HAMPSHIRE goes to the polls tomorrow as the county council faces its first major test of public opinion for four years.

All 78 county council seats are up for grabs, with the ruling Tory group aiming to increase its current tally of 47 and the two main opposition groups, UKIP and Liberal Democrats, also attempting to make gains.

Key battlegrounds include Eastleigh, one of the areas where UKIP candidates are striving to repeat their success in the previous county council elections.

The 2013 poll produced a breakthrough for UKIP, which won ten seats and in doing so became the third-largest party.

This year UKIP is fielding 46 candidates across the county, including eight in Eastleigh and two in one of the Gosport wards. The Eastleigh hopefuls include John Edwards, whose opponents include Mike Thornton, former Liberal Democrat MP for the area.

The battle for county council seats has been overshadowed by Theresa May’s decision to call a snap General Election on June 8.

Fears that voters are already suffering from election fatigue has sparked speculation that the poll could produce a low turn-out ahead of the “real” contest next month.

But the outcome of tomorrow’s election will shape Hampshire’s future for the next four years and beyond – and voters are being urged to make their voices heard.

John Coughlan, county returning officer and the county council’s chief executive, said: “County council elections enable the democratic process to take place and provide an opportunity for members of the public to have their say at the ballot box.

“I would encourage everyone who is entitled to vote, to turn out and choose who they wish to represent them.”

Election issues include spending cuts made by the county council and the resulting impact on services financed by the authority, including libraries.

Inflation, increasing demand and reductions in government grant left the authority facing a funding gap of almost £100 million by the end of the 2016-17 financial year.

The council has made £340 million in savings since 2008 – and more will be needed in the future as the national austerity regime continues.

However, the authority has vowed to inject £500 million into the local economy over the next three years, creating 10,915 new primary and secondary school places as well as investing in Hampshire’s roads, bridges and flood defences.

The 2013 county council elections resulted in the Conservatives retaining their grip on Hampshire by winning 47 seats, 31 more than the Liberal Democrats.

One of the main talking points after tomorrow’s poll is likely to be the outcome of the UKIP campaign.

Its influence on British politics is thought to be one of the main reasons behind David Cameron’s decision to hold an EU referendum last year. But political commentators claim that Brexit has turned UKIP into a single-issue party without an issue, effectively resulting in the party making itself redundant.

However, officials say it is now up to UKIP councillors across the country to untangle the “constitutional mess left by years of silly EU laws”.

UKIP is also campaigning on local issues, including the future of Eastleigh police station. It claims that cuts to the police budget almost resulted in the closure of the building and has accused the borough council of supporting moves to replace it with flats.

Other election issues include the future of greenfield sites in the Eastleigh area.

Earlier this year plans for 225 houses and 60-bed care home on land near Hamble railway station were rejected by the government. However, campaigners say the area is again under threat following the submission of proposals for 70 homes and a 64-bed care home.

Housing is also one of the main issues in the New Forest.

In a move that has angered countryside campaigners across the district council chiefs have earmarked 20 sites for residential development. It means at least 10,000 new homes could be built around the edge of the national park over the next 20 years.

The Liberal Democrats are hoping to win at least three electoral divisions in the Forest – Totton North & Netley Marsh, South Waterside and Brockenhurst.

The Brockenhurst seat is currently held by former county council leader Ken Thornber, who is quitting the authority after 40 years. Also standing down is another veteran Tory, Alan Rice, who has represented Milford and Hordle for 44 years.

However, the list of candidates contains a host of familiar names. The current county council leader, Roy Perry, is standing in the newly-formed Romsey Rural ward, where his opponents include Don Jerrard, a former Parliamentary candidate for Fareham.

Hampshire’s former Police and Crime Commissioner, Simon Hayes, is determined to win Romsey Town.

Elsewhere in the county Fareham Borough Council leader Seán Woodward is again standing in the

Fareham Sarisbury seat and Keith House, leader of Eastleigh Borough Council, is hoping to

be re-elected in his ward of Hamble.

The Green Party is fielding candidates in all seven wards in Winchester, where a Justice and Anti-Corruption candidate is also contesting a seat.