THE borough council's leisure contract is set to top the charts for the authority's long-term spending projects at more than £13m this year.

Test Valley Borough Council (TVBC) published its Statement of Accounts for the last financial year at the end of May, detailing its spending for 2017/18 and its projected outgoings for the year ahead.

Last year, £5.2m out of nearly £17.5m capital funds, usually spent for long-term projects or investments, was spent on the leisure contract, with the majority set aside for the new Andover Leisure Centre.

But this year, the amount dedicated to leisure capital projects is set to rise to £13.2m, out of a £27.4m total.

The report said: “On 1st April 2017, Places for People Leisure Management Ltd was appointed as the new leisure contract provider for the council.

“As part of the terms of the contract, significant investment is planned to improve the borough’s leisure facilities.

“This includes a brand new Andover Leisure Centre on the existing site and improvements to the other leisure centres including Romsey Rapids, Romsey Sports Centre, Knightwood Leisure Centre and Charlton Lakeside Pavilion.

“£5.213 million has been spent in 2017/18, of which £4.618 million is for Andover Leisure Centre.”

The leisure contract spending came second in 2017/18 to the council’s biggest boost of £8.7m for investment properties which the borough said it invested in “substantially” last year with the most significant purchase of Andover Trade Park to the tune of nearly £7m.

The council could not give more details over the returns being seen on this investment due to it being commercially sensitive, but said returns are monitored and reported to councillors regularly during the year.

Finance portfolio holder Peter Giddings said: “The council’s investment portfolio now stands at over £26m, which includes the purchase of the Andover Trade Park at a cost of £6.8m.

“Our investment returns on the whole portfolio were 7.2 percent for 2017/18 and are expected to be 7.1 percent during the current year.”

TVBC’s report also said the council continues to be debt free with no long-term borrowing and a “pleasing” net financial result for the year, but acknowledged increasing pressures to the budget due to cuts in central government funding.

Head of finance Will Fullbrook noted there will be “significant financial challenges in the years to come.”

While leader of TVBC's Liberal Democrats Councillor Celia Dowden said she agreed the accounts were pleasing, she said it was "not unexpected."

She said: "Whilst by 2020 the council will receive no revenue grant support from central government, with the business rates, the revenue from the business parks and property assets, along with New Homes Bonus allocations, the council will still be in a comfortable position.

"It will be no surprise if in the 2019/2020 budget the Conservative administration recommend a nil increase on council tax - why? It is just prior to the TVBC elections in May."

In a budget shake-up, the council is aiming to spend an extra £10 million up from last year on capital projects, including hiking its affordable housing capital projects by more than five-fold.

There will be £1.1m set aside, up from £208,000, to contribute to the re-development of Romsey’s former Nightingale Lodge care home site, and to enable housing providers to boost their affordable homes provisions.

Leisure projects spending, outside of the People of Places contract, will also double from last year from £530,000 to more than £1 million and disabled facility and renovation spending is planned to go from £682,000 to £950,000.

The Town Mills enhancement plan has a budget of £132,000 in this financial year.