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For years at intermittent intervals, Wokingmatters has looked in at Heather Farm wetlands, run by Horsell Common Preservation Society, in the hope of spotting some interesting birds. For years, we have been disappointed to see only the odd coot or two, and/or maybe a couple of mallards. On Easter Sunday just gone, we were enthused to see a number of Canada geese on the island, some apparently in nesting mode. Returning today with a better camera, the Canada geese were still there, and a pair of Egyptian geese at the far end of the island as well, pictured above. During Wokingmatters’ tour of the lakeside on Tuesday, we were politely accosted by someone official who steered us back within acceptable boundaries. We got into a discussion about the birdlife, and were surprised to discover that the Canada geese were not looked on with favour. They bully other birds, apparently, and pollute the water, too. Nevertheless we were heartened to see the geese occupying the island, undeterred by the nearby café users who had even sought refuge in the bird hide to drink their coffee and keep out of the wind. The café is a nice little earner for the preservation society, and there will always be tension between the hordes using it, and the encouragement of wildlife. In the hide – when you can get in there – there is an impressive list of birds that have been spotted at Heather Farm. And at least a natural colonisation of the lake seems to be taking place at last.

Sleeping Man 1

There’s another marvellous Sean Henry sculpture in Woking!  ‘Sleeping Man’, wrapped up in an all-white duvet, can be found snoozing at the entrance to the reopened Lightbox museum and art gallery. It is on loan to the Lightbox for a year. One admiring visitor to the Lightbox said: “If you look at it long enough it seems to breathe! I was convinced his hand was moving.”

The Woking-born sculptor told Wokingmatters that he was “happy with the way the work looks in the courtyard. It’s a good location.”

Although ‘Sleeping Man’ will be getting up and leaving Woking in a year’s time, four more Sean Henry works will soon be gracing the town. ‘Catafalque’ – the horizontal figure that was displayed for a while in Jubilee Square in 2017) – will be returning, to be installed in the new Victoria Square development. There will also be three other standing figures, all 2.2 metres high. It is hoped that they will all be in place by the end of 2021 or the start of 2022.

Wokingmatters understands that by the time all eight Sean Henry works are installed in the town, the council may produce a map to help people find them, as well as some more information about the works and how they came about. A very good idea. It could – and should – tempt some tourists and fans of modern art to make a pilgrimage to Woking. A town called malice, maybe – but also a town full of Sean Henrys!

Sleeping Man 3

Woking FC devt 2


The deadline is Friday 10 January to register support or objections to dramatic plans to redevelop Woking football club’s ground, with the aim of increasing its capacity and putting the National League club’s finances on a long-term, stable footing. It’s a plan that has enraged many living nearby, and looks like becoming Woking’s biggest planning row in many years.

In the red corner (Woking play in red and white) are the football club, developers GolDev, and, arguably, Woking borough council. In the other – let’s call it the blue corner – is South Woking Action Group, a vociferous band of local residents who deplore the number of tower blocks of flats included in the plans, and argue that the Cardinal Court development is completely out of keeping with the area.

Back in the red corner, the Woking Community Stadium website is urging supporters to sign up to back the project: “Please help ensure the council make the right decision about the future of Woking FC, its role in our community and the need for more high-quality homes in the borough.” It claims that “residents of Woking want regeneration and want to put our town and football club on the map”. [Well, not all residents, m’lud].

The website goes on to say: “The planning application for Woking Community Stadium was formally submitted on 2 December 2019 and we expect a decision from the council in early 2020. It is time to stand up for our town, community and club, and demand the progress most of us seem to agree is wanted and needed.”

Fighting talk, you might say. Interestingly, there is little or no mention of the more than 1,000 new homes in the blocks of flats planned around the stadium – the blocks that are at the heart of the residents’ objections.


The financial justification for the scheme centres on the club’s current plight. The club says that the existing stadium is no longer fit for purpose and it can’t afford to carry out repairs that are needed. It survives on a “threadbare budget” – Woking is the only part-time club in the fifth-tier National League – “ultimately relying on volunteers and goodwill. The club can no longer rely on handouts to survive. The football club has been losing money for years and this plan will put us in a sound financial footing.”

