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Category Archives: Sheerwater

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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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A big crowd in West Byfleet during the Olympics. Woking council does not think that the area is significant enough to retain its status as an individual ward

Woking council has had a fairly drastic rethink since its initial proposals about changing ward boundaries. But there is still a lot of unhappiness out there about its final recommendations to the Local Government Boundary Commission for England.

Those estoeric new ward names, like Woodlands, Canalside, Town, and The Heath, have been ditched, and some familiar names have been reinstated, like Pyrford, Sheerwater, and West Byfleet. The revisions also reveal the power of protest. Under the original proposals, Pyrford, one of the more affluent areas of Woking borough, was going to disappear altogether. After a council meeting that was well attended by residents from Pyrford in particular, anxious to put forward their objections, their ward name has been restored. On the new map, it now looks to be one of the biggest in the borough. How’s that for making your voices heard?

The name West Byfleet has also been restored, but its individual ward has still been axed, with parts of it merging with Byfleet, on the other side of the M25, and other parts going to Sheerwater, on the other side of Sheerwater Road. A major area of the borough, with an important rail station, and a major supermarket, has thus lost its individual identity. The same goes to Byfleet, if it comes to that. To many, it makes no sense.

Some residents in Woodham, on one side of the Basingstoke canal, are also upset about finding themselves lumped in with Sheerwater, on the other side of the canal. One or two residents have apparently told the local paper that “they are different kinds of people”. If you feel strongly about any of this, now is the time to make your views known.

The Local Government Boundary Commission says:  “We are asking local people and organisations to comment on our draft recommendations for new council ward boundaries across Woking. We have an open mind about further suggestions from local people to change and improve these recommendations. We will consider all the submissions we receive whoever they are from and whether your evidence applies to the whole borough or just a part of it.” This consultation closes on 6 October 2014. You can read more about the changes – and how to have your say – here

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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”.