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Category Archives: Woking

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Rick Buckler at the launch of his autobiography. Photograph: Wokingmatters

I last encountered Rick Buckler almost three years ago when he unveiled an abstract sculpture  – three carved pieces of wood – honouring the Jam  in a Town Called Malice, aka Woking. Around 100 Jam fans turned up to witness the event, coming from far and wide. Now the former Jam drummer’s autobiography, That’s Entertainment: My Life in The Jam, has quickly shot up the Amazon bestseller charts, and yesterday, before his official book launch in London in the evening, Buckler had appeared on BBC Breakfast in the course of around 60 interviews in recent days. There is clearly still a hunger out there for inside info about one of the great British bands.

Buckler tackles the nub of the matter right at the start of the book: why did the Jam split up at the height of their success and fame in 1982? It left him feeling “unemployed. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had no plans in place.” But if he feels any bitterness about it, he doesn’t let it show in the book, which is nevertheless an essential addition to Jam literature, and of interest to Woking residents, too.

Rick Buckler book coverAs he says, “the Woking connection is something that seems to continue to intrigue Jam fans”.  He points out that a few years ago Jam tours were organised around the town to tie with a book launch and the Wake Up Woking charity, taking in Woking Working Men’s Club, where the band played some of its early gigs, Sheerwater school – now Bishop David Brown – where early musical friendships were forged, and Stanley Road, where Paul Weller’s home once stood. However, these days, he says, Woking is “almost unrecognisable”. Sheerwater’s Birch and Pines pub is still there, though. For now, anyway. For Buckler, jobs before the Jam after leaving school included Herbert Machine Tools in Boundary Road, and a big Woking employer, the James Walker works. He also recounts how the band was due to play a gig in Guildford on the night of the IRA pub bombings, and a gig at Coldingley prison in Bisley which resulted in their pictures appearing in the Woking News and Mail.

Most of the book is taken up with the rise of the Jam, including that moment when ‘Going Underground’ went straight in at no 1, an achievement reminiscent of the Beatles.  Just like the Fab Four, the Jam broke up at the height of their fame. Will the three of them ever perform together again? Buckler and bassist Bruce Foxton did so to great success in From The Jam, for several years. Nowadays Rick Buckler manages a band called The Brompton Mix, but at the end of his book he talks about the possibilities of a Jam reunion. “The fans would love to see the Jam reform and there have been occasions over the years when approaches from promoters and agents have been made … but what I think generally happens is that the first person they approach is Paul and then Paul says ‘No’ and it doesn’t go any further. As far as Bruce and I are concerned, there is no doubt that we would do it. The person they need to persuade is Paul and no one has been able to do that.”

Buckler, who still lives close to Woking, says he understands Paul Weller’s position, in that he still has his own musical career, so why would he want or need to reform the Jam, even though he does now include Jam songs in his performances. And three blokes of a certain age trying to recapture the fire and fury of a young band in its heyday? It may still happen one day, it may not. The brilliance – and the beat – of songs like ‘Down in the Tube Station at Midnight’, ‘Going Underground’, ‘That’s Entertainment’, and ‘Town Called Malice’, however, lives on.

Room at the TopThose of you who have been enjoying the BBC’s adaptation of John Braine’s 1950s novel Room at the Top, with its updated, added raunchiness, might be interested to know of the Yorkshire-born author’s links with Woking, which were news to me.   A one-line reference to Woking in an enthusiastic review of the first episode in the Observer sent me scurrying to Google. This is what I found out. Braine moved to Woking in 1966, occupied a large, six-bedroom house at The Holt in Pyrford Heath for a number of years with his wife and four children, and commuted to a down-at-heel, first-floor office in the centre of Woking each day to write. Its seediness and shabbiness, including the outside loo,  he admitted in a TV profile, reminded him of his roots in Bradford.  According to a blog posted by a former reporter on the Woking News and Mail, that office was above a pet shop and near the-then Gaumont cinema. Braine concedes in the film that his den, where he feels so at home, is destined for redevelopment.  It may be that losing it hastened his decline as a writer. In the 1950s, when Room at the Top came out, he was described as one of the Angry Young Men. It was a form of journalist shorthand; Braine was never that, although he did become an Angry Middle-Aged Man,  further to the right in the 1970s than the Conservative party of the day, and warning in that same BBC profile of the dangers of a British leftwing revolution, something he clearly believed to be a real threat.  In  a later interview with the Yorkshire Post, his widow speaks of his decline; how they were forced to move to smaller houses in and around Woking, that he hit the bottle, and how they eventually separated and he spent his final years alone and in debt, in a flat in Hampstead.  A fascinating and ultimately sad story,  mirroring in some ways the fate of his hero Joe Lampton, who moves to London but loses touch with his roots in the process. I’m sure there must be much information out there about Braine’s time in Woking; I’d love to hear of it.

The Surrey Advertiser newspaper has taken the unusual step, presumably following pressure from McLaren, of publishing a lengthy rebuttal in its letters pages from the Woking racing car firm after a front -page piece in the paper recently “put a very negative slant on the McLaren Group’s contribution to the region”, as McLaren put it.

