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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

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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

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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?

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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.

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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?

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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 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”? t 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 change.org 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.

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Residents groups in West Byfleet have made an official complaint to the Charity Commission about Woking council’s “unlawful” plan to sell off part of West Byfleet recreation ground to a pub group. At the same time a descendant of the land’s original benefactor has backed residents protesting about the plans, saying that they would “certainly fly in the face of Frederick Stoop’s vision for West Byfleet. The Stoop family feel very strongly that this space should be used for the benefit of all residents in West Byfleet as a recreation area for adults and children alike.”

A joint press release from West Byfleet Neighbourhood Forum and the Residents Association outlines in full their submission to the Charity Commission. They claim that Woking council has failed “to properly fulfil its legal duties as sole trustee of the Recreation Ground Charity” and has also failed to “address the conflict of interest in it being the trustee of the Recreation Ground Charity and the planning authority which will ultimately decide the planning decision”.

Its full press release says:

  • On 2nd August we submitted a complaint to the Charity Commission on behalf of the stakeholders of West Byfleet Recreation Ground about the failure of Woking Borough Council to properly fulfil its legal duties as sole trustee of the Recreation Ground Charity.
  • On 16 and 18 July 2018 a group of stakeholders wrote to WBC about our concerns regarding their conduct and their management.
  • The Recreation Ground Charity was established in 1913 after a piece of land (now known as West Byfleet Recreation Ground) was gifted to the charity to be used “as and for a Recreation Ground for the inhabitants of the Parish of Byfleet”.
  • The Recreation Ground Charity (charity number 304985) still exists today. The trustee, following several local government reorganisations over the last century, is now Woking Borough Council.
  • For a body to be a charity, it must be independent. It must exist and operate solely for charitable purposes and not as a means of carrying out the policies or directions of a local authority.
  • The Councillors’ Guide; to a council’s role as charity trustee produced by the Charity Commission and Local Government Association sets out how a local authority can manage charitable trusts safely including keeping management of the charity separate from the business of the local authority, keeping the finances of the charity separate from those of the council and producing annual statements of accounts under charity law.
  • On 28 June 2018 at a meeting of WBC Executive the Leader of the Council announced that WBC Executive had agreed on 2 February 2017 to sell part of the Recreation Ground to Marstons’ plc once Marston’s plc have obtained planning permission for a pub restaurant. We believe this to be unlawful.
  • We do not believe that the sale of any part of West Byfleet Recreation Ground can be in the best interests of the Recreation Ground Charity as the use to which the land would be put by the proposed buyer is not consistent with the purpose of the charity.
  • Woking Borough Council and its Executive have failed to address the conflict of interest in it being the trustee of the Recreation Ground Charity and the planning authority which will ultimately decide the planning decision about allowing a pub on the Recreation Ground.
  • Woking Borough Council has not submitted any annual returns for the Recreation Ground Charity in the last five years and states in its accounts that the charity has no income or expenditure.”

 

Meanwhile Michael Stoop, in a message to residents, has said:  “I would just like to add further to the objections you have already received from various members of the Stoop family that this land was bequeathed to the residents of West Byfleet to provide the village an outside sanctuary for future generations to enjoy.

“To allow …  Marston’s to build a pub on part of this land, would certainly fly in the face of Frederick Stoop’s vision for West Byfleet. The Stoop family feel very strongly that this space should be used for the benefit of all residents in West Byfleet as a recreation area for adults and children alike. I would certainly like to show my own grandchildren the beauty of West Byfleet’s recreational area without the eyesore of another unwanted pub!

“I hope with the support of the entire Stoop family and the local residents, this ‘hare-brained scheme’ is dismissed by the local planners.”

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This is the story of a public scandal. It involves Woking borough council secretly making a deal with a pub firm to sell off part of a local recreation ground, without telling or consulting residents in advance.

The story began almost exactly a year ago when residents in West Byfleet attending the annual event in their local park provided by the council – West Byfleet Live – were startled to find a stand there manned by staff from the Midlands pub firm Marston’s, who were keen to tell them about a plan to build one of their pubs on the recreation ground, very close to local schools and a play area. The Marston’s people seemed to expect a delighted reaction to their plan, which includes a new sports pavilion and car park, and the only input they were looking from residents was: any suggestions for the name of the pub?

They didn’t get the reaction they were expecting, on the whole – and a year on, a row is growing about the secretive and arrogant behaviour of Woking council in this matter.

West Byfleet Residents Association has been asking for details and documents about the meeting where the council’s executive made the decision to sell the land, subject to planning approval. So far the council leader John Bittleston has appeared reluctant to provide them. Separately, Wokingmatters understand that Mr Bittleston has suggested that if the council reneges on its agreement with Marston’s, it would destroy its reputation in the commercial markets and its ability to make future, similar deals. The residents association is understood to be considering legal action to challenge the council’s right to sell off recreation land in this way.

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The situation has been made more complicated for the council – and more emotive for local families – by the fact that several years ago children and parents started an online petition calling for the play area within the recreation ground to be refurbished. They were awarded money by Surrey county council and won the backing of Woking council to fix broken equipment and update some of the play area. But the project seemed to be taking a rather long time to get the green light.

Then a couple of months ago they were surprised to be offered a £300,000 playground on a different part of the recreation ground by Woking council, involving much more money than the original planned refurbishment. Around the same time Marston’s held a public consultation displaying plans for their pub on the recreation ground, with the brewery’s display suggesting it would not be possible to retain the play area on its current site, next to one of the schools, which has always been handy for parents picking up children at the end of the school day. Woking council is now offering a vote on the site for the play area, although there is no guarantee that the council will abide by the outcome. (There is also no suggestion that the increased amount of money offered for a new play area represents a council bribe to facilitate the Marston’s development, m’lud).

