A New Harlington, You Decide.
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Here are some pieces regarding the positive aspects of building A New Harlington.

Why I’m voting YES in the
Parish Poll and the consultation.
  Presentation to the Public Meeting by
Tracy Grimshaw.
Why every vote matters.   The alternative to building on Gurkha Square.

Why I’m voting YES in the
Parish Poll and the consultation.


Eight years ago the Harlington was in a very sorry state. It was losing Hart District Council (HDC) around £400k per annum with a skeleton staff, minimal entertainment and predominantly only doing room hire and coffee shop.  It was being funded by a special budget from Fleet and Church Crookham and was set to close down completely.
When Fleet Town Council (FTC) came into existence it took over the Harlington, it was a ticking bomb at the time with regard to the state of the building.  I recall being at a meeting questioning whether FTC should even take on the potential liability. The result of FTC running the venue has been to considerably reduce the subsidy and also create a far more vibrant and well used facility in Fleet.  Lots more events and lots more group usage. However the time bomb remains ticking. The roof is on its last legs, the plumbing needs constant attention, the auditorium needs better seating to attract more ticket sales, it also needs considerable updating technically, the boiler is one breakdown from having to be decommissioned and the insulation on the building is exceptionally poor.
As with any business needing to make a critical decision FTC had to decide whether to
a) Patch up, make do and mend
b) Rebuild on current location.
c) Build a new centre.
d) The only other option, to vacate the building and hand it back to HDC, effectively closing it down.
They decided to put options a) to c) to the vote and Build a new centre came out as the preferred option. (Some have questioned the voting principal, but however you feel that is the message they received from those who voted.)

I certainly did not approve of many of the first drafts for the rebuild. And I gave my feedback on a number of occasions; sadly a rebuild incorporating rebuilding the library was rejected by Hampshire County Council who instead went ahead with their own refurbishment.
In the end the plan we have today was on the table and I felt this was possibly the best plan for the area that I had seen to date.
At this point it is worth remembering previous plans that HDC had put forward.
1) A millennium garden, this would have removed all parking from the Gurkha Square (GS) and ended all events, markets etc. taking place.
2) Sainsburys and an entertainment hub, again removing most of the parking and bulldozing a number of local retail businesses.
3) Another Town Square project again removing all parking.
4) It has also recently come to light a group from the rural areas looking to redevelop all Fleet’s open parking spaces along with up to six story buildings to create 900 homes in our Town Centre.

So on balance the loss of 25 parking spaces is of less concern. The council took out more than double that on the high street when they came up with their ludicrous loading bay scheme some years ago, and now the bays have returned there are more than 25% less spaces than before.

In my mind the new project may actually SAVE GURKHA SQUARE.
1. Events
I have run a number of events incorporating GS over the years and it is nothing more than a car park into which we have to bring in everything. Stages, lighting, generators, sound etc etc.
The new plan means that the covered balcony area of the centre will look out over GS. This means that during events it can be used for staging, with power and lighting and sound far easier to manage. It is also angled in such a way that a far greater viewing area can be achieved, especially when the high street is closed, such as Christmas festival.
Space is not an issue, GS may have felt busy, but it has never been more than half full during an event.   Finally we will be able to incorporate the Harlington into outside events instead of it being unused in the background.

Out side events on Gurkha Square 

                                                     Remembrance day






2. Remembrance
The balcony we have mentioned will also give additional sheltered viewing for those unable to stand at the ceremony, there will still be plenty of space left.
3. The Market
The current market barely uses half the car park as it is, and is reducing year on year. There is potential for the new centre to extend the market with indoor stalls on a Saturday on occasions, such as craft markets, antiques fairs etc. Its immediate proximity to the car park will give a symbiotic relationship with the existing market, rather than drawing away.
4. Parking
The square will remain available for parking and be a visible car park for the Town, at some point it could be possible to filter cars round to Victoria Road when it is full, currently this option is barricaded off, but it does not need to stay that way.
5. The Town Square we have never had
The combination of a multi purpose open space, flanked by three buildings, (Library, New Harlington and The Arthur) will be available as a focal point for many and varied activities in the future, as said above the integration with the Harlington will also make such things so much easier.

As a venue itself it is being purpose built for Fleet. The Harlington staff have 8 years’ experience running their venue and they know what sells and what people want to see. The new main auditorium will have the correct number of seats to enable them to licence the right size of acts that Fleet demands. If it has too many seats it will come up against Woking, Southampton, Basingstoke etc. And frankly, as also in retail, it can not compete and draw the crowds it would need.
There are however a considerable number of acts, show and performances that want venues of this size, but they don’t want to play in an old school hall. So instead of people saying “why are they coming to  Fleet”, people will appreciate that they are coming to a quality venue.
The seating areas can also be removed for many of the other things people in Fleet love. Tribute bands and theme nights always sell out, and ensuring the space is right for them is vital.
The venue will also have a smaller venue which will be great for emerging bands and drama groups to use and give them a feeling of a full small space rather than a half empty auditorium.  It will make a great rehearsal room and be bookable by clubs and groups who don’t need a massive space.

