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Category Archives: Green belt

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

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Just how much does having motor racing giant McLaren in the borough actually benefit Woking, increasing numbers of residents are beginning to wonder. The latest doubts have emerged after McLaren changed initial plans to expand its technology centre, which had been agreed, on a site on the other side of the A320, to a blueprint adjoining its current HQ, above, that has a much greater impact on the surrounding green belt countryside. Horsell Common Preservation Society has said that McLaren  promised to keep the land which it now plans to build on as open countryside when it was granted permission for its existing building in 1996. The Woking Advertiser quotes a McLaren spokesman as saying that the firm is “an important employer in Woking, providing high quality jobs for over 2,000 people, who all work in an iconic facility which has won countless architectural and environmental awards”. The spokesman added:  “However, we recognise our proposals cannot please everyone. But the planning process is just that – a process – which allows for consultation and discussion. The council will decide whether our scheme is acceptable, but meanwhile, we will engage openly with and listen to all interested parties.” The council is due to make a decision on whether to allow the plans next month. In 2012 McLaren emphatically denied that it had promised to set up a visitor centre in Woking as a condition of its original planning permission, despite the council’s long-standing hopes – a stance that some saw as the company turning its back on the town. In 2013 Woking council’s chief executive, Ray Morgan, said that McLaren’s continuing failure to provide a visitor centre in the town “remains an embarrassment”. Woking’s Conservative MP, Jonathan Lord, is reported by the Woking Advertiser as saying:  “It’s my understanding that this planning permission is going through all the correct processes … this development would bring future high quality jobs to this part of Surrey.”