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“We as the council need to enforce some confidence back into the public.” These words were attributed to Woking council Ray Morgan by the Woking Advertiser in its report of a recent council discussion about the continuing fear and anger of many residents in Sheerwater about council plans for the area’s regeneration.

If Mr Morgan really did say exactly that, then he may be regretting his surprising choice of words. For many folk of Sheerwater have been feeling for some months that the council is trying to “enforce” its vision of a new Sheerwater, demolishing around 600 homes and replacing them with 900 new ones, against their wishes. Mr Morgan’s remarks came as the council agreed to set up an independent scrutiny committee to review the project, after a letter from a nearby resident in Woodham, Michael Adams, claimed that the process “was not upholding the vision and values of the council”.

Last month Sheerwater residents called for the regeneration project to be halted, in an open letter containing “unanswered questions”. A spokesman for New Vision Homes, the council’s social housing manager, said it recognised that “there are a number of strong views being expressed by people within the area, both by those directly affected and those with a general interest. A number of these views do not reflect the reality of the current proposals, particularly relating to property types and size and recreation space.” You can read the council’s reply to the residents’ letter here. Here are some typical questions, and replies, that give a flavour of the current dialogue between residents and the council:

 

Can anyone explain to me how replacing 600 solidly built homes, with reasonable sized rooms and plenty of outside space, with 900 houses and flats with minimal internal and external space (guaranteed to last 60 years according to developers), can improve the lives of people in Sheerwater?

 All of the new properties will be provided with spacious rooms and dedicated private amenity space that will be supplemented by attractive public open space. The improved leisure offer, improved energy efficiency and increased number of family houses will all contribute to improved wellbeing of Sheerwater residents.

It would be interesting to know the true motives for demolishing perfectly good homes …

To deliver the regeneration benefits detailed above and create a sustainable future for the Sheerwater community there will unfortunately be a requirement to demolish some of the existing homes.

What are the true benefits for the people of Sheerwater?

The people of Sheerwater will benefit from high quality new homes, and improved community, leisure and retail facilities. There will be an increase in housing supply and an increase in the number of family sized units, which will all be built to modern energy efficiency standards to reduce fuel bills. A new retail hub will provide a varied and more sustainable retail offer. A new leisure and education hub will improve access to sports and recreation facilities that support the health and wellbeing of the local community. The existing open space and community facilities will be re-located to the centre of the estate to maximise accessibility and enjoyment for the whole community. Improved pedestrian, cycle and public transport routes will increase connectivity of the estate and the community facilities with Woking, West Byfleet and the Basingstoke canal.

 

Looking at these council replies, one wonders if they could help their case by making some of their language more intelligible to ordinary people. What exactly is a new retail “offer”? Something you get at Tesco? The existing plans include the demolition of a church and a parade of shops. The final plan will be presented publicly at a community exhibition on February 13 and 14 at Parkview community centre.

On its website the council says: ”The regeneration project would potentially see millions of pounds invested into Sheerwater which would see significant improvements to housing, roads, parks, shops and community facilities, making the area a sustainable, desirable, more attractive place to live, work and play. By making the necessary investment, Sheerwater has the potential to become a more vibrant, thriving community that will attract new families and commercial enterprises to invest and live in the area.

It adds: “While Woking is within the top 10 per cent of least deprived areas in the country, Sheerwater and, specifically the Dartmouth and Devonshire Avenue areas of Sheerwater, are defined within the 14 per cent most deprived areas nationally and, the most deprived in Surrey.”

A recent petition, ‘Save Sheerwater From Social Cleansing’, from the online campaign group 38 Degrees makes a number of interesting points. It says: “We call for Woking borough council to look at what regeneration really entails and where it is necessary. Selling social housing stock even to housing associations does not regenerate, nor does enforcing compulsory purchasing orders on home owners, who make up a huge amount of the proposed regeneration zones. We call for the regeneration ONLY of the areas in Sheerwater that need it.”

In the latest boundary recommendations, Sheerwater and neighbouring Maybury will be merged in a new council ward called Canalside.

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