The plan to increase capacity to around 9,000 – Woking currently averages crowds of just below 2,000 – is aimed at eventually securing the club’s promotion to the Football League. It is argued that more success will increase gates. The redevelopment will include shops aimed at serving the flats, and it is intended that the regular income from these retail outlets will secure the club’s finances.

The South Action Group (Swag) was formed soon after the plans were announced. It has an active social media presence and a smart logo. It argues that it is not against the football club improving the ground, but would like to see it done on a piecemeal approach, and fears that this big redevelopment is over-ambitious, and could actually lead to the club folding.

South Woking Action GroupIn a series of social media postings, it has listed its fears and objections. These include allegations that the developer is indulging in “false advertising”, that the development does not include the right kind of housing, the sewerage system could not cope, and that Woking council is loaning £250m to the developers when it is already one of the most indebted local authorities in the country.

A few months ago members of the action group picketed Woking fans as they were entering the ground for a home game, handing out leaflets that explained their objections. Wokingmatters encountered one objector as he went in, who on inquiry turned out to be a former season-ticket holder at the club. In recent days the action group said that three of its protest placards had disappeared from residential properties. The developers have already reduced the stadium’s projected capacity from 10,000 to 9,000, and added a health centre, after councillors asked them to revise the plans following residents’ objections.

The developer GolDev headed by Wayne Gold has a mixed track record, according to the Surrey Advertiser, with a previous proposed development at Braintee Town FC running into trouble, for instance. The Non-League Football Paper reported: “Interestingly, and perhaps something that will make Woking fans cautious, is that Gold attempted a similar project with now National League South side Braintree Town in 2008 to move the club into a new stadium and build 500 homes nearby. The following year, Gold sought a second developer to help fund the stadium. Subsequently, the plans were dropped before another attempt to build housing was made in 2015 – without the football club – but every councillor on the planning committee voted against the proposal.”

If the plans are approved, construction of the new stadium might begin next year. The team would have to play its fixtures somewhere else for two years while building takes place. A decision on the planning application is expected in March or April 2020.

This feels like both an exciting and dangerous time for Woking FC and the residents, and maybe the council as well. Local pride in the football club and ambition, and a longing for things to stay as they are, are all involved. Can the circle be squared?


Pride 2

Recalling Woking’s hosting of Pride in Surrey earlier this month. It was a heartwarming moment, a moment to be proud of our town for winning the privilege and honour of hosting Surrey’s first Pride parade. The mood was wonderful, both at the parade and at the celebrations in the park afterwards.  And it was a real family occasion.

It was good to see the police bringing their own contingent to take part in the parade, and the manager of Woking FC and some of his backroom staff there too, lining up to join the parade before their important home match in the afternoon. The turnout seems to have surprised the organisers, with long queues to get into the park after the parade, and not enough food outlets when you eventually got in. Woking matters was reduced to getting its lunch – sausage and chips, since you ask  – at Woking FC, just across the road.

But it was shame that the sponsor of the event was BAS Systems, long-time arms sellers to Saudi Arabia, where homosexuality is illegal. And it was wrong of the Pride in Surrey organisers to try and belittle the legitimate concerns of those who attempted to point this out.  Let’s find another, more acceptable sponsor next year, please. This is important.

And it’s easy – and wrong – to think that on such a happy occasion in Woking that everyone gets the message, that everyone is signed up to all-embracing tolerance and inclusivity these days. We need more Pride days, in Woking and elsewhere, for many years to come, to get the message across to those who seem to think that the Brexit vote has given the green light to old forms of intolerance that we thought had gone for ever.

Pride 1


west byfleet play area

Here’s a picture of children enjoying the new, improved play area at West Byfleet recreation ground. Two very significant events in West Byfleet have taken place in the last couple of weeks – the reopening of the refurbished play area, still next to the school; and confirmation in a terse, two-paragraph press release from Woking borough council that the pub group Marston’s will not be proceeding with their plan to build a pub/restaurant on the rec.

The WBC press release , headed “Statement regarding West Byfleet recreation ground”,  said: “Woking Borough Council has today (Tuesday 16 April 2019) confirmed that Marstons will no longer be pursuing proposals for a pub/restaurant and new sports changing facilities in West Byfleet.

“The Council will now consider how it could secure the necessary resources and investment to improve sports changing facilities at West Byfleet Recreation Ground for the benefit of current and future users.”

