INTERNATIONAL road and track journalists gathered last week to hear McLaren Automotive unveil the business’s first motorsport strategy and its plans for nurturing young drivers.

A series of new initiatives as part of the company’s motorsport GT offer were announced in the Thought Leadership Centre within McLaren’s vast Woking campus

DRIVING AMBITION – The first four members of the new driver development programme – (from left) Jordan Albert, Charlie Fagg, Lewis Proctor and Michael O’Brien

The event marked major GT motorsport expansion plans by McLaren Automotive, which has a workforce of around 2,100 and now forms the largest part of the newly combined sports and technology-based McLaren Group.

McLaren Automotive CEO Mike Flewitt unveiled details and concept sketches of the new 720S GT3 race car which is to join the successful 570S GT4. It will be built in a dedicated facility at Woking and testing is due to begin next year for launch with customer teams in 2019.

McLaren Automotive’s global sales and marketing executive director, Jolyon Nash, with a 720S GT3 race car on screen

Confidence in the future of its GT success was underpinned with the launch of a new driver development programme to nurture GT racing talent of the future. The first four drivers selected for the scheme are Jordan Albert, 21, and Michael O’Brien, 22, Charlie Fagg, 18, and Lewis Proctor, 21.

The young team will be given the benefit of having McLaren Automotive factory driver Rob Bell, the most accomplished GT driver of his generation and winner of multiple championships, as their mentor.

“The McLaren Automotive Driver Development Programme has been established to help gifted young drivers realise their motorsport ambitions,” said Mr Flewitt. “If they have the talent, regardless of their background we want to be there to guide them and foster their racing skills. These four will be our future in endurance racing

Speaking to the News and Mail, he added: “This programme is a part of a wider commitment to encouraging young people. We are very much a part of the local community and already do quite a lot to help young people here.

“We run apprenticeships, we offer work experience and do tours of our site here. We also organise for McLaren people to speak about what we do at schools. McLaren has become a far more open company.”

A further plan announced is the development of a network of retailers, specialising in selling road and track products. An initial 10 retail locations around the world, offering motorsport support and service, were announced, the first of these being in Glasgow.

The company also plans to extend the existing Pure McLaren customer track day series with race plans set to take off next year at iconic European racing circuits in 2018. This new series is aimed at McLaren owners who already have extensive track driving experience, taking them to their first steps in the racing world in a controlled and familiar environment with the support of McLaren motorsport experts.

“The 720S GT3 will provide a stunning race-going addition to our Super Series product family and drivers will now be able to hone their skills under expert guidance backed-up by our technicians at the circuit and our motorsport retailers away from it,” said Flewitt.

The new development programme will get into gear when the young drivers compete in pairs in two 570S GT4 cars during 2018.

They drivers will receive motorsport education and driver support that includes fitness and nutrition assessments and advice and PR, marketing and sponsorship support and guidance.

They will undergo regular assessments and evaluation on their performance with a tailored programme developed to ensure each delivers their best performance. This will include simulator access and working with the engineering teams to better understand telemetry data and race strategy.

For Jordan who lives in the village of Silverstone, Northamptonshire, racing has always been a part of his life and he has been driving competitively for almost four years. He moved into GT4 competition after a number of wins in BRDC F4 (British Racing Drivers’ Club Formula 4). A highly successful debut in 2016 ensured he came to the attention of McLaren’s selectors.

Over the last four years he has trained and raced with Michael, who is also from the Silverstone area. Michael had started racing in 2014in the historic Formula Ford and on moving into the British Formula Ford Championship he achieved a succession of wins. Clearly someone who likes a challenge he has also turned his hand to pick-up truck racing.

Lewis Proctor from Aberdeen, broke on to the McLaren scene this year, after competing nationally in saloon championship and only returned to the UK from a McLaren’s event in Austin, Texas the day before the press event.

The youngest of the McLaren protégées is Charlie from Durham, who graduated from Ginetta Junior driving ranks last year after a number of podium finishes since he began driving in 2014.

