On Friday 9 November at the H.G. Wells Conference and Events Centre, Cllr David Bittleston, Leader of Woking Borough Council and Ray Morgan, Chief Executive, presented and answered questions on the Council’s plans for the future of Woking town centre from now until 2027.
At the meeting, it was agreed that the Leader of the Council would publish answers to all questions submitted for comment before and during the event.
Questions and answers
1. How can the Council be confident that the infrastructure for the new Town Centre will be able to cope with the growing population? Including schools, water, sewage, roads, power, health facilities, trains for commuters.
The Council is committed to investing in infrastructure to meet the needs of the future of Woking and works positively with all agencies to achieve this.
2. How well placed are planners and planning committees to enforce high quality design in initial planning and prevent de-scoping post-planning.
Woking is taking the lead in ensuring that the buildings we develop are of the highest quality and will do everything in its powers to ensure others follow suit.
3. Is there a cultural strategy that would consider things such as a dedicated live music venue?
Yes, we have a leisure partnerships board and an officer involved in this process.
4. Why has the council funded unnecessary building projects while our essential public services have faced cuts?
Woking has not cut any essential public services and over the last 10 years has increased the number of services it provides.
5. Is it true that we are more in debt that the city of Liverpool?
Increasingly local authorities are using their ability to borrow in order to provide better outcomes for their residents. I don’t know if Woking’s debt is greater than Liverpool’s.
6. What’s happening to West Byfleet and when?
Whilst a local authority can grant planning permission as has been done in West Byfleet, we have no control over the developer to enforce them to develop.
7. Are the villages of Kingfield and Westfield now considered to be part of the town centre? If so, why?
Not as far as I am aware.
8. Any plans for Doubletree by Hilton once the new hotel opens?
I believe it is going to continue to operate as a hotel. Even with the new Hilton being built in the town centre other hotel groups are looking to come to Woking.
9. Why are the older generation who have lived, worked and help build Woking being ignored? Why are they called ‘whingers’ and ‘moaners’ if they raise objections to proposals?
Everyone in Woking is encouraged to have a say in the future of Woking. When we recently asked residents about the possibility of building on the green belt, we had 33,000 objections to do so.
10. A few residents have received letters about the site allocation plans and I and many others have not. Do you consider this a thorough and democratic process?
There are specific rules and guidelines about which residents should be consulted on a particular planning application. I have however asked Council owned companies, like Thameswey Developments, to consult earlier and more widely on their developments.
11. There is a recent proposal for Woking to build a tower block for Surrey University students. As the university is located at Guildford, why can’t Guildford build its own tower block?
I agree and I have subsequently instructed Thameswey to build more key worker flats.
12. I understand the new flats in Victoria Square are intended for rental. If so, how much is the expected monthly rental charge for a two-bed flat?
Victoria Square flats will be rented out at the market rent prevailing at the time.
13. When will the first tenants move into the Victoria Square tower blocks?
Completion of the New Marks & Spencer is due in October 2020, the first flats should be available in early 2021.
14. Will any of the new flats be reserved for existing residents of Woking, e.g. first time buyers?
We will be offering the new flats on the St Dunstan’s site to residents first. I hope to be able to do the same with all the other developments.
15. Will Woking Borough Council issue a fully documented project plan for post Victoria Square based on current Thameswey and other design office work?
It is not possible to do this unless we are the only developer, which we are not.
16. Will the flats be part of social housing and will tenants on housing benefits be eligible?
Currently there are no social housing units in the centre of Woking development. We, however, have one of the best track records of delivering council homes in the country. In the last four years Woking has delivered 1,065 new homes of which 479 were affordable and of those 223 were new social homes. I believe that is the best result in the South East of England.
17. Who will own the new construction?
Woking Borough Council.
18. Why is it felt to be appropriate or good for the quality of life of people who live in Woking to have so many dwellings and towers in Woking?
It’s a choice we made back in 2012 to build half of our housing need in Woking town centre and protect as far as possible the green belt.
19. Why does Mr Morgan consider it desirable to see Woking skyscrapers from the top of the Shard?
Mr Morgan’s ambition is to improve the quality of life for everyone in Woking.
20. Please find a way to incorporate more greenery into the centre.
We intend to do just that.
21. Why has Ray Morgan said the trees in Horsell will be cut down because they are bad for the environment?
I believe he was referring to the silver birches on Horsell Common which have a detrimental effect in the ancient common.
22. Why are you designating existing open access areas as SANGS and not allocating new land instead?
We are doing both and by designating areas as SANGS we protect them for future residents to enjoy.
23. Does the Council have a plan for protecting and improving the supply of commercial (office) space within the town rather than residential. This would negate some concerns of increased pressure on rush hour traffic/rail services.
Yes, we have purchased a number of office blocks exactly to achieve this outcome.
24. Are you moving the Days Aggregate entrance?
That’s dependent on a number of factors not least of which is the Housing Infrastructure Fund bid we have recently applied for.
25. Will there be two arches – one in and one out of town under Victoria Way?
One larger arch will be created which will allow space for a dual carriage, cycle path and footpaths.
