ANDOVER is suffering a change to its retail consumer climate – but there are positives on the horizon, says the manager of Andover Business Improvement District (BID).

It comes after the closure of Animal, in the Chantry Centre, and the news that the Topshop and Dorothy Perkins High Street stores will also be shutting down soon.

BID manager Steve Godwin admits there is no hiding from growing trends for out of town shopping and online purchasing but cites a number of initiatives – including a boost from government and a range of borough council-led measures – as reasons to be more optimistic.

He also explains that decisions to close national stores are often taken at head office level without consultation with the BID.

Steve said: “Andover, like many other parts of the UK, is suffering a change to its retail consumer climate. Shopping habits have changed and there has been a growing trend for out of town shopping and online purchasing.

“National store closures are usually taken at head office level, so we don’t always have local knowledge of when or if they are going to take place.

“In the case of the large companies such as the Arcadia group who own Topshop and Dorothy Perkins, we were aware that closures have been planned across the UK for some time.

“Other local towns, such as Swindon, have also been badly hit and the lead up to Christmas last year was a particularly difficult time for most retailers, many of whom experienced poor trading figures and a decline in sales. Inevitably last year was difficult with the uncertainty around Brexit.”

Steve stresses that it is “vitally important” that stakeholders in town, such as TVBC, BID and the town council, work closely together in a “united partnership approach” to do what they can for the high street.

BID is working closely with TVBC in particular and Steve has shared news of central government support which is set to aid smaller businesses in the next tax year.

He said: “In a written ministerial statement published this week, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury confirmed the good news that the government will increase the rates discount for town centre businesses from one-third to 50 per cent.

“From April, retail businesses will now receive 50 per cent off their business rates bill, if they occupy a property with a rateable value below £51,000.

“Cllr North, leader of Test Valley Borough Council has said that his council are already starting preparations to ensure that eligible local businesses receive this increased rates relief at the beginning of the forthcoming financial year.”

Steve also points to the borough council’s purchase of the Chantry Centre, the town centre masterplan and other initiatives as positives for the town moving forward.

“Andover has many interesting and vibrant independent retail businesses and BID has recognised that and is working closely and supporting them where it can,” Steve added.

“The recent acquisition by Test Valley Borough Council of the Chantry Centre is also good news as is the development of master planning exercise that is taking place in the town.

“The recent announcements regarding car parking charges are also good news for the town and signs that our local authority is doing what it can to support local businesses.

“BID is shortly to launch its Free WiFi for the town which will also include the railway station and that provide important and strong links with people coming in and out of the town, also encouraging people to stay longer in town.”