Eastleigh goes to polls today. Polling stations opened their doors at 7 am on a dismal day.
With only 15 of the 44 seats being contested and with a 34 seat majority in the Council Chamber Liberal Democrats are unlikely to lose their vice like grip on Eastleigh while the main Conservative opposition group have not gained a seat in ten years.
However with Lib Dem support sliding in national opinion polls there is still scope for an upset and results will be closely scrutinised for an indication of how a possible by election might go should MP Chris Huhne be forced to resign his seat
Several Lib Dem ‘Big Hitters’ are up for re election and the biggest scalp that could be claimed today belongs to Rupert Kyrle the sitting Lib Dem Councillor for Botley who also represents the area on the Parish and County Council.
Cllr Kyrle is also Eastleigh’s Deputy Mayor and is due to be installed as Mayor in two weeks time – an Honour previously bestowed on both of his parents.
An alternative will have to be found if he loses his council seat.
Councillor Kyrle could find himself on the receiving end of a back lash of local opinion which is firmly against the councils plans to build 1300 houses at Boorley Green. Both Cllr Kyrle and fellow Lib Dem member for Botley Cathie Fraser had attempted to placate angry locals by voting against the councils local plan – a action which would normally result in de -election (and in Cathie Fraser‘s case the loss of a cabinet seat) but he is being hard pressed on the doorstep by Conservative Graham Hunter who is a member of both Botley Housing Group and the Botley Parish Action Group.
Graham Hunter has told Eastleigh News that many voters he has spoken to on the doorstep are concerned over the councils development plans and have been ‘confused ‘by Lib Dem literature which appears to blame the Conservative led County Council for the proposed housing development in the area.
Earlier this week the leader of Hampshire County Council accused Botley Lib Dems of distributing false and misleading’ information about local development plans.
Labours best chance is in Eastleigh South were experienced Labour Councillor Pete Luffman faces Lib Dem newcomer Darshen Mann.
Luffman also hopes to benefit from local opposition to Lib Dem plans to build 1300 houses in nearby Stoneham Park. Stakeboards in front gardens along Nightingale Avenue which normally display ‘Lib Dems winning here’ posters now proclaim ‘Save Stoneham Park’.
Cllr Luffman has represented the ward before and is currently a Chandlers Ford Parish Councillor.
Another interesting contest could be in Eastleigh Central which has the largest electorate and is a two horse race between Chris Gilkes for Labour and Simon Bancroft for the Lib Dems
As the Landlord of the Litten Tree pub Simon Bancroft is already a well known and popular figure in the community and the early elimination – on a technicality – of the Independent candidate Glynn Davies-Dear, himself a former Lib Dem Councillor, means Bancroft will not see his vote split by Davies-Dear’s followers.
Labour man Gilkes, also a local resident, came second last time and will rely on the surge in Labours national popularity to grab a victory – however his support could be split by green Candidate Stuart Jebbitt who is standing on a platform of protecting the Town Centres shrinking green spaces.
Residents in Central Ward are becoming concerned over the implications of the proposed Sainsbury’s redevelopment.
A member of a local resident’s action group contacted all the Central Ward candidates to ask for their position on the new Sainsbury’s which will extend over 5,000 sq feet of the Leigh Road Rec. Chris Gilkes, Stuart Jebiitt and Michael Read (for the Conservatives) all replied to say they were they were opposed but Simon Bancroft did not respond at all.
“That’s a good start” remarked one Newtown resident “Not even elected yet and he is already ducking questions.”
Two of the Conservative seats in Hiltingbury are up for re-election.
Veteran leader of the Conservative group Godfrey Olson, who was first elected to the council in 1955, is expected to retain his seat although things could be tighter for fellow Conservative Mike Hughes.
Both candidates face a potential vote splitting challenge from both Ukip and English Democrat candidates and it is still not impossible that the Lib Dems could actually increase their control of the council.
Five Parish Councils and Hedge End Town will also be electing new members today.
Polls close at 10 pm.