FLEET HIGH STREET PEDESTRIANISATION
There has been complete confusion recently, after Hart District Council announced that temporary pedestrianisation plans for the High Street were to begin this week. It was considered a done deal as 400 leaflets were printed up and distributed to local residents and businesses and the plans were given the go ahead with a start date of Monday 27th July…a date that has now been and gone without any sign of movement.
There was no initial explanation about the change of plans, leaving local residents in the dark about whether the plans were still going ahead, were postponed, or even cancelled altogether.
With questions being asked on social media there was a very gradual leak of information regarding a possible change of heart and yet another upcoming meeting about the pedestrianisation scheme. Once again it wasn’t made entirely clear what had happened and there was no information from the official Hart District Council page, or from Community Campaign Hart (who have majority control of the council at this time).
Hart District Councillor and Hampshire County Councillor Steve Forster made this video just before the meeting, to try and explain what was going to to befuddled local residents:
Below: Councillor Steve Forster, 30th July 2020.
HART DISTRICT COUNCIL MEETING – 30TH JULY
The meeting on Thursday was live-streamed on Facebook at 7pm via the HDC Live Stream Facebook Page and forwarded to the For Fleet’s Sake Facebook Group. It has been removed from the Council streaming page as usual now, although no explanation has ever been given for not allowing people to view the videos after just a few hours (other councils archive the videos on their site for viewing at any time). With new technology being trialed, it wasn’t the easiest thing to watch and hear…but for those interested, we saved it for you…so here it is:
Below: Hart District Council Meeting 30th July 2020.
There’s no doubt it’s a divisive topic and it was interesting to note that many individual opinions came into play, with party members not automatically backing fellow members, something we are used to seeing normally.
There were some interesting points raised on both sides of the debate, with traffic issues being the most discussed reason to vote against the scheme, including the fact that HGV lorries will be required to take slightly longer journeys to reach their final destination. Albert Street will bear the brunt of the traffic, along with other local roads and bus stops will also be relocated in that area.
On the plus side, it was pointed out that the face of retail is changing…it was changing before covid and it is certainly going to continue to change in the future. These unprecedented times have given Fleet what could be seen as a one-off opportunity to make a change in the town and there were many who were reluctant to let that pass by without at least giving it a go. If successful, perhaps other measure can be taken to ease traffic concerns?
Below: The emergency motion to discuss High Street plans.
The motion was passed with 16 votes to 12 and arrangements were made to contact Fleet Town Council to discuss funding and allow a second vote to be held on the scheme the following evening. If approved, this would give the final agreement for the project, along with the continuing support from Fleet BID, which represents local businesses in the High Street.
One of the questions asked was, what is considered ‘temporary’? The answer is that scheme appears to be flexible depending on the covid situation and could be around 6 months initially, although Hart District Council have requested a traffic order for 12 months, so it could be longer. An amendment was brought in by one of the original backers of the scheme, Councillor Alan Oliver, to measure a count of traffic as well as speeds travelled on local roads, although it is unclear how this would give any reasonable measure of success or failure, especially as no feedback from the businesses involved has been requested. Despite accusations of an unsatisfactory scheme from Hampshire County Council, it was pointed out that the idea came from Hart District Council, from the initial planning to the road diversions.
FLEET TOWN COUNCIL MEETING – 31st JULY
To further progress the scheme, it was decided to hold another vote with Fleet Town Council to see if they also agreed to pass the measures discussed and to request a funding contribution of £10,000. Unfortunately there are no live streamed meetings from FTC as they refuse to allow their meetings to be viewed in this manner, despite repeated requests for clarity and transparency. The meeting was held on 31st July at 7pm.
FLEET TOWN COUNCIL VOTE UPDATE
The Fleet Town Council meeting went ahead tonight as planned and the pedestrianisation scheme was voted in, 8 votes yes, to 1 vote no. The council also agreed to contribute the requested £10k towards the scheme as well as an extra £10k towards events on the High Street, so it’s full steam ahead!
It has been pointed out that this could be a unique opportunity to try something different in Fleet. It is not necessarily a permanent move and if it proves unpopular or unworkable, it can be cancelled without any further delay. It appears to be a case of ‘you don’t know until you try’ and with many pedestrianisation projects proving popular in local areas, this could open up the way for events and entertainment to attract further footfall in the town. There is also a relatively short window of opportunity for government funding for the scheme, which will be lost if this is delayed any further. It was stated that this trial was hoped to be in everyones interests going forward but this would be monitored carefully.