Was that the distant sound of gnashing and gritted teeth in the council HQ? There was no reference in this statement to the fact that the council, without consulting residents, and as trustee of the rec, had entered into a deal with Marston’s, and had refused to backtrack on it despite the vociferous opposition of residents. In the end it was Marston’s that did the sensible thing, and backed away from the deal.

The plea area was linked to all this. At one time residents were promised a vastly enhanced play area, if they agreed that it should be moved away from the school, close to the main road – to allow Marston’s to build their pub there instead. They voted against such a scheme in huge numbers, preferring a more modest refurbishment that would keep the play area in its existing spot.

It may be that Woking council officers and councillors thought they were doing the folk of West Byfleet a favour by entering into a deal with Marston’s. Certainly they were taken by surprise by the – let’s not mince words – the odium they encountered as a result. At a council meeting last autumn they professed to be shocked, hurt, and misunderstood.

Maybe they will have learned a lesson from all this. Woking borough council is not at all used to not getting its own way. But a fresh, younger generation of families in West Byfleet, supported to the hilt by local residents’ groups, made full use of social media to win their campaign.  It may be no coincidence that the area has been represented by three Independent councillors for the last couple of years. And just a week or two ago a  Conservative councillor in nearby Pyrford defected to the Lib Dems, saying, among other things, that residents had not been properly consulted on key decisions such as plans for a pub/restaurant on West Byfleet recreation ground, “a site held by the borough only as a trustee for local residents”. And there are council elections again on Thursday!

Woking skyline 3

The towers of Woking’s Victoria Square development are beginning to dominate the local skyline, just as the council’s chief executive Ray Morgan envisioned they would. Rightly or wrongly, it has long been the perception among many residents that it is only the views of Morgan that really count when it comes to anything that is allowed to happen in this town.

The towers that now loom high on the local skyline merely foreshadow more to come, with another development planned close to Woking station, and three more towers due next to the new fire station in Goldsworth Road as well. They are seen as part of Morgan’s vision for Woking, which is, according to various accounts, a “mini-Singapore”, a “mini-city” in Surrey, and a landmark that can be spotted from the top of the viewing area of the Shard in London.

Many long-standing residents of Woking have been dismayed at seeing the initial three towers go up, although Wokingmatters does confess to liking the changes to the skyline that are taking place, and believes that they help to put the town on the map.

Councillors have argued that the only way is up, because Woking is surrounded by green belt, and does not have that much spare land to build houses on. But for many, it all adds to the feeling of Year Zero in Woking borough – that there is always work somewhere going on – and with the wholesale demolition and regeneration of Sheerwater, plus the dramatic redevelopment earmarked for the centre of West Byfleet still to come, there is no end in sight.

Questions have been asked for some time about the level of debt that Woking council has taken on over the years to invest in developing the town. This week a Conservative councillor switched to the Liberal Democrats, and accused his former colleagues of “failing on openness, proper consultation, and financial disclosure”.

According to the Woking News & Mail, Graham Chrystie, who has represented Pyrford for eight years, expressed disquiet about the fact that Woking has borrowed more money than almost any other local authority in England. There are new council elections on May 2, but meanwhile councillor Chrystie’s switch has left no party in overall control of the council.

Woking Gateway tower blocks

Artist’s impression of the proposed Woking Gateway towers

Woking’s 2,000-seat stand full to the brim before the FA Cup game against Watford

Woking’s footballers got back to winning ways on Saturday, beating lowly East Thurrock United 3-0 after a couple of recent home defeats that had dented their hopes of winning automatic promotion back to the Vanarama National League from the South division at the first attempt.

That much-needed win came a couple of days after more news was announced of far-reaching plans to redevelop the ground at Kingfield, and increase its capacity from the present 5,700 that squeezed in to see Woking take on Premiership Watford in the FA Cup third round at the beginning of January this year.

Woking never looked like beating Watford in that 2-0 defeat, but they were not humiliated and gave a good account of themselves. It added to the present feelgood factor around the club at the moment, boosted by a manager who clearly knows what he’s about, and a loyal following.

Two days earlier Woking’s splendid local paper, the News and Mail  –  whose coverage of local football, including Westfield, Sheerwater and Knaphill, as well as Woking is unsurpassed – reported more details of a plan to build a new stadium at Woking’s Kingfield home, involving Woking council and developers and the construction of flats plus retail space on land surrounding the ground.

