OUR ‘Just to Phil You in’ column returns this week. In this special edition, Test Valley Borough Council leader Phil North speaks about the regeneration of the old magistrates court area.

WHEN the Andover Magistrates Court stopped hearing cases in 2013 my predecessor and his cabinet, recognising the strategic location of the site, had the foresight to purchase the building from the Ministry of Justice.

This was the final piece in the jigsaw for Test Valley in this part of Andover.

We already owned the freehold on the leisure centre and The Lights theatre – and Andover College, although in separate ownership, completed the thriving public sector offer at this location.

When I became leader of Test Valley – I inherited a project to create a public sector hub here.

This would have seen most of the building being occupied by the health sector to relocate a number of Andover’s existing GP practices into one building.

However, following their recent withdrawal, we now have a very exciting opportunity to engage in a wider scoping exercise and it’s my ambition to create a vibrant cultural quarter for the town.

What do I mean by a cultural quarter?

A redevelopment of the whole site – which potentially could include a brand new theatre – upgrading The Lights; eateries with outdoor seating looking out over a landscaped plaza area; community provision and leisure facilities to complement those in the new Andover Leisure Centre.

Next week we will be launching a market engagement exercise to hear from developers what options might be possible for the site - but understanding the possibilities from the market is just the first phase.

We will then undertake a considerable public consultation exercise to help us decide and shape which ideas to pursue.

This area has fantastic potential. It forms a key part of our plans to invest in our town centre which also include a new urban park on the banks of the River Anton at Town Mills; a brand new leisure centre in partnership with Places for People – and potentially a more fundamental overhaul of our shopping space.

Finally, as this is my last column of the year, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all readers a very merry Christmas. I hope you have a fantastic time with family and friends.