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

In this edition, Test Valley Borough Council leader Phil North looks at rejuvenating the town centres and plans for Andover.

Since I became the leader of Test Valley Borough Council in 2017, I have been clear that rejuvenating our town centres is my administration’s top priority. Although I’ve used this column on numerous occasions to talk about our ambitious plans to transform Andover, I am unashamedly doing so again - because it is vital we hear your views. Hemingway Design in partnership with the council have launched a consultation asking for your ideas for the redevelopment of Andover town centre. I’m delighted that over 1,500 people have already contributed – so if you haven’t done so yet, please add your views at thinkandovertowncentre.co.uk

Your feedback is crucial in compiling the masterplan. I’m confident that by spring 2020 we will have an exciting, transformative and viable blueprint which responds to the changing nature of the town centre. The reason we were able to recruit such high-calibre master planners is because the council took the brave decision to buy the Chantry Centre. The control that the council – and by extension the people of Andover - now have, means that our master planners are confident that the plan they prepare will be deliverable.

And whilst our medium-term plan is to combine the Cultural Quarter, Town Mill Riverside Park and Chantry Centre redevelopment projects together into that masterplan for Andover, I am understandably being asked what are you doing now to get more shops? That often comes with the statement, just reduce the rent and rates and Andover will be thriving again. If only it was that simple. Aside from the fact that many high streets up and down the country are suffering the same fate, the rates are set nationally by the Valuation Office (and have been reduced recently), and Chantry Centre aside, the council owns very few high street shops. The ones we do own are already let. However, I’m clear that we will do everything we can to try and increase the occupancy rate of the Chantry Centre, which is why we recently launched new easy in, easy out terms for anyone wanting to set up a shop in the centre – and are working to reduce the service charge for occupants.

I’m determined to give Andover the love and attention it deserves – and with your help create a town centre in which people want to visit, live and spend time.