That’s how new football grounds generally get funded these days. And it’s clear that much of Woking’s existing stadium – apart from its marvellous, 2,000-seater Leslie Gosden stand, built with council help in the 1990s – does certainly need an upgrade.

At first there was talk of making Kingfield an all-seater stadium, which would have destroyed the existing atmosphere generated by the covered terracing behind one of the goals, and another terrace area with the proud name of Moaners’ Corner.  But the club will take the views of supporters on board, and almost certainly there will be still some standing areas in the new plans, Woking’s chairman Rosemary Johnson, who is also a former mayoress of Woking, has indicated.

Wokingmatters stood on Moaners’ Corner for this year’s big FA Cup tie, and secured our place for the all-ticket affair by buying a season ticket for the remainder of the season. Money well spent, and not begrudged at all. It meant that we were there for the last three home games, the 0-2 defeat against Wealdstone, the hugely controversial 0-1 game against Dartford, which saw two Woking players sent off in the second half, and Saturday’s much-better performance against “The Rocks” (East Thurrock).  The crowd topped 2,000 against Wealdstone, dipped to around 1,100 on a wet and windy night v Dartford, and was back to 1,600-odd on Saturday. The variation can partly be explained by the fact that many young families attend Woking games, and tend to avoid the school-night, past-bedtime evening matches.

There is always a downside to huge new redevelopment plans – and that is the disruption faced by local residents, and fans, too.  Woking may well be forced to play their football away from Kingfield – somewhere like Sutton or Farnborough – while the ground is rebuilt. That will inevitably mean lower gates in the interim, and maybe a loss of momentum for the team.

Be that as it may, Wokingmatters has meanwhile rediscovered the joys of what we would call authentic football – turning up on the day to pay at the turnstiles, without having to fork out a fortune for a ticket online in advance, journeying a short distance from your home to the ground, walking through the park to get there – that sort of thing.  An away trip to Slough – admittedly not far away – earlier in the season proved to be great fun. We can only advocate that more residents of Woking come on down to Kingfield, and help to push a successful bandwagon further along the road. Come on you Cards!

Fans on Woking’s Moaners’ Corner before the FA Cup match against Watford. It is hoped that the spirit of this idiosyncratic bit of terracing can be retained with the ground’s redevelopment

woking statues 3

What do you think about, when you think about Woking? Do you think about the Year Zero state of the town centre, with construction sites the norm for years and years as the town’s skyline becomes ever more vertical? Or car parking chaos, as provision is drastically reduced while said construction is carried out? Or do you perhaps think about the town’s growing array of public art, a wildly varied mix, from a Martian to a pop group rendered into lumps of wood, to cricketing twins and a sci-fi novelist that put the town on the map by destroying it, and a number of human-sized figures with gloomy countenances?

woking statues 4

It’s this eclectic bunch of sculptures that is providing a good a way as any to navigate your way around the town, as well as giving a Woking a slightly wacky new identity.  It all began with the Woking Martian tripod, designed by sculptor Michael Condron and unveiled in 1998 in Crown Square. It is of course inspired by the HG Wells novel The War of the Worlds, and is of chrome electropolished stainless steel. Nearby is the cylindrical pod, right, resembling the crafts in which the space invaders arrived. The pod is depicted ploughing into the ground, with embellished paving slabs representing the bacteria that eventually destroyed the invaders.

woking statues 1

In 2012, after a campaign which Wokingmatters enthusiastically backed, a tribute to Woking’s  phenomenally successful punk/Mod band The Jam appeared.  The sculpture, by artist Richard Heys, is called The Space Between, and is comprised of three shaped pieces of wood, seven metres high. Jam fans that flocked to the unveiling ceremony were generally bemused at this representation of their heroes, it has to be said. But then Paul Weller did describe Woking as a Town Called Malice, said it was a depressing place to grow up in,  and did very well out of the song – so what else could he expect?