The long letter is very interesting, as it clearly represents an attempt by McLaren to set the record straight on a number of issues, not least  on whether the firm ever promised to provide a visitor centre when it was granted permission to build its headquarters on green belt land outside Woking in 1997.    The McLaren technology centre opened in 2004, and recently permission was granted by the secretary of state for a further extensive McLaren building, also on green belt land, on the other side of the A320.

The letter, from Simon Lake, general manager of McLaren, goes back to the original granting of planning permission to McLaren for its HQ on green belt land on 1997. As the letter puts it, back then “the site it now stands on was largely occupied by an agricultural operation in the twilight of its years, a run-down ostrich farm and a long forgotten municipal waste site”.

The letter goes on to point out that when McLaren moved in the area “was landscaped sympathetically, with the planting of hundreds of trees and the installation of water features, native animal species were protected and some even reintroduced,  and a substantial area of the land was transferred to the Horsell Common Preservation society for public access. Ramblers, dog walkers and joggers can now enjoy the enhanced landscape and woodland around the MTC (McLaren technology centre) and we see them doing so every day.”

A belief in Woking has grown over the years that McLaren undertook to provide a public visitor centre when it received its original planning permission, and that the firm has reneged on this promise, or shows no sign of fulfilling it. What the McLaren letter says is this:

“There was no promise – or indeed, any stipulation – that a visitor centre would be built, though a proposal was evaluated. The section 106 agreements outlined what functions such a building would fulfil should it be built and what the landscaping requirements should if it was not, which we addressed during construction.”

No mention there of Woking council’s current hope that a visitor centre will be built in the town at some point, with McLaren’s co-operation. The letter goes on to list McLaren’s many contributions to the local community:

* Providing cycleway footpaths and a new roundabout on the A320

* Financially assisting Woking Miniature Railway Society’s relocation to “bigger and better facilities in the borough”

* Backing the local community in opposing plans to build an industrial incinerator in the area

* Carefully disposing of asbestos discovered when excavating the McLaren site

* Acquiring a derelict former mushroom farm and passing ownership of it to the common preservation society.

The letter goes on to say that McLaren is based in the Woking area “because our executive chairman, Ron Dennis CBE,  was born here and has lived all his life in the area. Over the past few decades, we have offered thousands of people employment in an exciting and rewarding environment, enabling them to be proud of their roots and proud of Woking”.

It is a fascinating letter, partly because McLaren has rarely in the past publicly responded  to criticism in such a comprehensive way. It will also be interesting to see if,  as construction of its applied technology centre on the other side of the A320 gets under way, any deal has been struck with the council this time round to provide a visitor centre in the town, which could well mean tourists coming to Woking for the first time and further endorse McLaren’s emphatically-stated commitment to the town.

At last! News that some sort of structure is to be erected in Woking to commemorate the Jam, whose no 1 hit back in the early 80s, Town Called Malice, is all about the town that Paul Weller grew up in.  According to the revived Woking News and Mail newspaper, three alternative ideas under consideration are 1) 11 standing monoliths; 2) something called “flowing screen”, inspired by the Jam song Tales from the Riverbank; 3) three upright sculptures around a sphere.

In other words, all pretty abstract. The commissioned artist is Richard Heys, and the location will be the Barratt Homes development near Woking station. The final choice will rest with Barratt, although Woking council and Woking Lightbox are also involved. It is hoped it will be ready later this year. The location seems a bit tucked away. But let’s hope the final work will mean something to the many Jam fans out there, who might even be encouraged to make a pilgrimage to Woking to take a look at it.

View of Woking Lightbox from the current canal bridge

The power of protest and e-petitions has forced Woking council to retreat over its proposals for a new bridge over the Basingstoke canal linking the town centre with the Brewery Road car park and the soon-to-be-built UK HQ for the World Wildlife Fund. In  a press release last month the council said it has listened to residents’ concerns and was now promising that the bridge – which it prefers to call the Bedser bridge – would be “significantly lower than the previous proposal, meaning fewer steps and shorter, more compact ramps, while remaining Equality Act and disability compliant.”

The statement added: “Instead of a concrete and galvanised steel structure, the new design features a timber bridge that will be sympathetic to its surrounding area. The Brewery Road side has been reconfigured to improve public access to the bridge by incorporating split-level access to the WWF-UK building. Shorter, curved ramps will now mean that it has been necessary to revise the landscape scheme, which will include planting two native species trees as part of the revised ramps.”

This constitutes a major rethink, and indicates the strength of feeling which the council was forced to take into account.

