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Woking council is seriously considering allowing Woking College to move from its current site in Rydens Way, Old Woking, to Woking Park, above. Councillors have agreed to look at a request from the college to consider a three-storey building  in the overspill car park and coach park area, below.

Martin Ingram, Woking College’s principal, is quoted on Woking council’s website as saying:  “Woking deserves a 21st century college which can compete with the best of the region … we need to move to ensure that high standards are maintained and that our students can learn in an exciting and sustainable environment. The new college in Woking Park could provide learning facilities for all the people of Woking.”

Cllr John Kingsbury, leader of the council’s executive, chimed in, saying: “We understand that Woking Park could be an ideal location for the college, not least because of its proximity to the public transport network and Woking town centre.”

Council officials have promised to consult with the public before preparing a report for the council executive, which will then  decide whether to back the plan. Certainly, this is potentially a good move for the college, even though the site mentioned is mysteriously much smaller than its existing acreage. The students would enjoy a leafy campus setting, plus swimming pool, leisure centre and tennis courts on their doorstep, presumably at discount rates – or even free? What’s less clear is how this will benefit the citizens of Woking. 

A group of Woking residents have already reacted fiercely to the proposals, setting up their own Save Woking Park website and entreating visitors to it to sign an online petition against the plan.  They say that the designated site is too small for the college, more car parking spaces would be needed to accommodate the 1,000 students and staff,  and there would also need to be fresh provision for the coaches that bring schoolkids to the Pool in the Park, and for the existing other users of pool, lesiure centre and for commuters. It looks as though the whole of the first section of the park would have to be turned into college plus car parking – and it’s still difficult to see how you could possibly fit it all in. 

Of course, the students would expect to spill out into the grounds of the park proper beyond the pool and leisure centre. Would they then begin to regard it as part of their campus, rather than a public recreational area? It is really difficult to see how this would work.  

Alan Crosby, in his History of Woking (Phillimore, Chichester, 2003) describes Woking Park as “particularly good example of a small Edwardian municipal park. Woking council and its predecessors may not always have had much imagination in the early 20th century but in the design and construction of the park  they did an excellent job, a worthy legacy to future generations.”

Plans to move Woking College to the park could wreck that legacy, many people fear.

The latest news is that, as a result of the issue being raised on Woking council’s Forum page on its website, several councillors have expressed their opposition to the plan. For more info:

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  1. Thanks for bringing this to my attention, I was not aware of this plan.
    Clearly this move would result in a takeover of the park by students, resulting in a significant loss of amenity to the local population. As you say, there is no visible benefit to the ordinary people of Woking. If the college wants a new site let them buy one, we must not just hand over the park to them.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Peter. When I first heard about this, I was initially more ambivalent about it and wondered if the opposition to it was just a kneejerk reaction by local residents. Clearly someone had thought: Guildford has its university on a hill, at least let us have our college in a leafy setting, with facilities on tap, as a way of increasing the prestige of Woking. Then I began thinking about the traffic implications and the disruption it would cause; not only the building, which might necessitate the temporary closure of the leisure facilities which construction took place, but the long-term parking problems it implied. And then I took a walk around Woking Park in the January sunshine, and marvelled at how beautiful it was. And you can’t say that about much of the rest of the centre of Woking. And I thought that building a college in its grounds could not do anything but harm it. If it goes ahead, despite all the opposition, I hoe I’m wrong. But I can’t see why the college can’t instead relocate to a rundown area near the centre of Woking – say Poole Road, recently vacated by the Woking News and Mail – and with landscaping and improvements transform that area to the benefit of everyone. And leave Woking Park alone!

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