In 2015 two far less controversial Woking figures were honoured – Surrey’s cricketing Bedser twins Alec and Eric, represented by two bronze statues by Alan Sly on the footbridge over the Basingstoke canal, beside the Lightbox and the WWF headquarters. Alec is bowling to Eric, right, who has despatched the ball into the wall of the Woking borough council building on the other side of Victoria Way, where it is embedded.  A nice touch that always makes Wokingmatters smile, every time we see it. They were unveiled by former prime minister and Surrey cricket fan Sir John Major, who famously said upon his election defeat in 1997 that he was leaving Downing Street and was off to the Oval to watch some cricket that same afternoon.

woking statues 6

HG Wells himself was commemorated with a statue in Woking in 2017, the 150th anniversary of his birth. The sculpture by Wesley Harland, left, was first positioned outside the Lightbox before it was shifted to its “permanent” site at Victoria Gate, in an obscure area of the town that is little visited. Wokingmatters regrets this, and feels it should have stayed outside the Lightbox, where many more people would see it, even if its present location does leave it closer to the Martian Tripod and attendant pod. Arguably they too could be moved to a more open location – and maybe they will be in due course.


woking statues 10

The biggest addition to Woking’s collection of public art came in the same year, when Woking-born sculptor Sean Henry’s work was on show at the Lightbox. Five examples of his sculptures appeared in various locations in Woking town centre, and were originally intended as a temporary art trail to publicise the exhibition. But now they are here to stay: the slightly larger than life Standing Woman, right, in the entrance to the Peacocks Centre shopping mall, the Standing Man in Jubilee Square, the Seated Man on the platform at Woking station, and The Wanderer, top picture, who has returned to the refurbished Albion Square outside the station. Number five, Man Lying Down, is due to be re-installed when the Victoria Square development is complete.

Other examples of Woking’s public art includes Paralympic basketball player Ade Adepitan by Christine Charlesworth in Jubilee Square; the Pegasus tree carving in Horsell; Surrey Hills, three willow cyclists on metal hills, by Sarah Holmes, in the Wolsey Place shopping centre; and Richard Jackson’s Exchanging Luminance in the Lightbox courtyard.

The whole collection gives Woking a human touch, amid its concrete blocks and new, soaring towers. Woking council should be commended for providing it – the town feels a lot better for it.

woking statues 5


Woking council

A refurbished children’s play area at West Byfleet recreation ground can remain in its present location next to West Byfleet junior school, Woking council’s executive agreed on Thursday night. Plans will now be set in motion to upgrade the play area at a cost of £60,000, after a public consultation conducted by the council voted resoundingly to keep the play area where it is – even though an alternative location at the recreation ground would have attracted £300,000 worth of investment in new equipment.

The reason that so many in West Byfleet voted to keep the play area where it is was that they feared that the alternative next to the school would be a pub. But Thursday’s council meeting and decision left a number of questions unanswered. These include:


Why was so much more money available if the play area was moved away from the school and close to the main Parvis Road? Was it to do with the plan by Marston’s to site a pub/ restaurant on the recreation ground?

Could some of that extra cash for the alternative location be spent on the play area refurbishment anyway?

Why did council leader David Bittleston say the question of the pub plan was not up for debate at Thursday’s night’s meeting because “it had already been dealt with”? What did he mean by that?

Why did Lib Dem councillor Ann-Marie Barker’s question about other plans for the recreation ground go answered?

Why was the council’s chief executive Ray Morgan not at the meeting? He may have had a perfectly good, private reason for not attending, but without clarification it seemed odd.

 West Byfleet park campaigners Rebecca and Emma

The meeting heard from campaigners Rebecca Bradshaw and Emma Slaymaker, pictured above, who will be involved in discussions about the new play area. Rebecca explained that their campaign and fundraising began after the slide was placed out of bounds. She also talked about the seesawing situation regarding the seesaw, which kept being removed, put back, and then removed again.

David LIttleston Woking council

Discussion of the agenda item began with a statement from councillor Bittleston, pictured above,  saying that he had been “shocked, upset and disappointed” by some comments and accusations aimed at himself and other members and officers of the council that had been made on social media about the recreation ground issue.

Councillor Colin Kemp, who will be in charge of the play area renovations, said neither location option would have affected plans for a pub on the recreation ground, and it was “sad” to see posters saying “Save Our Recreation Ground”, which he insisted were “very misleading”.

