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THE CHANGING FACE OF FLEET RETAIL

THE TIMES THEY ARE A CHANGIN…

FLEET HIGH STREET CLOSURES

With just five days left until non-essential shops are given permission to open once more (with social distancing and safety measure in place), how has the coronavirus pandemic affected our High Street? Sadly we’ve lost a few businesses already with the closure of Truly Scrumptious as well as Loaf Bakery, but it isn’t just businesses that have suffered, as both Marie Curie and Phyllis Tuckwell charity shops have also had to close their doors permanently.

Unfortunately it doesn’t look like that will be the end of the closures though, as Dorothy Perkins is the latest to confirm that they will be closing down their branch in the Hart Centre…and there may indeed be more announcements to come in the coming months. Dorothy Perkins stated: “I can confirm the store is closed due to covid 19”.

Pressure on small independent shops is already sky high with ever increasing rents and competition to face but with new physical restrictions now also being added, the fight for survival is simply too much for some to bear, especially those with limited space.

Below: Dorothy Perkins have closed down in Fleet but it may not be the last closure. Photos: Steve Forster.

HART CENTRE REOPENS!

The Hart Centre and retailers within are currently hard at work adjusting and preparing shops to reopen from Monday 15th June. With deep cleaning procedures and social distancing protection being put in place to provide a stress free and safe environment, please pop up and show your support if you can!

Below: The Hart Centre preparing for reopening on Monday 15th June. Photo: Steve Forster.

After some initial doubt, it’s now good news for Shoe Zone as they look to be staying in the Hart Centre, hopefully those closing down signs will be coming down soon!

Below: Shoe Zone is just one of the shops preparing to open on Monday, setting up signage, training staff, cleaning and putting out hand sanitiser. Photo: Steve Forster.

It is believed that most stores will be opening up gradually as they update their units and while not every shop will be ready for Monday, there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes to make things safe for visitors to enjoy a visit…and let’s be honest, it will make a nice change from Netflix and your sofa and it may even keep the kids occupied for a bit – bliss! Some stores such as 217 Menswear have also branched out into online shopping, so if you aren’t yet ready to visit, it may be worth having a look online for a bargain or two.

HIGH STREET RECOVERY

To comply with government safety regulations and to make Fleet High Street and surrounding shops covid compliant, we will be seeing a new kind of normal upon the stores reopening. Apart from the social distancing measures that we are now becoming slowly accustomed to, there are plans to increase pavement space in Fleet and temporarily pedestrianise a section between Victoria Road and Church Road. Here is a short summary of the upcoming changes:

  • Increased pavement space to be introduced.
  • Possible temporary partial pedestrianisation of High Street (awaiting approval – to be reviewed in 3 months time).
  • Parking bays between Church Rd and Gurkha Square to be temporarily closed.
  • Closures currently include bus stops and disabled bays.
  • Council owned car parks to remain free (Hart Centre is privately owned).
  • Barriers and sandbags to close off areas.
  • Possible outside seating for pubs, restaurants and cafes (awaiting approval).
  • Bus stops to have social distancing signs and floor markers.

The potential works will be carried out in two main phases, as specified by Fleet Town Council in their June draft minutes:

Below: Advice given to local businesses from Hart District Council.

There are still some details to be worked out, including local traffic control and some concerns about the effect that closing disabled bays will have. Councillor Steve Forster stated:

“Blue badge holders are being advised by Hart officers to park in the adjacent side roads (where they can park in single yellow lines of not unsafe or causing obstruction) or town centre car parks. Council-owned car parks continue to be free of charge for all – I’m keen that this should continue. I’m not entirely happy as the removal of blue badge bays will cause some difficulty, so Hart officers have agreed to review the situation and amend quickly if needed – I did request some more blue badge bays nearby which they will consider if required. I also highlighted that the barriers and sandbags they intend to use will be adequate, and requested water filled or other more solid barriers – apparently there is now a shortage of these however officers will try to source them.”

