A CAMPAIGNER has warned that Fleet town centre faces gridlock if a £2 million plan to turn the main street into an "obstacle course" is given the go-ahead.

Retired civil servant Denis Gotel has organised a petition to back his call for the controversial town centre improvement scheme to be dumped.

He has accused Hampshire County Council of trying to bulldoze the scheme through at the expense of long standing proposals for an inner relief road.

Mr Gotel said the county council seemed determined to spend £2 million - donated by Elvetham Heath developers for an inner relief road - on a "rag bag of measures" which would do nothing to ease the traffic problem in Fleet Road.

The measures include increasing the number of pedestrian crossings from three to six, introducing a 20mph speed limit between Oatsheaf junction and west of Birch Avenue, installing traffic humps, and visually narrowing the road.

Other proposals include reducing the number of on-street car parking bays, introducing short-term parking in Victoria Road and Church Road, and extending kerbs and pavements at side road entrances.Off-road unloading areas are also planned for delivery lorries.

Acording to Mr Gotel, surveys have shown that 60 per cent of the traffic in Fleet Road is through traffic. "This proposed scheme will do nothing to address that problem," he said.

"It's wishful thinking to believe that somehow this traffic will either disappear or go elsewhere. If they go ahead with this scheme it will be the death knell of Fleet as a shopping centre."

He called for a proper debate on both the inner relief road and a separate proposal for a one-way system in part of Fleet Road.

These two suggested schemes, he continued, had both been sidelined by the county council whose so-called public consultation he described as "a sham".

"We have a once-in-lifetime chance to build the inner relief road and we should take it," said Mr Gotel, of Connaught Road, Fleet.

He urged local residents to protest about the controversial blueprint to the county surveyor, John Ekins, at the county council's headquarters at The Castle, Winchester.

John Stocks, a member of both the county council and Hart Council, described the improvement scheme as a realistic attempt to make the town centre a safer and pleasanter place for shoppers and motorists.

"I'm impressed at the thought which has gone into the scheme," he said. "The county is enthusiastic to do something for Fleet, and I hope people don't simply throw cold water on it."

He said the relief road was a non-starter because it would have meant demolishing businesses and homes. "A lot of people would have to be re-housed," he added.

COMMENT by Alan Franklin, Star Editor

When Hampshire County Council gets together with Hart to "improve" Fleet's roads, you can anticipate something of breathtaking stupidity.

As our front page lead reveals, they have not disappointed me.

I drive down Fleet Road most days. It is highly congested, taking most of the town's through traffic as well as shoppers and delivery lorries.This has the effect of making the proposed 20 mph speed limit redundant. However, traffic does at least move.

The new proposals will end all that. Perhaps the aim is for Fleet to go for the Guinness Book of Records' gridlock championship of Britain.

When Elvetham Heath was built, £2 million plus was given by developers for road improvements. However, the people who now run our roads policy see it as their duty to obstruct roads, with "build-outs," humps - which damage vehicles' suspension- and all manner of anti-car measures.

They might as well go the whole hog and build huge walls at either end of the town and hang "no admittance" signs on them.

This plan, if carried through, will ruin Fleet. No longer will you be able to dive into local shops for a quick purchase. Progress will be a bumpy nightmare- that is, if there is any progress.

However, there is hope. Councillors have to face the voters. The voters, once stirred from their apathy, will hate to see over two million pounds wasted.