BOROUGH councillors have unanimously voted to approve plans for a bid of up to £20 million from the government’s Levelling Up Fund to ‘accelerate’ the regeneration of Andover town centre.

At a special meeting of Test Valley Borough Council on Thursday (June 23), councillors discussed a proposal that the authority apply to the second round of the funding, which was first launched in March this year and which aims to improve infrastructure across the country, with a particular focus on helping to regenerate town centres and high streets, as well as cultural and heritage assets and transport.

At the meeting, leader of the council Cllr Phil North proposed the motion, that the council put forward a bid of up to £20million from the fund, and commit to matching the amount awarded by 10 per cent.

READ MORE: Levelling Up Fund: Test Valley Borough Council plans to bid for £20m from government

The money would be used to deliver a riverside park along Western Avenue, transform the riverside footpath south of Bridge Street, demolish the former magistrates’ court building, and create a new cultural hub in the town centre which would include the relocation of The Lights theatre.

Applications close on July 6 2022 and, if successful, the council will need to begin the project by April 2023 and complete it by March 31 2025.

Cllr North said: “I want to emphasise what a good opportunity this is for Andover. We were all disappointed to discover that, when the Levelling Up Fund was launched, some areas of severe deprivation were hidden in the averages.”

Cllr North added that parts of Andover are some such areas, with higher rates of deprivation than the majority of Test Valley and Hampshire as a whole.

“I have been encouraged to apply, but it is an incredibly competitive process. We either need to go big or go home,” he said.

The motion was seconded by Cllr Nick Adams-King, who added: “Whatever we do, we have to think of ourselves as one borough. There are a number of us here from the south, and we are here to support the bid. This focuses on Andover, and I do not see why we wouldn’t want it.

“This shortcuts the work that is needed in Andover and in doing so that helps the rest of the borough because that gets the regeneration of Andover moving forward far more quickly, and gives us more time for regeneration in other parts of the borough.”

In debate, Cllr Christopher Ecclestone asked a number of questions. Namely, he wanted to know exactly how much was being applied for, expected response time, and any alternative funding plans, should the council be unsuccessful.

He said: “The Levelling Up Fund has very much been dedicated in public discourse towards the north and more depressed areas, so there is a high chance of us being rejected. Does ‘go big or go home’ mean that if we do not get the money this will either be abolished, or or severely scaled back to levels perceived to be within the financial capabilities of Test Valley at the moment?”

SEE MORE: Five major things which the Andover masterplan will change

Cllr North responded by saying that asking the council to approve £20 million gives the borough council “wiggle room”, despite current intention of applying for £18.5 million. He added that TVBC hopes they would hear back in September, and that he is “more hopeful” than Cllr Ecclestone about their chances of success.

Meanwhile, Cllr Mark Cooper highlighted the important role the funding would play in improving access to Andover’s riverside.

“We are now beginning the process of opening up access to water which is crucial to the wellbeing of Andover people. So let’s keep up the good work," he said.

Members unanimously approved the proposal, which now allows the borough council put forward a bid of up to £20 million.

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