Woking Borough Council has purchased the Dukes Court complex, acquiring another large chunk of prime commercial property.

The authority has bought the five interlinked buildings at the eastern end of the town for £72.35 million to ensure that they remain as offices and job locations.

The purchase is added to Wolsey Place shopping centre, which the council purchased for £68 million in 2010, as part of its quest to help keep the town competitive.

THE FUTURE ? A computer-generated image of the proposed Woking Gateway development, with tower blocks in the Victoria Square scheme to the left.

Dukes Court, which has 224,000 sq ft of office space, is one of the largest central Woking office sites, bounded by Duke Street, Broadway, Stanley Road and Chertsey Road.

It houses a HM Revenue and Customs branch, Kuwait Petroleum, Kuwait Aviation, the Paradigm Geophysical oil and gas exploration company and the Fidessa Group financial services conglomerate.

A council spokesman said: “With more 500,000 sq ft of office space either lost or in danger of being lost for residential use, Woking Borough Council considered it critical that Dukes Court remains as offices.”

One office block due to be lost to homes, Elizabeth House is next to Dukes Court. Thameswey Housing, a borough council enterprise, is converting the building into 157 homes.

The council intends to create a landscaped public plaza, surrounded by shops and restaurants, between Elizabeth House and Dukes Court, after closing Duke Street.

The leader of the council, Cllr David Bittleston, said: “Over recent years Woking has lost vital employment space and we recognise that the current investment market is reluctant to invest in speculative office developments.

“Without prime town centre office space, there is a genuine risk that jobs for local people and future employment opportunities could be lost. The purchase of Dukes Court enhances our wider investment and supports the growth of the town’s eastern quarter.”

AN EXHIBITION telling the story of 80 years of aircraft manufacture and innovation at Brooklands has been opened by Prince Michael of Kent.

The Brooklands Aircraft Factory is in the restored Bellman Hangar, which was taken down from its site over the Finishing Straight of the racetrack earlier this year and rebuilt in a new position in a £8.4 million project.

Visitors are able to “clock in” and immerse themselves in appreciating the skills involved in aircraft manufacture and trying them for themselves in various “workshops”. An example of the canteen even has a vintage copy of the Woking News & Mail

The Vickers Wellington Bomber “R” for “‘Robert” that was rescued from Loch Ness and is the only one left that was flown in active service in the Second World War, is in the hangar along with other aircraft and their major components in various stages of completion on “assembly lines”.

Brooklands CEO Allan Winn shows Prince Michael exhibits in the Flight Shed

Next door is a new building, the Flight Shed, which is filled with completed aircraft from Sopwith Camel to Harrier with smaller exhibits concerning the pilots and navigators who flew the aircraft and the technological developments that helped them to do so.

During the opening of the exhibition, the biplane was taken outside for taxying displays, giving off  the strong, evocative, smell of castor oil.

Perdita Hunt, trustee of the Heritage Lottery Fund, which has contributed nearly £5.5 million to the project, said: “There is a risk of forgetting the UK’s extraordinary historical achievements when it comes to engineering innovation. Now more than ever we need to encourage future generations to master STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] skills and what better place to gain such inspiration than from Brooklands Museum?”

A PARADE and series of town centre performances helped to launch this year’s Poppy Appeal in Woking, raising thousands of pounds as well as highlighting a new campaign.

The Royal British Legion is calling on Woking residents to rethink what Remembrance means and what the poppy stands for, and wear it in support of the Armed Forces community, past and present.

“We already recognise the poppy as a symbol of Remembrance but it is also represents hope,” said Cllr John Kingsbury, Woking Council’s designated Armed Forces Champion and advocate of the new initiative.

Poppy Appeal Woking organiser, Edward Jones with the 6ft poppy in the Food Court of the Peacocks Shooping Centre.

“The poppy bloomed on the battlefields of northern Europe during the First World War despite the destruction, and it is that life force growing in the most difficult of circumstances that connects the poppy with the message of hope. The Legion embodies this hope, and it is available for veterans of any age, wherever and whenever it is needed.”

