by Pat Franklin

A storm is brewing over the £2.2 million which developers have handed over to pay for Fleet road improvements.

Elvetham Heath Developers sent a final payment cheque for over £757,000 to Hampshire County Council - and along with it a bombshell letter noting that the money was for Fleet's long-awaited inner relief road or "alternative transport improvements". The letter stated: "We note that HCC has abandoned its proposals for the construction of the Fleet Inner Relief Road."

It goes on: "We understand that HCC is developing proposals for traffic management measures and environmental improvements in Fleet town centre.

"We do not consider that such traffic management and environmental measures constitute an ‘alternative scheme…'

"Accordingly, we consider that the use…of the monies…to be likely to constitute a breach of the contractual arrangements."

A statement from the developers on Tuesday said they "would regrettably be left with no choice but to pursue judicial review procedures" - that is, to take the whole tangled mess to court.

The inner relief road, which would have taken all the through traffic out of the shopping area, was on the cards for years, but there was no money to build it. Now that the money is there, planners have dropped the idea.

The road was to go from Reading Road North, down Harlington Way, behind the council offices, library and shops, through Victoria Road car park and Church Road car park, finishing at Church Road. The 600 yard stretch of new road would have taken 70% of all town centre traffic off the main shopping street and would also have provided a rear delivery and loading area for the shops.

It would have meant the demolition of two old semis - already owned by the county, one other house owned by Hart Council, and one commercial garage.

The relief road was upheld at a government inquiry in 1998, when the inspector said the road was necessary, but Coun Sharyn Wheale said shopkeepers were 100% against it because it might hit passing trade.

Coun Denis Gotel said this was rubbish, and that she must have been misinformed, for he had personally surveyed the shopkeepers and found that over 90% wanted the relief road, and it would not have hurt their trade at all, but would have taken congestion out of the town centre.

He added that the original idea of blocking up Elvetham Road with build-outs was so that drivers would avoid it - and be forced to use the relief road. But now there was no political will to build the new road. "It is an unbelievable catastrophe," said Coun Gotel, "beyond all logical thinking." He said that the road is still in the structure plan.

Instead of building the road, Hart's plan is to use the £2.2 million to revamp the town centre, ripping up and replacing all the pavements and banning free parking during certain times. The developers say this is not what the money was for.