AN INDEPENDENT business owner has announced he will be leaving Andover town centre as he expands, citing “petty” council policies which he says have prevented him from finding suitable premises. 

Graham Walters, who runs Test Valley Models in the Chantry Centre, launched his business in 2016, and moved to the Chantry Centre about five years ago. 

However Graham has now decided to move the gaming store to a unit at The Commercial Centre in Picket Piece, and rebrand as Spruecutters.

Graham said he is “sad” to be leaving the town centre, but feels he has no other choice at the moment. 

He said: “I have been thinking about and trying to move to larger premises for around 12 months. There is a big Wargaming community in Andover and there is also a big Dungeons and Dragons community and, although they have a couple of spaces, there is nowhere dedicated for it. I was always getting asked to do tutorials, demonstrations, tournaments.”

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Graham set about searching for a space which was not only larger, but allowed him to stay open later and, ideally, had 24/7 access.

He first enquired about 83 High Street, but says Test Valley Borough Council (TVBC) knocked him back for “various reasons”, including the cost of renovations.

Graham then asked about the former Simplyhealth building, but he says he would need egress between 10 and 11pm into North Yard, and says he was “denied” this, “despite the fact the Model Railway Club has it”. 

Finally, Graham approached the council about the former William Hill betting store and says it would need significant changes for use by anything other than a like-for-like business, causing significant delays.

Graham says he is very grateful to the Chantry Centre team for their support, but worries about the effects of what he views to be high rents and “restrictive” policies from the borough council as a whole.

“Since TVBC took over, the staff at the Chantry Centre have been nothing but helpful,” he said.

“But TVBC is coming up with silly excuses, petty rules and regulations which are unnecessarily restrictive.” 

He continued: “I am trying to build a community, I want to be a benefit to the town. And now I am not going to be, because I am taking business away from the town centre. 

“I have fed off Stuart at Geek Emporium and he has fed off me, and that’s going to stop. My customers will often get a coffee or spend a couple of hours around the town.

“I’m not a small business anymore, I turned over £150,000 last year. So they are not saying goodbye to a small independent business, they are saying goodbye to a business that brings people in from all over. It makes me really sad.”

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A borough council spokesperson said: “Since the council purchased the centre in March 2019, it has reduced the service charge cost by a third and sought to offer more flexible terms to both support existing businesses and encourage new businesses into the centre. 

“Test Valley Models is a long standing and much valued business in the Chantry Centre and we are extremely sad that the business has decided to relocate, especially after we have worked so hard to try to accommodate the owner’s requirements including discussions about alternative premises in the centre. 

“We wish Test Valley Models every success in their new premises and of course would welcome them back if their circumstances change.”

Test Valley Models will close on August 20, with opening of Spruecutters planned for August 27.

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