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Monthly Archives: April 2019

west byfleet play area

Here’s a picture of children enjoying the new, improved play area at West Byfleet recreation ground. Two very significant events in West Byfleet have taken place in the last couple of weeks – the reopening of the refurbished play area, still next to the school; and confirmation in a terse, two-paragraph press release from Woking borough council that the pub group Marston’s will not be proceeding with their plan to build a pub/restaurant on the rec.

The WBC press release , headed “Statement regarding West Byfleet recreation ground”,  said: “Woking Borough Council has today (Tuesday 16 April 2019) confirmed that Marstons will no longer be pursuing proposals for a pub/restaurant and new sports changing facilities in West Byfleet.

“The Council will now consider how it could secure the necessary resources and investment to improve sports changing facilities at West Byfleet Recreation Ground for the benefit of current and future users.”

Was that the distant sound of gnashing and gritted teeth in the council HQ? There was no reference in this statement to the fact that the council, without consulting residents, and as trustee of the rec, had entered into a deal with Marston’s, and had refused to backtrack on it despite the vociferous opposition of residents. In the end it was Marston’s that did the sensible thing, and backed away from the deal.

The plea area was linked to all this. At one time residents were promised a vastly enhanced play area, if they agreed that it should be moved away from the school, close to the main road – to allow Marston’s to build their pub there instead. They voted against such a scheme in huge numbers, preferring a more modest refurbishment that would keep the play area in its existing spot.

It may be that Woking council officers and councillors thought they were doing the folk of West Byfleet a favour by entering into a deal with Marston’s. Certainly they were taken by surprise by the – let’s not mince words – the odium they encountered as a result. At a council meeting last autumn they professed to be shocked, hurt, and misunderstood.

Maybe they will have learned a lesson from all this. Woking borough council is not at all used to not getting its own way. But a fresh, younger generation of families in West Byfleet, supported to the hilt by local residents’ groups, made full use of social media to win their campaign.  It may be no coincidence that the area has been represented by three Independent councillors for the last couple of years. And just a week or two ago a  Conservative councillor in nearby Pyrford defected to the Lib Dems, saying, among other things, that residents had not been properly consulted on key decisions such as plans for a pub/restaurant on West Byfleet recreation ground, “a site held by the borough only as a trustee for local residents”. And there are council elections again on Thursday!

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