesses, such as fleet takeaways, boutiques and services, to organise a wide range of events and to curb the appeal of this area by improving its landscaping.
Many other cities and towns have successfully tried pedestrianisation, offering their residents the opportunity to spend quality time together in family-friendly outdoor environments. There are studies that show the benefits of such decisions, so there’s no reason why Fleet residents wouldn’t benefit from this change.
Nevertheless, we acknowledge the short term challenges local businesses must face. As the Business Improvement District, we are committed to work closely with stakeholders to support them through this transition.
We think this strategy complements the need to make Fleet a safe place for everyone visiting it or living here. We are aware of the challenges that comes with the decision of changing town centres across the country to accommodate the new safety needs.
As a consequent, we intend to do our best to cooperate with stakeholders in a positive and constructive manner.
Here are more details on how we came to embrace this decision:
This project is probably the biggest change to the town centre since the 90s. It comes together with a series of abrupt changes to the way we live, shop, work and spend time with our loved ones. Here’s what we know:
– Traditional retail will keep declining
– Online shopping will keep growing
– Shopping should be rather an experience-led activity than a chore
– The impact of the pandemic, as well as the coronavirus itself, will be around for an undefined period of time
– Car-free town centres appear to be successful.
We strongly believe that public safety should be our main concern. Also, since high streets ceased to be attractive shopping destinations, they must change to survive or they will eventually die.
The decline of high street has significantly accelerated, due to the COVID-19 crisis. With footfall at 50%, and online shopping at 30%, chances are many high streets will close for good. We read the news, so we are aware of the negative posts on social media about fleet, and of the rising of the online shopping trend. Many residents avoid shopping in Fleet, and there’s nothing we can do about it.
The Fleet Food Festival, Christmas Festival and Carnival were the yearly events that attracted lots of people to visit the town. According to recent studies, high streets need to shift from being important shopping destinations to catering to a mix of businesses and events that would draw people to come visit the town.
Hart District Council seized the opportunity offered by the coronavirus pandemic to apply for central government funding to try something new. This project should allow community groups and businesses to use this space, to organise events and to attract people to visit the town. Coming together as a community, and interacting in an entertaining but safe manner is one of the most important goals for the future.