The lyrics of Lennon and McCartney’s famous song have never been more apposite than what is required to make Havant a thriving historic town it justifiably is, now as in the past.
I daily walk around Havant town centre because I live within this busy, vibrant community meeting place for visitors and residents alike.
Nowadays, the town centre stretches over Park Road South to encompass the successful Tesco store and the Solent Retail Park, both developments bringing people to our town, from which many people then visit the traditional town centre. Though often disputed, I believe it has been good for the smaller retailers and businesses located there too.
Despite objections from many of the residents and small businesses, HBC removed East Street from the defined town centre area in the recently thrown out local plan, in my opinion, an inexplicable mistake which must be corrected when the next version of the plan is drawn up. East Street is most definitely part of the historic town centre, which includes The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre and the historic Bear Hotel amongst its important places to visit, plus other buildings of historic architectural merit, just as South Street has, with independent businesses and some listed buildings.
Even in these difficult times for town centres, Havant’s footfall still appears higher than many towns. There is an air of general busyness, community and a certain pride in knowing St. Faith’s Church stands at the centre of this town, with its history, centre of commercial life and sense of place. With the decline in retail in Portsmouth, many of our neighbouring town’s residents are now coming to appreciate our town, lured by the Solent Retail Park and then walking over Park Road into the old town.
Back to Lennon and McCartney’s lyrics, the missing ingredient currently for the town is love. It’s missing simple TLC that the town of Havant deserves, maintaining the public realm.
The Government’s High Street Task Force recommended that with the decline of retail chains, town centres should aim to include libraries, arts centres, museums, NHS provision and professional businesses, and more independent retail/service businesses in them, and being focused more on the needs of the community in order to be successful, rather than just doing deals with developers and your town becoming whatever they make it.
Havant has all these important assets there to experience now, so we should be nurturing and promoting the town centre as a pleasant experience. What lets it down is the lack of care, attention and strategic thinking that the town deserves.
Some people tell me that the Meridian Centre is not loved, but when I speak to the people who use it, they love it. If we were to lose the national chains like Wilkinson, WH Smith and Hinds Jewellers, which if the Council chose to demolish the shopping centre, would be a great loss to thousands of residents and I doubt if these stores would relocate and stay in Havant.
I am not talking about any future regeneration plan, but action in the present. Broken public benches, noticeboards that are broken and risk injury to the chap displaying the posters, bollards missing or permanently unlocked, so that any car can drive into the precinct, as I witnessed one evening. Yes, all we need is love and not a lot of finance to fix all this for the better.
Let’s give a bit of love to the non-precinct part of West Street by St. Faith’s Church. The Council has a desire to pedestrianize that area. The terrible life-changing car accident that recently happened is a good reason to act on that desire, at least as a temporary trial, gives an opportunity to close that area to cars.
With the queues for Covid-19 vaccinations, coffee drinkers sitting outside and pedestrians walking on the pavements, just the health and safety reasons alone seem a good reason to pedestrianize.
Car drivers parking in the turning area next to Greggs cause danger to pedestrians when having to reverse near the queues, are polluting them with car fumes. One driver illegally parking there recently got caught, was issued with a parking fine and angrily sped off, temporarily losing control; an accident waiting to happen?
The West Street Market Gates could be closed permanently, or on a trial basis, only opened for St. Faith’s Church when required, Greggs daily deliveries in the evening and the regular Chestnut House furniture van, plus other business requirements when needed. The key action is to issue keys to those who need them, and to lock the gates again after entering that area.
Disabled drivers could be accommodated nearby with some strategic thinking, and pedestrians could again walk safety and regain the space, the result is a key improvement to the central part of the town centre.
Love and strategic thinking are needed to get Norse, the Council’s operational provider, to find a better way to collect full litter bin bags for disposal, other than leaving them piled up by Bulbeck Wall, an historic feature of the town centre, for the gulls to tear and create new litter that isn’t picked up, then visitors get a bad first impression as they enter the town from Bulbeck Road car park.
Since the Covid pandemic, graffiti is not removed in the town centre, Trafalgar Walk for instance, yet Norse have the kit to clean it off. We can all do our bit where litter is concerned, but with all these issues, a small amount of love and care is again, all that is required.
I realise that all this is not major action in the scheme of things, but this is the type of work that BID (Business Improvement District) towns do on a daily basis to create an inviting, income generating town centre, knowing that a little love goes a long way to making us all feel pride in our community space, the town centre.
Love is all you need.
Peter Hammond – HCS Vice Chair