Coming up for air
Or that’s how it feels sometimes. The world has changed and we’re now in a rather different and uncertain place.
For much of the year to date this website has been dormant, locked down behind a set of useful links. Given the directions being set by both central and local government, there’s an increasing chance that we’ll soon all be back under some level of enforced lockdown but this time we plan to stay awake since there’s just too much going on. The September sun is making the town centre look strangely lovely but a return to anything like normality looks unlikely before the Spring of 2021.
Thanks to Covid, the last few months have finally witnessed a long predicted shift in the way we all communicate. With social gathering rules in place, meetings of all types have had to adopt online technology, inevitably disenfranchising the most vulnerable in our society and those without the ability to join in. At a recent Cabinet meeting, Havant Borough Council announced their intention that ‘Cabinet and other public meetings will be held via (Microsoft) Teams Live Events’ by mid-October. The theoretical broadening of public scrutiny offered by this may, in reality, be offset by an increase in matters of public importance being discussed behind closed doors. The Council’s lack of transparency in the past, most recently in their dealings over Warblington Farm, suggests that opportunities for public scrutiny will be rather more selective under their new ‘Digital Strategy’.
This strategy, with its digital design guidelines of ‘digital workstyles, a digital mindset and digital security’ looks to be about as meaningful as their new Shaping our Future proposal. It looks as if a bunch of consultants from the 1990s have been let loose to drive the ever closer union between Havant Borough Council and East Hants District Council. In the post Covid world of constrained resources, ‘efficiency savings’ and remote working, this doesn’t fill us with confidence that the future for Havant will be best shaped.
On a more positive front, for the first year in many, we no longer need to comment on the infamous billboards outside 44-54 West Street’.
Work has been progressing throughout the lockdown and with steel and blockwork rising inside the full height scaffolding we see a real sign of progress.
Elsewhere in the town centre, the eyesore that was once the Wessex yard is now long gone. Preliminary work on the retail units at North Street arcade have continued during the lockdown and with changes in living, working and retail patterns, the challenge is now to get all these developments into productive use.
With the West Street and North Street developments now moving ahead, it’s time that HBC diverted part of their Regeneration effort to rethinking the town centre retail offer. Like it or not, Havant’s population is expanding significantly and as the historic centre of the town, the magic mile around St Faith’s, will become the town centre destination of choice for this increased population.
There are many challenges ahead for Havant Town, not the least of which is the prospect of a complete revision of the planning system proposed by central government and another cost cutting reorganisation at the local level by Havant Borough Council as they forge ever closer working links with East Hants District Council.
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