ANDOVER will be ready to spring back into life as restrictions ease next month.

This is the message from the leader of Test Valley Borough Council, who said the authority is committed to helping the town get back on its feet after an unprecedented year.

His words come as businesses across the town are gearing up for restrictions to ease from April 12, which will see non-essential shops, hairdressers and gyms reopen if cases remain low enough around the country.

Cases have continued to fall across Andover with only one area of the town seeing a rise of one case in the last seven days to March 19, with new cases rising from seven to eight.

The rolling infection rate in the town in now well below England's average with just 47 cases per 100,000 residents, compared to 55.7 nationwide.

The are signs of green shoots in other areas too, as nearly half of people in Test Valley have received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccination.

In total, 48,405 residents have had their jab, with 36,829 of those individuals aged 55 or over - 83 per cent of the age group.

Meanwhile, house prices are showing signs of increase in Test Valley and have risen by 1.3 per cent since December.

Over the last year, the average sale price of a property in Test Valley rose by £21,000 - putting the area 37th among the South East's 70 local authorities for growth.

In the labour market, as of February 2,830 people across the region were claiming out-of-work benefits with 7,700 jobs on furlough in the Test Valley in January.

So how is Andover poised to recover from the toughest year it has experienced since the Second World War?

The leader of Test Valley Borough Council, Cllr Phil North, said as well as giving local businesses a rates holiday from payments, the authority will continue its modernisation of the town centre.

Reflecting on the past year, he told The Advertiser: “A year ago, the country locked down and our lives changed overnight. Businesses were forced to close, families were kept apart and we all stayed in – to protect ourselves, our communities and the NHS.

“Alongside our heroic health colleagues and other frontline workers who looked after us and kept the country moving, community groups sprung up right across Test Valley. To help those self-isolating get access to food and medicines.

“Those early weeks felt like a whirlwind as we marshalled the community resilience effort, communicated key messages to residents, manned the helplines and paid out government grants. I know for some the past 12-months will have been the hardest of their lives, especially if they’ve lost loved ones. But times like this can also shine a light on the best in people and although we’ve been apart, it has brought us all together in a common endeavour. None more so than the hugely successful vaccination rollout.

“It’s quite incredible that within a year, scientists have developed a vaccine, tested it, got approval for it, made enormous quantities of it and, thanks to the NHS, have jabbed it into the arms of over half the population.

He continued: “As the country and the council focuses on recovery, that continues to be the most important priority. Test Valley has facilitated vaccine centres at The Lights in Andover and the Crosfield Hall in Romsey since late last year and we will continue to work with health colleagues to ensure they have suitable premises to undertake this monumental effort.

“If lockdown has taught us anything, it’s that people value high quality outdoor green spaces more than ever. The Council is absolutely committed to protecting and improving our fabulous green spaces right across our borough as well as identifying new areas of land for local people to enjoy and interact with nature.

“Next month, Andover will also spring back to life. This has been a huge focus for me ever since I became leader of Test Valley – and with the adoption of the Andover Masterplan we’re starting to make some transformational changes with the recent opening of the new Riverside Park at Town Mills. As well as the continuing business rates holiday, we’ll also be paying out restart grants to eligible businesses.

The leader added: “It’s been an incredibly difficult year, but I hope it won’t be too long before we can meet each other again, shop in our independent businesses and get a haircut!”