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The Surrey Advertiser newspaper has taken the unusual step, presumably following pressure from McLaren, of publishing a lengthy rebuttal in its letters pages from the Woking racing car firm after a front -page piece in the paper recently “put a very negative slant on the McLaren Group’s contribution to the region”, as McLaren put it.

The long letter is very interesting, as it clearly represents an attempt by McLaren to set the record straight on a number of issues, not least  on whether the firm ever promised to provide a visitor centre when it was granted permission to build its headquarters on green belt land outside Woking in 1997.    The McLaren technology centre opened in 2004, and recently permission was granted by the secretary of state for a further extensive McLaren building, also on green belt land, on the other side of the A320.

The letter, from Simon Lake, general manager of McLaren, goes back to the original granting of planning permission to McLaren for its HQ on green belt land on 1997. As the letter puts it, back then “the site it now stands on was largely occupied by an agricultural operation in the twilight of its years, a run-down ostrich farm and a long forgotten municipal waste site”.

The letter goes on to point out that when McLaren moved in the area “was landscaped sympathetically, with the planting of hundreds of trees and the installation of water features, native animal species were protected and some even reintroduced,  and a substantial area of the land was transferred to the Horsell Common Preservation society for public access. Ramblers, dog walkers and joggers can now enjoy the enhanced landscape and woodland around the MTC (McLaren technology centre) and we see them doing so every day.”

A belief in Woking has grown over the years that McLaren undertook to provide a public visitor centre when it received its original planning permission, and that the firm has reneged on this promise, or shows no sign of fulfilling it. What the McLaren letter says is this:

“There was no promise – or indeed, any stipulation – that a visitor centre would be built, though a proposal was evaluated. The section 106 agreements outlined what functions such a building would fulfil should it be built and what the landscaping requirements should if it was not, which we addressed during construction.”

No mention there of Woking council’s current hope that a visitor centre will be built in the town at some point, with McLaren’s co-operation. The letter goes on to list McLaren’s many contributions to the local community:

* Providing cycleway footpaths and a new roundabout on the A320

* Financially assisting Woking Miniature Railway Society’s relocation to “bigger and better facilities in the borough”

* Backing the local community in opposing plans to build an industrial incinerator in the area

* Carefully disposing of asbestos discovered when excavating the McLaren site

* Acquiring a derelict former mushroom farm and passing ownership of it to the common preservation society.

The letter goes on to say that McLaren is based in the Woking area “because our executive chairman, Ron Dennis CBE,  was born here and has lived all his life in the area. Over the past few decades, we have offered thousands of people employment in an exciting and rewarding environment, enabling them to be proud of their roots and proud of Woking”.

It is a fascinating letter, partly because McLaren has rarely in the past publicly responded  to criticism in such a comprehensive way. It will also be interesting to see if,  as construction of its applied technology centre on the other side of the A320 gets under way, any deal has been struck with the council this time round to provide a visitor centre in the town, which could well mean tourists coming to Woking for the first time and further endorse McLaren’s emphatically-stated commitment to the town.

3 Comments

  1. Interesting that they refer to sympathetic landscaping undertaken by McLaren. I wonder if all the “hundreds of trees” are planted in rigidly straight lines like the ones which can be seen from the public road.

  2. I think you could call that corporate, rather than sympathetic landscaping. Those birches are very striking, though

  3. I recently visited Woking and saw the mclaren site it was so beautiful, both the foster building and birches which have been planted are artistic. Some people do not know when they are well off. I wish we had something so iconic where I live.I would love to have a look round but I guess its not possible for much tourism when running the businesses as well.


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