The scheme is unlikely to be in place before September now, making the HDC leaflet information a little obsolete but hopefully this time at least, Councillors will share the updated information with the local community. It is unclear if further costs will be invested in another leaflet drop with the correct dates on it.
It is pretty much a given that there will be some disappointment over this scheme being given the go-ahead but the truth is, none of us know what the outcome will be, or whether it will help or hinder our failing High Street. The only way to find out, is to try it.
The scheme is a trial, a chance to test the waters and see if this gives the town more opportunities going forwards and possibly a bigger reason to visit in future, while also allowing more space for social distancing. If it works then wonderful – let’s be honest, Fleet needs something new and maybe this could be a start? If not then the roads will go back to how they are now, people will find something else to complain about it and life will go on. So maybe we should give it a fair chance and see what happens…something needs to change in Fleet, things can be tweaked to address issues and in the absence of any other suggestions it will be interesting to see what happens next.
Some FAQ’s from Councillor Peter Wildsmith (based on what has been discussed at various meetings) 3rd August.
Emergency Vehicle Access:
The Closures are going to be soft staggered closures which will still allow emergency vehicle access if required.
Access to resident parking behind Greg’s and Santander:
The closure at the junction of Branksomewood road and the High Street will be a soft staggered closures which will allow a tapered pinch point access to these properties but the hight street will be pedestrianised through this section.
Why has this been done so quickly:
The government announced a scheme of funding and from the point they did the council had about 3 days to get a bid in for funding there are then timescales on when the scheme has to be implemented or the funding would go to another authority.
Why don’t we just use the money on something else:
The money being spent is money from MHCLG and M3 LEP this is grant funding and can not be used on anything else. If it was not for the grant funding there would not be money for this scheme.
What is being done to monitor traffic on Albert Street:
As mentioned in 4.15 of the papers that went before Full council speed and traffic volume sensors will be used to monitor the impact and to inform of any additional measures needed.
Additional Traffic using Clarence Connaught and Albany Road
Upper street is being closed off to stop people using the lower down residential roads as a cut through the town centre. Traffic flows can be monitored on these roads as well to inform if there is any additional measures that can be put in to mitigate for this.
The bays on the section from Victoria Road to the Oat Sheff will still be in use. All disabled bays in car parks will still be in use as well. It may be a case that we need to look at additional disabled bays near the entrance and exit of some car parks and if this is the case it is something I will raise.
The council has kept parking charges free for longer that a lot of other local councils. Parking is an income for the council and ultimately the longer free parking is kept then other services would in the end have to go.
People will no longer go to Fleet if they can park on the high street:
There are a very limited number of bays on the hight street as it is so the total number of spaces lost is not great. If they where not to go to Fleet and where to go to other local towns Farnborough Camberley, Basingstoke etc they would have to also park in a car park to access shops. All shops in Fleet are within 100m of a car park approximately.
This sort of thing had never worked elsewhere:
Great examples of this working are Newbury and more locally Camberley and Park Street.
Why don’t you just do nothing:
It is well documented that high streets are in decline and Fleet High Street was before Covid. People no Longer Shop and have a coffee they come for leisure and socialising and do there shopping at the same time. The longer people spend in a town centre the more they will typically spend. If we do nothing the high street will decline further it is expected that at least 30% of spend that has transferred online will not return
Loss of Passing Trade:
If you drive down Fleet Hight street most of the time due to how few bays there are it is unlikely you will get a space and would have to park in a car park anyway.
I am not going to say there will not be the odd couple of items of passing trade lost however this should be greatly made of for an exceeded by the spend of additional people and people spending more time.
The scheme will just look like roadworks:
Phase three is about the place making. This will involve making the town centre look nicer and more friendly as opposed to red and white barriers. Using planters for closures and inserting decking and seating areas into current bays. It will also allow for the facilitation of “events” to attract people to the town and make them spend longer in the town. So the family can come do their shopping have something to eat and the kids be entertained at the same time. Fleet Town Council are providing £10,000 to facilitate events and Fleet Bid are keen to put these on to help support the town centre and the experience.
Why no public consultation?:
Because f the timescales for the funding and that it is meant to be to help during the Covid situation to make social distancing easier and help the high streets. Fleet Bid where consulted and details where put out to residents in surrounding roads.
All councillors are keen to engage with people throughout to find out how it is working foe them.
Traffic planning not carried out by professionals:
All the closures plans have been drawn up by Hampshire highways and they are the ones who will implement it. This is there job and they are professionals at doing it. A it is a highway the District council can not do it without them and there planning and knowledge as regards safety, routes and access.:
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