OUR ‘Just to Phil You in’ column returns this week.

In this edition, Test Valley Borough Council leader Phil North looks at progress with revamping Andover town centre.

Since I became the leader of Test Valley in 2017, I have been clear that our number one priority is to rejuvenate our town centres. The growth of out of town shopping and the continued sophistication of the internet has had a significant impact upon the High Street up and down the country – and Andover is no different. It is essential that we embrace that changing nature of town centres, which are becoming as much of a place for leisure and living as well as retail, although I still believe that retail is a really important part of the mix.

In Andover, after developing plans for a Cultural Quarter, improving the open space accessible to the public by creating a new riverside park at Town Mill (due to be completed early next year), and after our decision to purchase the Chantry Centre – we are now in a position to bring those projects together through a masterplan for the town. And it was Test Valley’s brave decision to buy the Chantry Centre that attracted so much interest from masterplanners who wanted to come on this journey with us – because they knew that control of that building unlocked massive possibilities for Andover.

On Monday evening, I was proud to introduce our new partners to rejuvenate the town as Wayne Hemingway and his team from Hemingway Design and New Masterplanning came to Andover. They are widely seen as some of the best masterplanners in the country, if not the very best. Wayne having been involved in town centre rejuvenation in Birmingham, Bath, York, Bristol, Gloucester and even Rotterdam and Amsterdam. Spotting the potential of Andover, he now wants to give our town some love.

This is a hugely exciting time as we embark on the next stage of transforming Andover. Wayne and his team are already setting out some bold design principles such as further greening the town centre; making the most of the river and bringing in our current greenspaces so they feel part of the town; ensuring that people can move around the town more easily, which is currently blocked by the Chantry Centre (especially at night) and improving the early evening economy. These high quality public realm enhancements are essential if we are going to attract and sustain a more diverse and better retail offer.

I’m sure there will be difficult decisions ahead but in 12-months’ time – and with your help through the public consultation - we will have a masterplan which we can then use to recruit commercial partners and deliver the transformation that Andover deserves.