AGAINST a backdrop of severe financial pressure for local government, I’m pleased to report that Test Valley set an ambitious but balanced budget at its full council meeting late last month.

Our below inflation council tax rise of 3.1 per cent protects front line services and is in stark contrast to the cost-cutting measures, significant tax increases and section 114 (bankruptcy) notices that some other councils have had to declare. That means an average bill of £163.91 for an entire year of Test Valley Borough Council services - £43 lower than the average charge for the rest of England. Not only to have your bin collected every week but to maintain the housing and homelessness, planning, licensing, countryside, parks and open spaces, environmental health, economic development and leisure services - as well as continuing with our ambitious plans to improve our town centres.

At the same meeting we also approved a funding strategy to move ahead with our priority regeneration projects for Andover to be used in addition to the £18.3m we successfully obtained from the government’s Levelling Up Fund. This will pay for a new home for a bigger and better Lights Theatre in the heart of the town centre opposite the Guildhall; and the Western Avenue project to uncover the river and extend the Riverside park.

The procurement process for the theatre has already commenced and I was pleased to host our latest Andover Vision stakeholder meeting on site (in the former Tesco Metro unit) earlier this week to give an update on progress. Once architects are recruited, a planning application is expected later this year before building works commence in 2025.

Finally, Monday was Commonwealth Day. This year marking 75 years of the Commonwealth of Nations. To mark the occasion, Test Valley Borough Council flew the Commonwealth flag atop our council buildings. I was at the flag raising ceremony outside the Guildhall. The Commonwealth Affirmation was read out by the mayor in a short ceremony to refresh our commitment to the Commonwealth values of kinship, affinity and unity.