Skip navigation

Category Archives: Sheerwater regeneration

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

DSC_0003

“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.

Sheerwater 1

Amid a welter of claims and accusations over the plan to redevelop Sheerwater, one rumour can apparently be dispelled. There are no plans to build an additional rail station to serve the estate, a councillor told a recent meeting where residents had brought a petition signed by nearly 500 people complaining about an alleged lack of consultation by New Vision Homes. 

According to Woking council’s website, the project can proceed to its next phase following the council meeting on 10 July. New Vision Homes, the council’s housing management partner, will develop a detailed masterplan in preparation for a planning application to be submitted later this year.

Speaking about the decision, councillor David Bittleston, “portfolio holder for strategic development”, said: “The council and New Vision Homes continue to be committed to working closely with existing residents and businesses of Sheerwater as we bring forward these proposals. We recognise the public concerns raised at our meeting last night and I am determined to improve the communication further including having a public meeting in the autumn where residents and stakeholders can debate the proposals prior to submission to council. Therefore, I would urge local people to continue to engage with us and New Vision Homes as the proposals develop.”

The plan is to “make better use of the land, with the potential to provide approximately 300 new homes and replace around 600 existing homes in the area”. Benefits could include a new retail centre, and improved leisure facilities, and the provision of a community centre, health centre, nursery, sheltered housing and youth centre. Local shops at Dartmouth Avenue, including a popular cafe, are included in the demolition plans.

It was an angry meeting at times, broadcast live on Woking council’s website. The residents who brought the petition said they had “not been consulted, only informed”, and they were “confused and frustrated” that they had not been listened to. Words like “unjust” and devious” were used; the council was accused of “hiding behind the brand of New Vison Homes”; and the phrase “social cleansing” came up too, much to the anger of some councillors. There was an initial appearance of hostility towards the residents from some councillors, with one saying: “We can’t afford to wait 14 months for you to set up a forum … we need the houses, as I’m sure you know.” 

But others recognised the fear and anger of residents who face seeing their homes being demolished and being forced into temporary accommodation while the scheme goes through. One said he appreciated that residents were never asked if they supported the scheme in the first place, or if they would prefer the status quo to remain, and no demolition to occur.  Another said that most people he had spoken to “believe regeneration is probably a very good thing for Sheerwater …  but it’s definitely not a done deal”.