CONTROVERSIAL plans for the £4 million Coign Church site on the edge of Woking town centre have been withdrawn.
Residents can breathe a sigh of relief – for the time being, at least – now the applicant has pulled the proposal for a 20-storey tower block with a roof garden, and a 17-storey high rise with a 1,000-seat auditorium in the basement.
The church, in partnership with developers Bouygues, had made no provision for the already congested surrounding roads and didn’t inc-lude sufficient parking, affordable housing, or infrastructure measures.
The application was due for discussion at a full council planning meeting later this month.
Fred Griffin, 71, who has lived in nearby Vale Farm Road with his wife Aileen for 12 years, and in Woking for 33, told the News & Mail on Friday: “As I understand it, council planners must have informed the church that they would not consent to the application in such a restricted area and therefore recommended them not to proceed.
“I had previously written to the council requesting to speak as a complainant at the planning meeting on April 22. But on Monday I received an official call from the department to say the application had been withdrawn and therefore would not be discussed.
“They assured me that if the Coign Church resubmit an application within the next 12 months, they will write to inform me.”
Not that anyone has anything against a new church, and residents agree changes are needed, but the sheer scale of the development was considered disproportionate and out of keeping with the surrounding area of their family homes.
It would seem likely that another application will be put forward.
Fred added: “We are now hoping the church will come to their senses and do something like an infill development instead. We can put them in touch with someone who is interested in developing a site here.”
Liberal Democrat for Goldsworth East, Councillor Amanda Coulson, said: “I am delighted the council have taken into consideration residents’ concerns.
“It was such a large development close to family homes. I am glad the council recommended the church re-evaluate the scale and design of the project for future bids.”
Resident Nick Hooper, 39, who has lived in Oak’s Road with his partner Bernadette for five years, said: “I heard the good news on
Friday. As we said all along, we are happy for the Coign Church to be redeveloped in line with other churches in the area.
“They need a new one, but they should talk to residents to find out what they think before putting in an application.”
Conservative representative for the ward, Cllr Hilary Addison (right), said: “I’m delighted that the application as it is has been withdrawn. I am sure it will come back again, and we have nothing against there being a new church.
“But we are hoping they will get back to residents before – and if – they resubmit their plans so that the development is acceptable to the people living in the area.”
One of the biggest issues was the density of traffic. As it is, three towers are already planned for Victoria Square in the town centre, and two 20-storey office blocks have been approved at the Altura site nearby.
The new fire station plans were also approved last week. Council Leader John Kingsbury said: “I understand the Coign have withdrawn their initial application proposals for the site following recent meetings with council officers.
“The redevelopment of the site to provide enhanced facilities for the church and community and much needed residential accommodation for the borough is welcomed, but the scale of the initial proposals were, in the opinion of officers, disproportionate.
“A transition needs to be secured between the high rise that can in their view be can accommodated nearer the town centre, and the smaller scale residential profile to the west of the town.
“I believe the Coign recognise that they can achieve their ambition in a different way and I know officers are committed to work with them and their developer to do so.
“I look forward to seeing the new application in the near future, which I hope all will find much more acceptable.”
A joint statement from the Coign Church and Bouygues Development read: “Taking into account feedback received from the local planning authority, Bouygues Development and the Coign Church in Woking have taken the decision to withdraw their joint planning application with a view to submitting a revised proposal as soon as possible.”
Malcolm Kayes, Senior Pastor for the church, said: “We are happy to take Woking Borough Council’s advice as we continue to seek a solution to our building needs on our current site.”