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What are the key issues being debated on Eastleigh doorsteps?
AFTER a high profile parliamentary by-election in the town just over a year ago, Eastleigh voters are to go to the polls again.
Parties are competing for their affections in the borough’s local elections, which are only a week away.
A third of the seats are up for election this time around.
With a number of significant housing developments coming before councillors in recent months alongside a growing housing waiting list, parties agree housing is one issue at the forefront of voters’ minds.
The council’s Local Plan for development up to 2029 is not yet in place.
But the 10,000 homes it plans at sites across the borough until 2029, which the council says are to prevent unwanted development, have proved controversial in certain areas.
On the other hand there is a shortage of local, affordable housing in the borough.
Some have been granted, to the dismay of some residents, some refused and others have gone to appeal.
And in one case some Botley residents under the Botley Parish Action Group have taken councillors’ decision to allow 1,400 homes at Boorley Green to the High Court in an attempt to get a judicial review, which has failed twice.
The plans had led to a mass protest through Botley.
It is the balance between protecting countryside and providing for the current and next generation of homeowners that is key, according to Eastleigh Liberal Democrat leader Keith House.
“We believe we have got the right balance,” he said.
“People inevitably think about what’s close to them, but also a fair number of people can look at the bigger picture and recognise there’s a massive shortage of housing in their area.”
Conservative Councillor Judith Grajewski said more brownfield sites in the Local Plan could have met the need for housing, and that the need for social housing is not now as great as when estimates for housing were drawn up.
She said people were concerned about the effect on traffic and not having the infrastructure of local services to cope.
Providing affordable housing is a key issue for Labour, which says a flourishing construction industry would also lead to more jobs.
Alex Barter, chairman of the Eastleigh constituency Labour party said: “The point that we make is people have to have somewhere to live and there’s a lack of affordable housing.
“Our message is that affordable and small housing has to be available on a grand scale in Eastleigh.”
Glynn Davies-Dear, chairman of UKIP in Eastleigh, said they were finding people angry about land that was being built on after they had been told it would be protected.
He said there was also concern about roads, traffic and sewage systems being able to cope.
“There’s a great deal of resentment,” he added.
Another issue that hit the headlines in recent months in the borough was the stalling of the Ageas Bowl hotel project at the home of Hampshire cricket, which is underpinned by council funds.
The scheme, for which the council will pay £27.4m when it is complete, was delayed after contractor Denizen went into administration and the site sat empty for six months.
The scheme could be finished by next spring.
Though Cllr House acknowledged that this had come up several times on the doorstep, he said it was really more of an issue at the elections a few years ago.
And he argued that for his party it was a positive, providing 500 jobs when finished and contributing £50m to the local economy every year.
Cllr Grajewski said residents had raised concern about the money being spent on it and the potential impact of the delay.
Mr Davies-Dear said people on the doorstep were worried about the level of borrowing at the council, which goes towards funding projects like the Ageas Bowl. Other key issues Liberal Democrats are hearing on the doorstep include maintaining of services, council tax, which has been frozen for the last 11 years, and investment into local services.
In the last year the Liberal Democrat-run council has announced a number of projects, including plans to demolish and replace the popular Fleming Park Leisure Centre with improved facilities, costing more than £15m. For the Conservatives, key issues are the levels of borrowing by the council, which they say is too high, restructuring the council with less councillors to save £400,000 and reducing fees for car parking and sports facilities.
UKIP argue immigration is another key issue and are calling for more controls.
“People want to talk about immigration – they’re fed up of being told there’s not an immigration problem,” said Mr Davies-Dear.
Labour’s other key issues for Eastleigh are the cost of living and addressing the traffic through the centre of Eastleigh, Chandler’s Ford and Hamble by improving public transport.
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