26. Will Woking Fire Station receive any additional appliances to deal with any high rise incidents that may occur within the development of these tower blocks? Can you reassure me that there will be no cuts to fire services? And what additional safety measures are the developers installing to prevent similar disasters to Grenfell?
The design to fight fires in the new tower blocks removes the necessity for external fire appliances.
27. Shouldn’t you be supporting the local businesses instead of wanting to demolish their businesses and livelihoods?
We have a fantastic record of supporting local businesses and we actively work with them to relocate and help improve their business.
28. Please make Woking known as an outdoor gallery.
We agree totally and are working towards that aim.
29. Is there a strategy for how to maintain interesting and active relationships at ground level between developments and the street by opening up new uses such as artist studios or start up studios?
We are looking at all sorts of options for creating a lively and thriving town centre.
30. Will there be a reception in the new developments/ hotel?
31. How can 12 high rise blocks meet the core strategy point 5.71 of providing ‘an appropriate choice and mix of housing needs’?
Half of the housing need is to be met in the town centre, the other half is being met in the rest of Woking. The choice and mix of housing needs is something we monitor regularly.
32. Are there any statistics that show young people actually want to live in high-rise tower blocks?
There are 80,000 families that have 121,000 children living in temporary accommodation. I am sure if you asked them they would rather have a permanent home. I doubt they would care if it were in a high rise block or a bungalow.
33. Are you aware of the world-wide studies and articles which refer to the social problems of families, especially the children, living in high rise tower blocks?
Yes. You need to ensure that access to parks and green spaces is available for everyone.
34. Why are the buildings on Guildford Road referred to as ‘grubby buildings’ by Ray Morgan?
In the context of improving the town and making it fit for the future many older buildings have come to the end of their useful life.
35. What can be done to ensure we don’t become just a dormitory town, an annex of London?
Currently the ratio of jobs to workers in Woking is also 1 to 1. That’s one job for everyone who is able to work. We monitor this figure closely and work with businesses to increase employment opportunities.
36. Is Woking Borough Council saying that the required housing need cannot be met without more than 10 very high blocks which will totally change Woking’s character? How many flats are enough and are they really the answer? The Site Allocations Plan doesn’t specify the number of residential units which could be produced from the safeguarded sites.
We need to build almost 5,000 homes in the period 2012 to 2027. Half of these in the town centre.
37. What is your final vision of Woking Town Centre?
There is no final vision for Woking it will continue to grow in line with the growth in population across the South East.
38. Cllr Bittleston, who are you representing? Thameswey? The Conservative Party? The Council, your Ward? How do you juggle these?
I work to produce better outcomes for the residents of Woking.
39. Does the Council have the power to ensure good maintenance of the towers once complete? Centrium buildings are now very dirty.
Yes, because we will own them.
40. Why isn’t there a policy setting a maximum building height?
There are many, many policies in place to ensure that new developments work within the town centre. The problem with fixing a maximum height in that it would inevitably become the minimum height.
41. Has Woking Borough Council been economical with the truth in recent years regarding the amount of skyscrapers we were to expect after Victoria Square redevelopment?
No, but I don’t think some people understood the consequence of building so much of our housing need in the town centre, they were just happy we were not building on the green belt.
42. What has Mr Morgan learned about the importance of political impartiality?
Hopefully a lot.
43. Why are the towers so tall? They overlook residences.
To accommodate the number of homes we need to build.
44. Does the 34 storey block of flats destined for Concord House and Griffin House breach Core Strategy 3.8? It compromises the character and appearance of the town square and immediate area. Is the eastern cluster a step too far? Would two 20 storey blocks be better and less risky commercially?
That is a planning matter which will be addressed through the planning process.
45. Has the Council taken into consideration the micro climate these high buildings will create with regards to wind?
46. What provision is being made for families in the new tower blocks?
The same as for any other development.
47. How much car parking is included in the new construction?
Each application has to address this issue.
48. Why are you closing children’s centres when you are encouraging families?
We are actively looking at providing both children’s and family entertainment centre in the new Victoria Square development as well as a medical centre.
49. Why is nothing being done about the state of the train station subway?
Part of the Housing Infrastructure Bid will create the opportunity for an additional platform at Woking Station, which will result in a complete redevelopment of the station and new access ways across the railway.
50. How big would Woking Borough Council like the population of Woking to be in the future?
The population in the South East is still growing and will continue to do so as long as there are jobs and opportunities which people want to be part of.
51. Is it possible to open park and ride while the red car park is closed?
We have looked closely at this but there is unfortunately no suitable site.
52. Will Woking Borough Council use brick, stone and wood to build the towers instead of steel, concrete and glass?
I hope you will be delighted when the new Victoria Square development is unveiled.
53. Will Woking Borough Council ensure that the new developments gain the consent of community and help grow a sense of place?
Build a sense of place in paramount in what we are trying to do.
54. Why are you going into the shopping centre business?
To protect it, invest in it and ensure it remains both attractive and a place where people want to come to work, rest and play.