The leader of Test Valley Borough Council (TVBC) has dismissed claims that Andover is full of empty shops.
Responding to listeners’ questions on Andover Radio tonight, councillor Phil North said, “I take issue with the question that ‘the town centre is empty’.
“It was Love Andover that came up with the figures that there are 190 open stores and 130 are run by local people.
“I was in town on Saturday and bought some essentials… like a candle for my grandmother from La Di Da on Bridge Street and then I had a hot chocolate in the Blue Onion Café.
“It’s really not the case that there’s nothing to do in Andover.”
Following a recent ITV programme called ‘The High Street: The End of the Road’, Cllr North said, “There are empty units, I won’t deny this, but this is a similar situation across the UK.
Referring to figures that ITV used and the local council’s plans Cllr North added, “The figures aren’t as bad in Andover.
“Shops are ‘searching for their soul’, they are becoming more ‘leisure and living’ and we are creating the conditions for Andover to thrive in the future.”
“There is a myth that says all the council need to do is reduce rates and rent,” added the council leader. “Rates are set by central government, we just collect them at Test Valley Borough Council but we don’t set them.
“It’s also a myth that TVBC own all the properties in the town. We own half a dozen properties – and those are let.”
In a two-hour conversation with Andover Radio’s Ben Morris, the council leader was joined by Paul Jackson from Test Valley Borough Council. Mr Jackson is the project lead for Andover’s rejuvenation which includes a rebuild of the Chantry Centre.
Mr Jackson commented, “Comparing Andover with other towns there are many things going for Andover including an excellent Leisure Centre.
“There’s a great river we are starting to make the most of, there’s great parking – better than many other towns – and of course, a great theatre.
“We already have the ingredients to build on this. A lot of other towns just don’t have those positive ingredients.
“Andover has a historical core; I think we’re an attractive place”.
Referring to the Chantry Centre as a ‘block’, Cllr North told radio listeners, “It’s a product of its time. It’s not the best use of the space available and it is really out dated.
“[Test Valley Borough Council] bought the Chantry Centre as a strategic purchase, not because we wanted to run a shopping centre, but to allow us to create a new ‘Masterplan’ for Andover.
“As a result of buying the Centre, we have engaged the best urban designers around. They agreed to work in Andover because they see the opportunity and know things will get done.
The council leader said that The Chantry Centre, which was purchased by TVBC last year, needed “love and attention” but its previous owners were not prepared to put in the investment.
He said, “We know that the roof should have been fixed, so we are now repairing that.
“To them, it was just one asset in a basket – and frankly they didn’t care, but we do care – and we will fix it.”
Listen to tonight’s programme again, below:
You can hear excerpts of tonight’s programme on Sunday at 6pm on 95.9FM Andover Radio.