STALWART Test Valley Borough Council leader Ian Carr has announced he will step down later this year, after almost two decades in the role.

The Conservative councillor has told this newspaper he plans to walk away from the position in May, stating “the time is right” from him to go.

In a face-to-face interview, councillor Carr also revealed his high and low points from his 18 years in the TVBC hot seat, his retirement plans and the man he thinks will replace him as leader.

He said: “After 18 years in the role, I have made the decision to stand down as leader.

“It is mid-term in the council calendar and I feel it is the right time.

“I have served the communities of Test Valley to the best of my ability and I believe that now is the best time to pass the baton to a successor who is able to make a longterm commitment to our residents and businesses.

“It’s been brilliant working with everybody, councillors and staff, all of whom are dedicated and work hard to deliver excellent services to all residents.”

Asked who he thought would be the favourite to replace him, he replied: “I think Martin [Hatley, current deputy leader] would be the favourite.

“He has been deputy for the last 18 years. But it will be up to a vote so you never know.”

Councillor Carr took on the role in May 1999, replacing former leader Norman Arnell.

During his 18 year spell, councillor Carr became a driving force in many major, and sometimes controversial, changes in Andover.

He is credited as leading the charge for a cinema in the town, the takeover of The Lights, the introduction of Villagio to Andover Guildhall and the pedestrianisation of the High Street.

Councillor Carr was also at the helm when the authority won a national award for being “the best council to work for” - a moment he highlighted as his favourite over past 18 years.

Meanwhile he named his biggest regret as failing to get a department store for Andover, despite coming close on three occasions.

As well as highs and lows, councillor Carr’s stint at the TVBC helm has also included controversy.

He was brought before the Standards Board for England, and cleared of all wrongdoing, following claims he was ‘aggressive and angry’ towards an elderly female protestor in 2007.

In February this year he was at the centre of a police assault probe following a High Street ‘fracas’ with Hampshire county councillor Tony Hooke. Police later dropped the charge following an investigation.

Despite the announcement coming just months after the incident, councillor Carr strongly denied it had any influence in his decision to stand down.

The 76-year-old insisted the decision was made in “early 2016”, adding that he “never intended” to stand as a councillor for his Charlton ward at the 2019 elections.

Asked what he plans to do after stepping down as leader, the Tory councillor insisted he wanted to spend “more time with his family”

and has already planned a monthlong trip to his Italian villa.

Other plans include playing more tennis, taking up bowls and continuing kickboxing - in which he was recently awarded a black belt.

He also admitted that he is open to the possibility of taking up the role as Mayor of Test Valley in 2018, a position he previously held in 1995.

He said: “It’s a possibility. It’s up to the other councillors if they are happy to vote me in.”

One person to pay tribute councillor Cllr Carr’s tenure is Hampshire County Council leader Roy Perry.

The fellow Conservative, himself a former leader of TVBC, said: “To be leader of a council is no sinecure and Ian deserves all our thanks for the commitment he has shown.

“I look forward to working co-operatively with cllr Carr’s successor as leader of Test Valley.”

Opposition figures have also praised the stalwart leader, including long-term political rival and North West Hampshire Liberal Democrat chairman, Len Gates.

He said: “Ian has dominated local politics for longer than most of us can remember.

“While I clashed with him on occasions over his authoritarian leadership style I could never fault his determination to do what he felt was best for local people.

“As opposition leader it was my role to challenge him and his policies.

He always accepted the challenges in good humour and without malice. It was a pleasure to work, and debate, with him.

“Like it or not Test Valley is what it is today because of the influence of Ian Carr and there is no-one in the current administration who can fill the gap he leaves.

“Perhaps that’s not a bad thing because it’s time for a change.

“That is no longer Ian’s problem. He has earned his retirement.”

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