No one wants to lose GS car park for up to two years, but we need to put this into perspective. Whatever project is done we will lose that space, or its equivalent. A refurbishment project will require a builder’s compound just as much as a new build will. In fact any development in that area will cause a considerable amount of disruption. It is therefore a fact that if we want improvement there is a price to pay.  I am as concerned as anyone as to the potential loss of customers the short term loss of GS will bring. I am 50 yds from it. Well on Saturdays it is not available, and that is my busiest day. So I did a survey* for the rest of the week. 10% of my customers use GS Monday to Friday as opposed to other ways of coming into Town.  Not insignificant, but considerably less than I expected.

It is an excellent question, and one that only HDC can answer, and the fact is I do not think they know, also I would not expect them to have gone to the expense of drawing up options until they know they are going to be handed it back.  What I do know is that their current offices adjacent are no longer believed to be fit for purpose and various development options have been considered.
As far as I am aware there is nothing set in stone. The release of this land will mean they are able to look at the whole remaining area as one block. Any views beyond that is just speculation.

The Portas report had many failings, in that Mary Portas seemed to believe that Towns could be moulded like a department store is, however this is not the case, especially in Fleet with hundreds of different freehold and lease holders doing their own thing, Towns evolve to individual’s requirements.  However one thing that came out clearly was that Towns need to offer a mix of social and retail. For retail to survive people need to be drawn away from their Amazon accounts on their PC and into Town.   Attractive centres offering a varied mix of entertainment, courses, markets, exercise etc.  at different times of day is an excellent way to increase footfall, from which everyone can benefit.  I believe a new purpose built centre can go a long way to fulfilling that role in Fleet.


Yes it will cost us a little bit more. It costs on average for a band D home just under £30 more per year to live in Fleet than in one of the surrounding parishes.   That figure could be reduced if we do not build a new building, but then again, depending on the on-going maintenance costs of the existing one it may not be reduced by much.  Every parish supports a community centre of one kind or another. Where ever you live you can use them at a rate considerably lower than a commercially run equivalent.  Fleet could build another small pavilion sized project, but that would not serve to improve the mix we have available and we would lose an asset that is increasingly growing in popularity.

Should only Fleet pay?
It is a good question. The people of Fleet are producing a facility that others can use. So where do we draw the line? Church Crookham? Yateley? Hook? If we take this principal literally we would have to lose all our parks. The Views, Calthorpe Park, Oakley Park etc. All are owned and maintained by the people of Fleet. Do we let people visit our Town but ask them to divert their eyes from the flowers that WE paid for. There will always be geographic and constituancy borders. But we get to visit other Towns and enjoy the facilities they have paid for and are proud of. Do we cut off our nose to spite our face? Does society halt progress and let their Towns degrade? Or do we do what we can for everyone's benefit and when we visit elsewhere be grateful for what they have done for everyone? I want to be proud of where I live, and I'm happy to pay a little bit more to live in a better place.

If you have read this far I would like to thank you,
I have come under a great deal of criticism for voicing my opinion on this matter, and have been accused of being a puppet of the council. I think anyone who has known my history on such matters knows that if I disagree with something I say so, and if I support something I will help in any way I can.  The above are only my views; I have lived in Fleet for 44 years, worked here for 30 and had a shop for 24 years. I am a Fleet rate payer.

Kevin Whibley.


*A respond to the comment about my survey being flawed in which I stated that less than 10% of my customers used Gurkha Square car park.  Fleet has  542 Council spaces in paid for car parks. 520 Spaces in the Hart Shopping Centre.
There are two pub car parks which now charge.  50% of my respondents either parked on street for free or walked in.  Gurkha Square provides less than 10% of Council Parking provision, and less than 5% of the Towns paid for provision, (excluding the fact it is not available on Saturdays.)
So taking into account that 50% of my customers did not pay to park. Statistically I could expect just 2.5% of my customers to use Gurkha Square. Given my proximity to the car park I still think that a figure of 10% is accurate and whilst showing I have a probably greater reliance on it than businesses in the Centre of Town, that reliance still appears to be relatively small. From a personal perspective the short term loss of this facility does not concern me as much as the lost opportunity of this investment. Long term I feel this remains an important visible car park for the Town as a whole.