Below: Proposed temporary pedestrianised zone in Fleet High Street.

Councillor Steve Forster:

“While Hart officers and the cabinet member have confirmed they recognise that these measures may cause temporary inconvenience for some, Hart’s priority is to support the economic recovery of Hart and ensure the safety of all residents.”

“I’ve also asked Hart officers to consider the views of the online survey I carried out – which had hundreds of votes – on the FB group For Fleets Sake, and input from the HCC consultation request I promoted last week.”

If you’d like to vote on Councillor Forster’s High Street Survey, please follow this link. To read his full statement on the upcoming changes in Hart, please click here.

There is an obvious irony here as free parking, pedestrianisation and pavement seating are just a few of the subjects that have been discussed and requested multiple times in Fleet…and this the year where we finally get to see it happen. Who on earth saw that one coming! Strange times indeed…

DISCOUNT STORES BOOM

Further out from the High Street, plans are going ahead to build two new larger stores, an Aldi and a Home Bargains. The popular discount chains are seeing a continued and steady rise in demand, so is this going to represent the future face of Fleet? The stores are replacing the old Vertu building on Beacon Hill Road and demolition is already well under way.

Before and After: As the old Vertu building is demolished, an artists impression shows how the new area will look:

The new arrivals have divided opinion in Fleet, with some welcoming the discount stores, while others feel it will cheapen the area…a comment that has lead to accusations of snobbery by some. But love them or not, they appear to be well on their way, although it is not sure if the project has been delayed by the coronavirus situation.

Even though any new business has to be seen as a good thing in these very tough times, there are some nostalgic and sad moments for those who have memories of the old Vertu building. The luxury phone maker collapsed and went into liquidation in 2017 after a plan to save it failed. The company was known for creating hand made, high-end phones that were often jewel encrusted and made to order. It’s Signature range of phones started at £11,100, with one 18-carat red gold model costing £39,100. Probably not the place that most people would pop to for a new mobile then…

Below: Saying goodbye to Vertu. Permission for demolition was given back in May 2019.

VERTU PHOTO ALBUM

Click photos to view full size and scroll through.

DEVELOPMENT DETAILS

If you’d like to see more in-depth details of the new build, then have a scroll through the document below, which contains a more detailed look at the retail units and compares it with other local stores.

So with some shops leaving, others arriving and the High Street about to have a covid face lift, is this the shape of things to come? Let’s be honest…who knows anymore. One thing worth watching though, is if the changes put in place now, prove to be popular enough to stay later on…only time will tell. In the meantime please help support our local businesses and welcome them back into this brave new world! #SupportLocalBusiness

Stay Safe Fleet x

** UPDATES**

12TH JUNE 2020

Councillor Steve Forster:

New Info Fleet’s high street pavement temporary widening.  Some blue badge parking retained. 

Further to my previous posts I can confirm that the parking in the high street is being removed from Sunday evening 15th June, to permit more pavement space, to allow more pedestrian space for social distancing in support of more shops reopening from Monday. This is a temporary removal and will operate 24/7.

Originally the plan included the removal of all disabled bays, but I’m pleased to confirm that after a number of blue badge holders raised concerns; after I escalated issues, along with others, Hart parking officers have now agreed to retain a number of blue badge parking bays on Fleet Road: these retained blue badge parking bays (only) will be outside Sainsburys, and also opposite Gurkha Square.

Hart will monitor the impact of the bay suspensions on Fleet Road and will review if needed. There will be enforcement of any non blue badge holders using those spaces and of the new traffic orders.

Fleet Road, the high street, will continue to be open to all vehicles – this phase is only the widening of pavements, as I have previously posted.

A possible plan has been proposed for a future part pedestrianisation , but this has not been finalised or approved so will NOT be implemented unless approved at a later date.”

14TH JUNE 2020

Below: Parking bays being shut off for the new week tomorrow. Photos: Zoe Peach.

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