“When you wear your poppy this year, we’re asking you to think of all the many and unexpected ways the Royal British Legion uses your donation to support the Armed Forces community,” he added.

Veterans, service personnel and cadets accompanied by the British Airways Marching Band paraded to the War Memorial in Jubilee Square on Saturday to launch the Poppy Appeal in Woking. Cllr Kingsbury read an exhortation, followed by minute’s silence in memory of all those who have given their lives in military conflicts.

Woking Mayor Cllr Graham Cundy then formally launched this year’s Appeal, and performances from Grandpa Spells, Oatlands Pipe Band, British Airways Marching Band, Aldervalley Brass Brand and Summerscales Performing Arts entertained the town centre crowds. A selection of military vehicles was on display in Commercial Way, with collections on the day raising a total of £3,506.73.

“We would like to thank the general public for their extreme generosity towards the Poppy Appeal,” said Lauryn Selby, Community Fundraiser for West Surrey.  “We’re encouraging people to dig deep for this year’s Appeal. The Legion’s work is entirely dependent on the public’s generous support – so please wear your poppy with pride, knowing that you are helping the Armed Forces community to live on.

“The work of the Legion is as relevant and vital today as it was in the aftermath of the First World War when the charity was founded. The donation for your poppy will help the Legion support today’s Armed Forces community through hardships, injury and bereavements.”

In the past year the generosity of the British public helped the Legion to answer more than 1,077,019 requests for help. The Legion uses donations to offer support in many ways including providing crisis grants, researching the long lasting impact of blast injuries on the body, lobbying the government on issues that affect our community, sport and art based recovery programmes and advising on benefits and money problems.

“The fundraising target in Surrey is £1.5 million,” said Cllr Kingsbury. “Every donation received will make a real difference to the lives of service men and women, veterans and their loved ones.”

THE drop in the number of Woking residents claiming unemployment benefits has been hailed as an example of the town’s thriving economy.

The total claimant count for Woking – for all ages – as at September this year stood at 390, of which 60 were in the 18-24 age group.

Compared with five and 10 years ago, this shows total claimant figures dramatically down, respectively, by 64% (-683 claimants) and 68% (-821 claimants).

“Woking’s thriving businesses continue to hire people and new businesses are also being attracted to our town,” said Woking MP Jonathan Lord. “Unemployment levels in Woking are now at historic lows.”

POSITIVE – Tory MP Jonathan Lord

For those in the 18-24 age group, the long-term fall in claimants is even sharper compared with the same five and 10 year periods. These show a drop, respectively, of 76 percent (-195 claimants) and 82% (-270 claimants).

The latest statistics show that in the South East as a whole, there are a near record number of people in work at 4.593 million and, at 79.2%, the employment rate is also a near-record level. At 3.3% the South East’s unemployment has fallen on the year and is one percentage point below the national rate of 4.3%.

“I think the Government is setting the right policies and providing the right framework for financial stability and the sensible growth of the economy; but it is always businesses and entrepreneurs that have to continually innovate and provide the real prosperity on which we all rely,” said Mr Lord.

However, Will Forster, the Lib Dem borough councillor for Hoe Valley and county councillor for Woking South, sounded a note of caution.

“Although Surrey’s economy continues to be extremely strong and employment is at record levels, we are clearly seeing warning signs about the health of our economy – especially as a result of Brexit,” he told the News & Mail.

“BAE recently announced it will cut nearly 2,000 jobs including some in Guildford, and the owner of Vauxhall will lay off 400 people at its plant in Ellesmere Port. The pound has lost 20% of its value in a year, our balance of trade and productivity are poor, and the UK has fallen to the bottom of the growth league for major economies,” added Mr Forster.

“I am worried the public are starting to pay the price for the government’s economic mismanagement and desire for Brexit at all costs.”

Statistics from Nomis, which monitors the latest labour market figures, suggest that Woking is an ever more powerful magnet for senior business and professional managers and directors.