The headteacher of the junior school, Lesley Lawrence, was quoted by the Surrey Comet as saying: “It’s a natural community centre for the children and the parents at the beginning and end of the school day. It’s vital for their community to play and meet and greet. The proposal for the alternative being a pub is completely outrageous and totally unacceptable and will damage the community and opportunities for children and parents.” There are children’s protest posters attached to the fencing of the children’s play area – and more protest posters outside West Byfleet Bowls Club, too.

The West Byfleet Live event on the recreation ground has been an annual fixture since the Olympic cycle race in 2012, and now marks the yearly cycle event from London through West Byfleet. But the council’s behaviour in the matter of Marston’s reveals the reality of its “we know what’s good for you”, “bread and circuses” approach to local residents. The increasing impression is that those leading Woking council are only interested in corporations, and not communities. The council leader’s argument about commercial confidence may well be a load of old Canopy, anyway. Maybe it is up to Marston’s to do the decent thing, in the face of overwhelming public hostility, and withdraw its plan – to buttress its own reputation, and to save Woking council’s face at the same time.

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A plan has been submitted for an electricity generation plant in West Byfleet – but it will be remarkable if it is approved. The plan by UK Power Reserve  centres on waste land beyond the existing Camphill industrial estate, between the railway line and the Basingstoke canal.

Nearly 30 years ago a similar plan to develop the waste land beyond the existing industrial estate was put forward – and was turned down because the land contains toxic materials, which would be hazardous to residents if removed by lorry. If the current power station plan is approved, which seems highly unlikely, one will have to ask – has the land become less toxic with the passing of the years? The previous application was rejected in the last century, after all. Or does Woking borough council operate to different standards these days?

At the end of the industrial estate there is a fence bordering the land subject to the planning application – and two large notices saying Danger Keep Out. If you look closely you can see a faded Woking borough council logo above the warning. Interestingly, one of the units in the industrial estate is an NHS one – West Byfleet Dialysis Centre. Is there a danger of an additional health risk being inflicted on these patients?

Wokingmatters has a long memory, and recalls the details of the failed plan to extend the industrial estate back in the early 1990s. A businessman on the estate bought up a number of houses at the junction of Station Road, intending to knock them down and build a roundabout to serve the expanded industrial estate. But his plan was knocked back because of fears about contaminated waste being transported from the estate along local roads and endangering residents – and in 2018 those houses that had been due for demolition are still there.

Camphill 1

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It seems there is always building work going on somewhere in Woking at the moment, from the Victoria Square development and its fast-rising towers beginning to loom above the town, to the Albion Square facelift that has involved the removal of the short-lived Canopy – a fiasco that will not be forgotten in a hurry by Woking’s council taxpayers. Even along the “tranquil” Basingstoke canal, beside the WWF HQ and the Lightbox art gallery, construction work is taking place this summer.

It is hoped that such work should prove beneficial to boat users – and also enhance the townscape for the benefit of all. The Town Wharf beside the World Wildlife Fund’s UK headquarters and opposite the Lightbox art gallery – from where the Basingstoke Canal Society currently runs its hire boat excursions, pictured above – is being extended so that eventually up to 15 boats can moor there. This raises the prospect of a host of colourful boats moored along the canal in the centre of Woking.

It can be argued – it has been – that Woking has failed to appreciate what the canal can offer the town, in softening its concrete profile and making it more attractive to visitors. Soaring new towers may offer hard economic benefits, but are maybe not so good for the soul. The “softer” appeal of an enhanced canalside beside undoubted visitor attractions such as the Lightbox, and, to a lesser extent, the WWF,  can provide something else – a place to escape? It is understood that talks are to take place involving the council that will be aimed at examining the chances of dusting down a shelved proposal to build a canal marina in Woking at Brookhouse Common, the site of a recent canal festival in 2016. That is a really exciting prospect. Let’s hope the funds can be found for that, one day soon.

Rhoda McGaw theatre

Wokingmatters makes no apology for returning to this issue, a year after first posting about the exhorbitant costs of drinks at the theatre bars in Woking, run by the Ambassadors theatre group. But I do feel a little guilty. Towards the end of our original blogpost I wrote:  “I understand that a number of regulars are now reduced to smuggling in their own alcohol.” Apologies if it was Wokingmatters that tipped the Ambassadors off about this practice. For now theatregoers are having their bags searched as they approach the New Victoria and Rhoda McGaw theatres in Woking.  This is nothing to do with anti-terrorism.  The security man on Saturday evening was upfront about it; it is to stop people smuggling in their own drinks to the theatre, rather than having to fork out huge sums for them at the bars, which are pricier than many in the West End.

The Ambassadors really did not cover themselves in glory on this particular Saturday.  There was no matinee show taking place in the 1,300-seat New Victoria theatre; however, there was one in the 200-seat Rhoda McGaw theatre, where Woking Amateur Operatic Society were performing Kiss Me, Kate. Owing to a breakdown in communication, or incompetence, the Ambassadors theatre staff had closed off all the theatre entrances, and had to be persuaded to let the Rhoda McGaw audience into the building. They refused however to open a bar – a blessing, you might argue – or even to provide an ice cream seller, saying that the society had to pay an additional fee to ensure these services were available. Wokingmatters understands that things went bad from bad to worse after the evening performance, when the lift failed, stranding a number of disabled theatregoers on the first floor. They eventually had to be rescued via the service lift.

The Ambassadors Theatre Group jointly manages the Rhoda McGaw theatre with Woking borough council as a community performance space.