David Cameron’s visit to McLaren’s factory last week to open its luxury car plant was aimed at emphasising the importance the government places on what’s left of Britain’s manufacturing industry, with McLaren a shining example of the new, hi-tech way forward for UK firms.  It is in this climate that McLaren has argued that its plan for a new applied technology centre across the road from its existing headquarters, picture above, should be agreed, even though it too is on green belt land. McLaren’s case is persuasive.  Its architecture-award winning, environmentally screened presence on the edge of Woking is a smart, prestigious antidote to the town’s otherwise vaguely naff image.  And in these days of soaring unemployment, an enterprise that talks of 300 construction jobs, 400 direct jobs, and 200 more subsidiary ones, should be encouraged. And yet … the planned new centre is also on green belt land, albeit not particularly attractive, and it will definitely add to traffic congestion in the area, and on a road that has seen two serious water main bursts, road collapses and disruptions in the last few years. One rule for McLaren, another for the rest of us? In this case, it seems, yes. Only the landing site of the Martians on Horsell common, which is of course preserved for the nation, can stop any further green belt encroachment in this area around Woking, I guess.

Woking WWF bridgeWoking council has belatedly “extended” the deadline for objections to the proposed new canal bridge linking Horsell and Woking with the new WWF development at Brewery Road to the end of the month, after the outcry about its design. The objections include the height, linked to the WWF building itself which will be erected on stilts above the existing car park, but more specifically the lengths that pushchair, pram and wheelchair users will be forced to go along along the cyclists’ ramp if they choose not to use the lift. There is an online petition about this, with its closing date 21 October.  The row has rather sadly overshadowed the fact the new bridge is intended to be a tribute to Woking’s famous cricketing twins, Eric and Alec Bedser. It is also a shame that the WWF is being cast once more as a villain in this piece, with Woking council being accused of bending over backwards once more to facilitate the WWF’s prestigious arrival in the town. Surely the real reason for the increased height of the bridge has been overlooked: it is to attract larger boats along the Basingstoke canal as Woking seeks to reposition itself as a south-east centre for shipping.

The good folk of Woodlands Avenue in West Byfleet are up in arms again and have their pictures in the local paper because once more a developer is attempting to build a block of houses – eight, this time – at the bottom of gardens in their road. Coincidentally, the plan has been put forward when the new coalition government has made clear its strong disapproval of such ‘garden-grabbing’ developments, and has suggested that local councils should also make clear their opposition to them. In the case of Woodlands Avenue,  the same arguments that were made against a plan in 2008 https://heartofsurrey.wordpress.com/2008/11/08/residents-on-the-rise-2/ that was actually thrown out before it was even considered by councillors still apply: out of character with the bungalows in the street,  creating a traffic hazard on a busy, narrow road, building homes on land that is prone to flooding,  and the potential devastation to wildlife in the nearby Basingstoke canal conservation area that years of construction will inflict. Surely the council will once more thrown this plan out at an early stage, for the same reasons as it did the one before.  But it should also take this opportunity to formulate a policy firmly against ‘garden-grabbing’, so that residents across the borough of Woking can rest easier in their beds, without worrying that the next speculative developer with designs on their neighbours’ back gardens is lurking just around the corner.

February 2011 update Again this plan was thrown out before it reached the planning committee stage, but in this case the developer, Keane Property Ltd, has appealed to the government’s planning inspector. Since the same company is seeking permission to build a block of bijou homes snuggling under a couple of electricity pylons and next to the electricity sub-station in Woodlands Avenue car park, this does not appear to be the end of Kean’e ambitions in Woodlands Avenue. More attempts at garden-grabbing on the way?

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GEDC0616It’s time something was done to smarten up the Basingstoke canal and its surrounding area in Woking. At a recent meeting of the canal’s joint management committee last month one member of the public complained that the Woking section resembled “African Queen country.” It was certainly looking very overgrown in the summer. This may be partly due to the fact that it was closed to navigation for the last three years, until earlier this year. Even now the Deepcut flight of locks is closed and the St Johns flight is restricted because of water shortages. Such problems spurred the chairman of the regional branch of the Inland Waterways Association to describe the Basingstoke canal as a “national joke” at the same meeting last month. This is a bit harsh, for the canal is beautiful to walk or ride along, even when closed to boats, and is a haven for wildlife. As far as Woking is concerned, it is a wonderful green asset, along with Woking Park, and should be cherished more than it is. Efforts have been made to tidy the area around the footbridge from the Brewery Road car park, and these should be continued.  Something needs to be done about the rickety old bridge itself as well. The Basingstoke Canal Authority recognises the weed problem along the Woking stretch and says it has the matter in hand. As always, the problem is money.

 

For all those who have been wondering when work will start – if ever – on Woking’s planned 18-storey office block, a news item on Property Week’s website from last month offers a few clues. It points out that there is a need to get Hutley Investments’  160,000 sq ft property started soon as its planning permission runs out in 2011. Managing director Edward Hutley is quoted as saying: “2009 is a year of mothballing. We had to take the decision to wait before proceeding with development, as there was no point going out into that market until you can get a decent deal.”  Apparently, Hutley will not start marketing the scheme until next year but, even if the building is completed in 2012, the prospects for higher rent are promising, says Property Week, which reckons Woking remains a good commercial prospect for office development despite the credit crunch. I suppose that’s good news for all of us who live there