For example, 62.3% of Woking’s employed population falls within classifications for managers, directors and senior officials; professional occupations; and associate professional and technical personnel.

The figure of 62.3% for Woking compares with 49.9% for the same categories in the South-east and 45.5% for Britain as a whole.

Woking also has a higher proportion of those with NVQ4 occupational qualifications. Some 51.3% fall into this category for Woking, compared, respectively, with the South East (41.4%) and the country as a whole (38.2%).

THE redevelopment of the Albion House site opposite Woking Station has received a £7 million investment boost from a banking group.

NatWest has weighed in to help finance the remodelling of what was once the town’s tallest building – in a project that includes the removal of the “white elephant” solar canopy.

An artist’s impression of the development confirms that the canopy, built 10 years ago at a cost of more than £4 million, is to be demolished.

The newly released computer-generated illustration of Woking One, showing the new piazza and a restaurant opposite Woking Station

The Albion House complex of offices, shops and a nightclub is being renamed Woking One, dubbed a new “gateway” between the station and the town centre.

With a new public piazza, the scheme will have around 35,000sqft of office space on eight floors, as well as new restaurant and shopping facilities.

The development, due to open next spring, is a joint project between the property company Wrenbridge and Palmer Capital in co-operation with Woking Borough Council, which built the canopy.

The exterior of Albion House, which was built in the 1960s, is being re-modelled to modern designs. The interior has been stripped back to the concrete structure and rebuilt, with large amounts of asbestos insulation removed.

Wrenbridge director Chris White said Woking One would bring new jobs and amenities to Woking.

“The proximity to the station means that Woking One offers unrivalled connectivity to London from Woking,” he added. “The location, combined with the high specification of the offices and amenities including the new restaurants will ensure that Woking One appeals to a breath of occupiers.”

NatWest spokesman Lee Franklin said: “The redevelopment of Woking One is a great opportunity to bring more business into the town. As an established commercial centre less than 30 miles from central London, it is also vital that Woking enhances its transport and infrastructure links to bring further economic benefits to the area.”

Albion House, built on the site of the Albion Hotel, was the tallest building in town until the 15-storey BAT tower block, later renamed Export House, was completed in 1974.

The solar canopy, finished at the end of 2007, cost a total of £4.2m, including the rerouting of electricity cables and sewers. High Street was closed for several months while the work was carried out.

The steel and glass structure was conceived as a “stunning gateway” to the centre of Woking. Its 35,000 photovoltaic cells were expected to produce an estimated 51,000 to 58,000kWh of electricity a year.

Albion Square was remodelled with cobbles, new paving, raised flowerbeds and benches as part of the project.

But the canopy’s running costs, insurance and the council’s debt repayments have far exceeded the revenue from electricity generated, leading the council to cut its losses and allow the demolition.

WITH THE days becoming shorter and the end of Summer Time approaching, a welcome celebration of light took over Woking town centre with the annual Diwali parade and party.

The “Festival of Lights” is not just a Hindu celebration, but is also marked by Sikhs and Jains and symbolises the victory of light, goodness and knowledge over darkness, evil and  ignorance.

As with most gatherings in Woking, Diwali has become multicultural with 19 local schools and community groups taking part, having attended workshops to make special lanterns.

There was a parade through the town centre and into the shopping centres, led by the percussion group Dhol Beats UK. The parade moved on into the HG Wells Conference and Events Centre where a party was held.

Ritesh Aswaney, from the Surrey Hindu Cultural Association, said: “Although Diwali is a religious festival for many Indian and Nepalese people, we are extremely proud to be able to share this special occasion with people from all backgrounds, no matter what their culture or beliefs.

“During Diwali, we rejoice the victory of good over evil and start the new year afresh. The procession and accompanying party have a magical atmosphere and families young and old can become immersed in the wonderful performances, no matter what the religious or sutural significance is for them personally.”

The Woking celebrations were held last week, but the main focus of Diwali is today (19 October).

