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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!

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