Councillor Davis Woking councilAnd councillor Kevin Davis, pictured above, in a statement which he warned in advance would be “rambling”, again voiced the general sense of bafflement and hurt feelings among councillors by saying social media comments such as being labelled a “vile, corrupt council” were “very disappointing … it just isn’t on, in my opinion”. He added that the petition  sent in on the issue was invalid, and had included signatures from Basle in Switzerland and Sydney in Australia.

Two of Byfleet and West Byfleet’s three Independent councillors, Amanda Boote and John Bond, were at the meeting and raised questions to which they did not always receive adequate answers.

Meanwhile West Byfleet Neighbourhood Forum residents group has sent another letter to the chairman of Marstons about the company’s plans for a pub on the recreation ground. It says: “On previous occasions Wade Pollard, chairman of West Byfleet Neighbourhood Forum, has written to your predecessor to express deep misgivings about the purported agreement between Marston’s PLC and Woking borough council (‘WBC’). There has been a total failure to respond. That is very unfortunate.”

It says that the group has lodged a formal complaint with the Charity Commission regarding WBC’s conduct as sole trustee of the Recreation Ground Charity (‘RGC’), and adds that “the Marston’s PLC board and internal legal function should be aware of the following:

  1. WBRG [West Byfleet recreation ground] is owned by RGC not WBC;
  2. Any agreement between Marston’s PLC and WBC regarding a purchase and/or lease of part of RGC is null and void;
  3. WBC’s conduct in purporting to agree to sell and/or lease part of RGC to Marston’s PLC is unlawful (any agreement could only be with WBC as trustee of RGC and as such would have to be as in conformity with RGC’s charitable purpose); and
  4. If the Charity Commission finds that Marston’s PLC was aware of 1 & 3 above it could name it in any enforcement notice issued.

“We would urge Marston’s PLC to think very carefully about pursuing this development … A belated response to our original letter was finally received from WBC on 17 August. It failed to respond substantively to the points raised but did acknowledge that ‘…As you rightly state the land is held by the council as trustee of the Recreation Ground Charity…’ and gave an assurance ‘… that no legal relationship currently exists with Marstons in respect of West Byfleet recreation ground.’ ‘’

The residents’ group says: “We imagine that considerable sums have already been spent on architects, town and country planners and other professionals. We are sure that this money has been entirely wasted. We suspect that both institutional and individual shareholders would be extremely concerned if further expenditure was undertaken on a project that will fail and we will not hesitate to inform them of what has occurred.

“Marston’s PLC should also be aware we will pursue all legal avenues to prevent this development, including a planning enquiry and judicial review proceedings.

“Marston’s PLC should also note that following a recent public consultation by WBC, West Byfleet residents voted by a margin of 1101 to 24 in favour of refurbishing and expanding the playground on WBRG and keeping it in its present location.”

Byfleet United Charity

A plan to build a power plant on derelict land in West Byfleet has been scuppered by the strength of opposition by residents, which appears to have taken the power company and the owners of the land by surprise. First the company, UK Power Reserve, withdrew its initial plan after more than 1,000 objections were registered. Then the landowners, Byfleet United Charity, said they would not support a second application by the company. The charity, which provides help to residents who have lived in Byfleet for at least a year and also provides some sheltered accommodation in West Byfleet, said the “difficult decision” had been made not to support a future application.

Tony Thompson, the chairman of BUC, told Surrey Live: “The view of the charity is that we would not support a second planning application. What we have tried to do is balance the understandable concerns of the community with the potential benefits to the charity. It has been a difficult decision but we have tried to take a fair view.”

What the affair demonstrates is the speed and impact of social media in quickly drawing attention to a planning application, and in drumming up opposition to it before the application is decided. Concerned residents in West Byfleet lodged more than 1,000 objections to the initial planning application for the former waste tip adjoining Camphill industrial estate, between the railway and the Basingstoke canal, and the company reacted by withdrawing it. Then the landowners backed away from the plan altogether in the face of widespread local opposition.

A similar campaign has been waged largely on Facebook by angry parents – supported by West Byfleet Bowls Club – against plans to build a pub on the local recreation ground next to a school in West Byfleet, and re-locate a children’s play area. A consultation by Woking council has resulted in a vote of around 1,100 to 24 in favour of keeping the play area where it is. The council will discuss the issue at its meeting on Thursday 13 September. There seems a good chance that this second West Byfleet campaign, to stop any pub being built on the recreation ground despite an apparent deal with Woking council, will succeed as well.