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Ray morgan

How much do one man’s views matter? Quite a lot when he’s the chief executive of Woking borough council. That’s why it was fascinating to listen to the views of Ray Morgan – who, he acknowledged himself, has been likened to Hitler –  at a public debate, Is Woking Becoming a More Sustainable Town? held at Christ Church, Woking on Saturday morning. At the packed meeting of around 60 concerned, committed people – the third of six Woking Debates initiated by Woking Action for Peace –  “Mr Woking” revealed himself to be a radical with passionate and outspoken opinions. Here are some of his quotes from the meeting:

  • “We need to have a wider debate with faith communities on gender and equality issues”
  • [On food waste] “I would treble the price of food”
  • “Every proposal by us to provide homes for people is opposed by people who already have them”
  • [On conservation] “There is this paranoiac behaviour about keeping everything as it is”
  • “The green belt will be reduced. It has to be reduced.”
  • “Silver birches are an intrusive weed”
  • “We need to think of Woking in 2050 as being like the Iberian peninsula”
  •  “In Woking, when we don’t get it right, we knock it down and start again”
  • “The Canopy was a disaster in its implementation. But it was never an environmental project. It was meant to be part of a scheme to provide a gateway to Woking at the station. But the private sector walked away from the project. We have learned lessons from that.”

Jonathan Lord

With Woking’s MP Jonathan Lord, above,  in the audience, Morgan, who made clear at the outset that he was speaking personally, rather than on behalf of the council, criticised the coalition government for backtracking on green pledges, talked of wind turbines along the M25, and added that he was totally opposed to the “short-sighted” freeing-up of the planning process, which he predicted would rebound on the government when people put up “ridiculous extensions” right next door to “their [the government’s] supporters”. He also suggested that the provision of winter fuel allowance for all those over 60 was “criminally absurd”, and that McLaren’s failure to provide a visitor centre in Woking despite a planning pledge “remains an embarrassment”, although he at the same time paid tribute to the vital contribution that the Formula One company makes to the UK economy as well as Woking’s.

There were many thoughtful and searching questions put by members of the audience, many from local religious and campaigning groups, but too many to deal with in detail here.

Jonathan Lord’s response included the need to get an attack on the previous Labour government out of his system: “They had all the money and threw it all away.” He defended the government’s environmental stance, mentioning its “fantastic initiative” on home insulation, and then asked a question of Morgan: “How does the council run itself, when we have such a powerful chief executive with such strong ideas, and differences of opinion between the CEO and many councillors?”  In other words, how does Ray Morgan always seem to get his way?

Morgan replied by conceding that “various people accuse me of being a megalomaniac”. It was true that he promoted an “environmental and social agenda”,  but “at the end of the day I do what the council decides”.

In these days of little or no reporting of council proceedings by hard-pressed local newspapers, it was a rare and rewarding opportunity to hear the views of  Woking’s chief executive – a man of undoubted ideals and vision – on a wide range of subjects.

Near the end of the meeting a businessman spoke from the floor about moving both his home and his firm from Guildford to Woking. “We should be proud of what goes on in Woking,” he said, although he added the rider that there should be more facilities for the youth of the town.

PHOTOGRAPHS: PETER BREDDAL

3 Comments

  1. As you say, it was an interesting meeting. But I do feel we let him off lightly – many tricky questions didn’t get answered. I’m still not sure how the Thamesway Group of Companies really works.

    • You’re right, Ruth. We should have given him a harder time. But I found myself in agreement with him more times than not. I thought the chairing of the meeting was carried out with great assurance and good humour, too.

  2. Ray Morgan is a great guy – I worked with him 18 years ago in converting the old Asda supermarket in Woking town centre into a leisure venue. Sadly I let him down and went bust in the process – but he’s still someone that works hard to make Woking a success. Woking would be very hard put to find a better Chief Executive than Ray Morgan.


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