Councillors have voted in favour of plans to attempt to “salvage” the town’s troubled design statement after spending over £10,000 on it.

Andover Town Council’s Planning Committee produced a design statement covering Andover’s Conservation Area, which was put out for public consultation in January. However, following concerns being raised by Test Valley Borough Council, the planning authority, councillors were faced with a decision whether to scrap the scheme or try and save it.

Following a debate, councillors voted in favour of asking two of the council’s officers to take a look at the report and assess what next steps can be taken, if any.

Discussions to shape planning in the town with a document date back many years, with Andover Town Council having looked to prepare a Neighbourhood Plan for the whole town in 2013.

However, the plan was never approved, with the current administration wanting to approve individual plans for separate areas of the town, of which this design statement is the first.

Controversy was raised around the tendering process, with an auditor alleging in a September report that regulations and standing orders had “not been correctly applied,” which was disputed by members of the council.

The statement was put out for consultation on January 15, with a response being received from the public and TVBC. Public opinion was mixed on the statement, with some lauding it as having “excellent attention to visual detail and celebrating what is good in Andover’s heritage”.

However, others criticised the statement’s focus, describing it as “backwards looking and negative”.

Test Valley Borough Council said that the statement was “overly prescriptive and too specific”, and “akin to a public realm strategy”, with a focus on street furniture and not enough on buildings in the conservation area.

Andover Town Council’s proper officer, Caroline, said that she and locum clerk Tracey would ‘put their heads together’ to assess what could be done next.

She said: “For the proposal to come back to council, Tracey and I can put our heads together, such as engaging with Test Valley as they have requested needs to happen. We can carry out a costing exercise for such amendments as may be required to come back to council for approval as well. You really do need a bit of an appraisal on work conducted to date and where it is suggested the next options need to be received by council”.

Cllr David Coole raised concerns that the proposal would see the full council making decisions on the design statement, rather than the planning committee.

He said: “The full council is here to provide direction to standing committees that are working under delegated authority. One of the delegated authorities to the planning committee is the development of the design statement and the planning committee’s task is to develop the design statement to such a point where it then presents it to full council for approval, or back to full council for additional direction and funding if necessary.

“What we are proposing to do is take away standing committees’ responsibilities and give it to full council. What is to say we don’t do this with speed indicator signs, new allotments, the cost neutral exercise for the council, where do we stop? Why are we picking on the planning committee and the design statement? There is no reason why the officers can’t carry the same function as proposed in the recommendations to the planning committee and then the planning committee can come back to full council for direction.”

Caroline responded: “Any item that is of whole town importance would be better under council control. This piece of work, if it gets to its full conclusion, will have a massive impact on the town’s development and that’s why I believe at that level of strategy it would be a full council responsibility to ensure it is seen to lead on this particular project.”

Cllr David Treadwell also raised concerns over the report, saying that he would prefer it to be councillor rather than officer led because “they’re more accountable.”

Caroline made reference to the critical audit report released on the statement in September, saying that documents have been written “that have suggested certain activities were not under the control of council.”

Cllr Christopher Ecclestone described the report as “seriously flawed”, but his speech was curtailed as the council had previously resolved to not discuss the report in public, despite it being publicly available on their website.

Cllr Hughes then spoke, who said the debate had changed his mind on “throwing the plan away for the rubbish it is”.

“There is a lot wrong with this,” he said, “and it needs to be taken away, worked on to find out the bits we have managed to get correct, and those things we need to adjust to turn it into the document we want it to be. It isn’t fit for purpose at the moment. We’ve spent £10,000 and we’ll have to agree to spend much more on this by the look of it. I’ve got no confidence the planning committee followed the community planning toolkit and followed in a matter which would satisfy TVBC.”

He added: “In my personal view, we either go along with the recommendations or we ditch it. I don’t want to spend any more money on it and it has cost a lot of money so far.”

Cllr Richard Rowles then addressed some of these concerns, saying: “We’re not suggesting spending any more money on it, we’ve got two highly experienced people in the office and it’s an opportunity to use their experience to present a plan which may salvage it.

“I don’t want to spend any more money on it but at the end of the day if we can find a way to salvage it then brilliant, then we haven’t wasted £10,000.”

Cllr Coole then spoke, saying that the document was only a first draft, and would be revised following further consultations as part of the process.

Following debate, a vote was held on the plans. Cllrs Coole, Ecclestone and Treadwell voted against accepting the report, with all others voting in favour. The design statement will be returned to a future meeting of the council for next steps.