Restoring the vitality of Havant and Waterlooville town centres is one of the pivotal issues going into the elections.
Both were once thriving hubs, but a combination of the recession and changing shopping habits, has left both centres looking a little unloved.
It’s abundantly clear that local people want to be proud of where they live.
Not that it’s all been bad news.
Far from it. New shops continue to open, with places like Emsworth and Leigh Park faring well, and the big retailers are moving in, with a Sainsbury’s and M&S on the cards for Waterlooville, and a large retailer expected to move into Solent Retail Park at some stage.
The council has also spent big sums on sprucing up Park Road South in Havant and London Road in Waterlooville.
But several issues have proved contentious, including continuing question marks over the future of East Street, the historic White Hart pub being turned into a bingo hall, the decline of North Street, and the future of land at the former Curzon Rooms.
The old Cobden Arms and land between the bus station and West Street in Havant have now been derelict for many years.
Lesley Petrie, who runs Jon’s Bits and Bobs wool shop in East Street, says: ‘I personally think Havant is a bit of a mess.
‘We don’t need a bingo hall in Havant – that’s one of the main things.
‘Havant is what Havant is.
‘What are they going to do?
‘I am disillusioned to be honest. I don’t know who I will vote for.
‘I will not be voting Conservative. I always vote Conservative, but I will not be voting Conservative for different reasons.
‘I don’t think they are doing what Havant needs.
‘I think they need to listen to the people of Havant – that’s what they need to do.’
Simon Woodham, who owns Royal Fish and Chips in London Road, Waterlooville, cannot vote as he lives in the Witterings, but said he would vote Ukip if he could vote next week.
He said: ‘Take a walk round Waterlooville.
‘The shops are dead or dying. All the shops that are full are on the other side of the carriageway.
‘You have two hours free parking and everything you need.
‘Why would you walk a quarter of a mile into the town with no shops in it?
‘The fact is we have next to no parking and you can’t drive through the town. The whole thing is wrong.
‘I believe they are leaving us to die so they can bulldoze the lot and start again.’
Officials at the Waterlooville Community Forum are not so dispirited, however.
They say that the tide is slowly beginning to turn and Waterlooville has a superb opportunity to restore its identity as thousands of new families move in to the west of the town centre.
The biggest battle, they say, is nailing down the absentee landlords who own some of the empty buildings.
Kylie Mayzes, 39, a mum-of-two, who lives in Waterlooville, says: ‘I just think it needs a bit of a clean-up.
‘The shops need to be filled.
‘There are a lot empty and it’s not very appealing going to shop in Waterlooville.’
She adds: ‘Where have the swings gone from Havant Park?
‘They are taking all these things down.
‘We need to have somewhere where we can take wheelchairs. Community parks and recreational areas seem to be dwindling.’
Mike Joines, who owns Zoom Hairdressing in Park Parade and Mooz Cafe Bar, says he normally votes for Liberal Democrats, but will be abstaining from voting this time.
He believes the Conservatives are doing a good job, but cannot vote for the party as he vowed to never vote blue following the Hillsborough disaster in 1989.
He said: ‘I am abstaining this year because I think the Conservatives have done quite well.
‘We have nothing to complain from a business and I think they are doing quite well with the economy.
‘We have had some rebates on the business rates and interest rates are still very low which has helped keep mortgage costs down and put more cash into people’s pockets.’
He says Havant Borough Council could have little impact on empty buildings in Park Parade because they are owned privately.
He added that the council was doing a good job street cleaning in Park Parade, but noted that Waterlooville town centre was littered with cigarette butts on his last visit.
But the council could step in by offering more free parking, he says.
‘We have got this reduction in parking charges,’ he says.
‘It takes us back to what we were a year or two ago.
‘We have had to get through a recession with high parking charges – it’s not fair really.
‘Now are trying to build the economy up.
‘We would like may be five free parking bays – for one or two hours would be better.’
Pensioner Jackie Bampton, from Bedhampton, says facilities for the young and elderly are her priority.
‘I am concerned about a lot of luncheon clubs having to close,’ she says.
‘It’s important for the elderly to be out and meeting other people. It’s not the local council’s fault, it’s because money from government dropped.’
And she’s pleased that the Conservative-led authority has not increased council tax for the last five years.
Who she votes for next week is not for discussion, but she adds: ‘It’s important to vote.
‘What right do you have to complain if you don’t vote?
‘People fought for years to get the vote for the ordinary working person.’
MAINTAINING the ‘green lungs’ of the Havant borough has always been a big talking-point and this election will be no different.
Emsworth Residents’ Association recently put up a strong case to the government planning inspector about the importance of maintaining the ‘strategic gaps’ between settlements.
It comes as Havant Borough Council is in the process of finalising the sites that will be earmarked for development in the agreed local plan.
Many locals are adamant that the green space between Havant and Emsworth must be maintained.
Campaigners have argue vociferously for green spaces such as Horse Field, off Havant Road, and land north of Selangor Avenue to be kept undeveloped.
There is also a strip of rich farmland between the two towns which some say should be kept for future generations.
Stephanie Elsy, chairwoman of the Emsworth Forum, says: ‘Strategic gaps are important to delineate particular villages, towns and communities.
‘Otherwise you just have urban sprawl and everything joined up.
‘Places can lose their sense of identity. Green spaces also have the benefit of fields and the flora and fauna.
‘I would support trying to keep them.’
On Hayling Island, the strain that new housing developments could put on roads and services and maintaining the island’s semi-rural character is the focus for many voters.
Terry Worrall, chairman of Hayling Island Community Network, says: ‘Primarily I would be looking for this infrastructure review.
‘We have been asking for it for so long and nothing seems to be coming forward.
‘We accept that land at Goldring Close is going to go, but we consider that the infrastructure is not sufficient for that.
‘They are talking about another couple of hundred homes at West Town and on the seafront. We want the council to be on the ball.’
He says he is pleased with the way the Conservative councillors have represented the island.
BUSINESSES are demanding that any new administration does not impose higher parking fees and works with them to boost trade.
In February last year a blanket £1-an-hour charge was introduced across the borough, but it proved to be massively unpopular.
Following a review, the council listened to the negative feedback and reduced the charges to 80p or 90p.
Giles Babb, chairman of Emsworth Business Association, says: ‘They could still do with some fresh thinking on parking.
‘I would still be keen to see the pay-by- coin system for people who just want a couple of minutes to park.
‘If you want 20 minutes, you pay 20p. That would help.
‘To be honest since they have reduced the parking rate, we have seen an increase an people using the car parks in Emsworth.’
He adds: ‘They need to work with us. The classic example was the resurfacing of the car park in South Street.
‘It was all a bit of a surprise and they did not really work with us.’
Mr Babb says increasing parking charges can no longer be a way of plugging shortfalls in the council’s budget.
‘The council needs to realise now that businesses and residents are not just going to roll over when they decide to put prices up,’ he adds. More parking provision is also a big issue, with work currently under way to revamp Hambledon Parade in Waterlooville and efforts to increase the number of spaces for workers in Southmoor Lane.
A review is being carried out by the council to tackle the traffic gridlock in Havant at rush hour. One idea could be a new sliproad for traffic travelling to and from Southmoor Lane, as well as improvements to the roundabout at Harts Farm Way.
ALL these issues and more will be discussed at an election debate at The Plaza in Havant on Monday.
The panel will include a representative from each political party and each will outline their party position before answering questions from the floor. The debate takes place from 6pm to 7.30pm and all are welcome.