One of Test Valley’s newly-elected councillors says “the future is rosy” for Andover as he sets out what he wants to achieve in office.

Speaking to the Advertiser, Councillor Jan Budzynski said that he hoped to use his experience of planning and industry to help develop the town centre. The veteran councillor, 69, has seen significant change to Andover over his life, and believes now is an opportunity to set the direction of the town for the coming decades.

“I’d like to see Andover develop further,” he said. “All town centres are changing and people are not going to big shops anymore. It’s sped up the death knell for many of them, but we will always have the shops we need.

“Now is the time to develop a comprehensive plan for the future and it needs to be right. Everyone is keen on the outcome, but we need to take the time rather than finding flaws in it later on.”

Cllr Budzynski is locally born and bred, having been born in Ludgershall in 1952 and being a regular visitor to Andover before its expansion.

“It was a very vibrant place,” he said. “There were lots of shops as people still bought locally; they didn’t go elsewhere.

“There was also lots of traffic which got steadily worse and it was always chaotic on a bank holiday with the A303 through the heart of town.”

As Andover began to develop in the 1960s and 70s, Cllr Budzynski said that the movement of this road was both a blessing, and a curse, for business in town.

“I think the best asset, and burden, is the bypass. It’s taken traffic and people out of the town, but you couldn’t get through otherwise, and it had to happen.”

Jan was one of many making use of the improved connections to Andover to travel, moving to the City for a time as he worked with the Midland Bank. After being made redundant at 50, he began working in the area again as the assistant manager at a chicken farm producing eggs for vaccines, as well as work in traffic management and as a cleaner. As a result, he’s seen the town grow far beyond how he originally knew it.

“I know Andover pretty well, and I’ve seen it grow from 14,000 to around 48,000, with all the changes,” he said. “Unfortunately, the 60s and 70s have done a lot of damage to the town, and we need to protect what we have left.”

This desire to protect Andover’s heritage, and make things better for people, was one of his reasons for getting into politics.

“I’ve always been involved in politics but never as a councillor,” he said. “As I worked long hours it was never practical, but after retiring from HSBC in 2002 I thought that I had to do something.”

He stood for St Mary’s Ward on Test Valley Borough Council (TVBC) in 2006 at a by-election, and won his seat. However, in all-out elections the following year, he would lose it, before returning to the council in 2010 for Winton Ward. He says the time out was well spent.

“I had that time budding in and so once I got back onto the council, I knew what was going on,” he said. “I’d learnt you should never go into a meeting with pre-conceived ideas. You need to hear everything, by listening to the debates, and you can’t decide on half an argument alone.”

As a councillor, he is particularly concerned with the topics he is familiar with – planning and licensing.

“It’s stuff I enjoy, and I enjoy looking at it from the other side. As a pubgoer, I like seeing the licensing side of things, and I also enjoy a little flutter on the horses for fun – but I’m scared stiff to do anything higher than £5!

“As for planning, I’m quite proud of my time as chair of the planning control committee which got Charlton Crematorium through. It saves a lot of hardship and sorrow. There is nothing worse than being stuck behind a hearse in the convoy towards a funeral, drawing out the build up to a service.”

Following his time on the committee, he went into the 2019 elections for TVBC, which he was concerned about in advance.

“I knew 2019 would be tight because of Theresa May’s balls-up with Brexit,” Cllr Budzynski said, “so many of our supporters didn’t come out to vote. The Andover Alliance came out and promised a lot, so they won, even if they didn’t deliver.

“I was upset to lose my seat, but the people decided it, and no one has a given right to a seat on the council.”

During his time off the council, he remained politically active, joining the campaign to abolish Andover Town Council.

“I think it should go, as I don’t think it has a purpose,” Cllr Budzynski said. “All it does is allotments and Xmas lights, and they have built up a lot of money, but what do they need it for?

“Some of their behaviour is ridiculous too. If you’re elected you have the responsibility to do what the people want, and your personal matters are irrelevant.”

He said the campaign has ‘dropped back’ following the launch of a petition last year due to Covid, but is something that will continue in future.

Following his spell off the council, Cllr Budzynski was re-elected in a by-election in 2021, mirroring his first election 15 years ago.

“It’s good to be back in St Mary’s, as it’s the first ward I represented,” he said. “I was surprised to get such a majority as I wouldn’t knock on doors, as I didn’t think it was sensible at the time.”

Back on TVBC, and returning to the planning committee, his priority is one that many have come to appreciate during the pandemic – green space.

“I’m very keen on open space,” Cllr Budzynski said. “I’m proud to have an asset like the Riverside Park. We need to keep open spaces as much as we can, as many of the town’s residents live on estates, and they need somewhere to go, whether that’s to sit on a bench or kick a ball around.”

This is just one part of a wider regeneration of the town that he sees, as the world changes following the pandemic.

“People seem to buy all they can in one-stop shopping now,” he said. “It’s just a fact of life. HMV was opened and closed in a matter of months as people were buying online.

“If we’re going to keep the high street going, then we have to use our assets. The more we develop the town, the more we can bring in, particularly small independents and hospitality.

“We also need to get more people living in the high street, who can keep the town centre going to an extent.”

He thinks the Andover Masterplan is important in this, bringing the town back to a form more like it was back in the 50s.

“The hiccups of the 1970s were not good for the town centre, but stricter controls and buying the Chantry Centre mean we can do things to change it for the better,” he said. “I used to fish in the River Anton and get trout for lunch, and I know we won’t get back to that but we’ve got to use our assets.

“I think we’re heading in the right direction for Andover, and if we’re left to our own devices, than we’ll do well.”