OUR monthly column by the leader of Test Valley Borough Council, Councillor Phil North returns this week.

In this edition Cllr North tells us about the latest step in plans to rejuvenate the town centre.

Happy New Year. In my final column of 2019, I previewed that we’d shortly be making an important announcement about town centre parking.

Since I became Leader in 2017, I have made the rejuvenation of our town centres our number one priority and I recognise that even after buying the Chantry Centre; reducing service charges; increasing the amount of pop-up shops; consulting on a masterplan; and committing to a fundamental redevelopment of the town centre - our credibility would be put at risk if we continued with the same old parking strategy.

Talk to the BID or any shopkeeper and their big ask is a parking policy that keeps the High Street as competitive as possible in these times of changing shopping habits.

Apart from some minor tweaks here and there, the strategy in the past has been to freeze parking charges for three years out of four, and then put the prices up by the cumulative sum of inflation in the fourth year – which this year would have been 7.2 per cent. I’m pleased to tell you we will not be following this precedent and offering a wholly new and simplified parking offer.

Next week we will be announcing the detail of this offer for residents and visitors to Andover - making it much more attractive to spend time in our town centre.

We are also taking the bold decision to give two-hours FREE parking in Shepherds Spring (the car park that previously housed the temporary pool) to encourage greater use of that car park; help ease the congestion around Marlborough Street and the Leisure Centre; and to send a clear signal that if you want to park for free at any time in Andover you can do so.

We are also keeping the much-valued policy of free parking in all our car parks after 4pm, on Sundays and bank-holidays.

To put this decision in context, revenue from our car parks account for around 20% of the council’s budget, which pays for the services we all enjoy. Our continued investments in commercial property mean that we can afford this, but it is obviously a difficult balancing act.

This is a decision we have come to after a lot of careful consideration – and will help our plans to rejuvenate the town.