PARKING was the hot topic at Havant’s pre-election debate.
Hopeful candidates from all five main parties went to the people in last night’s News local election hustings at The Plaza, Havant Borough Council.
Cllr Mike Cheshire, leader of the Conservatives, was joined by Havant’s only Liberal Democrat councillor Faith Ponsonby, former Labour councillor Beryl Francis, Havant Ukip leader John Perry and the Green Party’s Tim Dawes at the debate in front of 60 members of the public.
Havant is a Conservative stronghold with just three Labour and one Liberal Democrat making up the opposition on the 38-seat council.
Residents across the borough were angry about last year’s increase in parking charges. And it proved just as emotive last night when a member of the audience asked for the panel’s views on the situation.
Mr Cheshire, who is defending his Hart Plain seat, acknowledged there are problems with parking in the borough.
But he added: ‘It’s a balancing act. But why should people who don’t have cars pay for people who do use cars to go into the town centres?’
Mr Perry, who is standing in Hayling East, said he would like to see a commitment from the council to abolish parking charges in all Havant borough’s health centres.
St Faith’s candidate Mr Dawes said he believed the solution would be to invest in better public transport.
Mrs Ponsonby, who hopes to be re-elected to Battins ward on Thursday, said: ‘We have a borough-wide problem. There is not enough parking on-street. People carve up the grass verges by parking on them. Introducing yellow lines simply pushes the problem out.’
Mrs Francis said she was standing because of the cuts to services such as Sure Start, adding, ‘We care for all of the people, not just the rich. It is monstrous that people in a community as wealthy as ours are forced to go to food banks.’
Mr Perry said if he was voted in he would cut executive pay, officers’ mileage rate and reduce council tax.
‘The first thing we would look at is how much councillors pay themselves,’ vowed Mr Dawes.
He said his party would not accept remuneration if elected.
Mrs Ponsonby said her priority was housing for the hard-working and vulnerable and working with traders.
And Mr Cheshire said he would continue making the borough a safer, cleaner, more prosperous place and would not make policies ‘on the hoof’.
How to improve ‘disaster areas’
THERE was a round of applause for Phil Munday when he raised the question of what is happening with the borough’s town centres.
Mr Munday, who lives in St Faith’s Ward, said: ‘The town centres are disaster areas, frankly.’
Tim Dawes, the Green Party candidate for St Faiths, is one of the founders of Havant Civic Society which works to protect areas from bad development.
He said: ‘Havant town centre is the result of a total failure of over many, many years and we need an intelligent approach.’
And he said Havant needs more independent shops to flourish.
Ukip’s John Perry said parking was an issue and shoppers were going out of town to places like Asda and Tesco where it’s free, leading to the decline of town centres in the borough.
Meanwhile the Conservatives’ Mike Cheshire said the council would be coming down hard on landlords who let the high streets down with shops falling to rack and ruin. He said they would carry out assessments of privately-owned shops and take landlords to court if they did not do them up in a given time period.
But he said the council is constrained by market forces with internet shopping a major issue.
The proliferation of certain types of shops was a problem, according to Faith Ponsonby. ‘In Leigh Park we have charity shops galore. There are nine takeaways, an application for a tenth is in and an 11th is going through appeal,’ she said.
Beryl Francis, who is standing for Labour in Warren Park, said: ‘It is diversity that’s needed.’