WITH the approval of the community blueprint for West Byfleet’s future has come an immediate challenge to aspirations for safeguarding open spaces in the village.

Villagers are alarmed that a planning application is to be made soon for a pub restaurant to be built on part of their recreation ground.

This contravenes the Green Belt policies of the West Byfleet Neighbourhood Plan, which was approved by a huge majority in a local referendum last Thursday.

The pub plan is being prepared by Marston’s Estates Ltd, part of the Marston’s brewery conglomerate, which distributed a leaflet detailing its intention and asking for residents’ views at the West Byfleet LIVE event in July.

Marston’s Estates also intends to build a sports and community building to replace the recreation ground pavilion. This would be financed by a “community contribution” as a condition of obtaining planning permission.

But Wade Pollard, chairman of West Byfleet Neighbourhood Forum, says building on the recreation ground should not be allowed, as it is open space which the neighbourhood plan says should be preserved.

“The land was given to the people of West Byfleet for recreational use and it should stay that way,” he said. “We do not need a pub on that site, and so close to the church. A new pavilion is needed but it can be paid for using planning contributions from the Sheer House and Broadoaks developments.”

Mr Pollard, who had a significant role in the preparation of the neighbourhood plan, said Woking Borough Council was selling the land to the brewery but it was not clear whether it had the right to do this.

“It was originally owned by Byfleet United Charity and then controlled by Byfleet Parish Council, but taken over by Woking after the parish council was abolished,” he said.

He added that the recreation ground would be needed even more after the 255 flats on the Sheer House site and the 117 homes at Broadoaks are occupied. The 900-place secondary school to be built at Broadoaks will have no playing fields, so its pupils would probably use recreation ground for sports.

A Woking Council spokesman said this week: “The council, as land owner, has agreed terms with Marston’s for its proposal subject to it obtaining planning consent. “Marston’s will be submitting its application shortly and the planning merits of the proposal will be considered in due course by planning officers and the planning committee.

“The commercial terms agreed by the council with Marston’s will remain confidential but the objective is to secure better recreational facilities and improve the amenities at the recreation ground at no cost to local taxpayers.”

West Byfleet currently has two pubs, one either side of the railway line –  The Yeoman Harvester in old Woking Road and The Station in Station Approach.

Wolverhampton-based Marston’s says its new pub restaurant will create between 55 and 60 jobs.

A company spokesman told the News & Mail: “We are happy with the update that the council has given and have nothing more to add at the moment.”

An overwhelming majority, 91.7%, of the residents who took part in last week’s referendum voted for the West Byfleet Neighbourhood Plan to be adopted.

It will now be presented to the borough council on Thursday 7 December for formal adoption, after which it must be taken into account when determining planning applications in the area.

DEVELOPERS working on the £460 million redevelopment of Woking town centre have provided a view of the future with artists’ impressions of the Victoria Square complex as it will look from Guildford Road and Commercial Way.

The image along Guildford Road, on a lovely sunny day with very light traffic, shows the apartment and retails blocks towering over Victoria Arch. It provides a stark contrast to virtually the same view in a photograph taken almost exactly 100 years ago.

In the 1920s view, a steam train is passing over the railway bridge and the church spire dominates the skyline.

WOKING TRANSFORMATION: The £460 million redevelopment of Woking Town Centre is officially under way, kick-starting a major regeneration project which will create hundreds of jobs and spearhead a new era of investment. Delivered by Victoria Square Woking Limited (VSWL), the project is a joint venture between Moyallen, which owns Peacocks Shopping Centre, and Woking Borough Council. A flagship Marks & Spencer store and a new Hilton hotel are planned, as well as new residential apartments and public spaces. Building and engineering firm Sir Robert McAlpine is now on site and has advanced preparatory site-clearing works to start construction of the iconic retail and residential Victoria Square development.

The other angle indicates that the modern buildings will blend in with the rest of the recent work on Commercial Way.

Provided all the work is finished on schedule, this will be how Woking will look in 2020 with more than 125,000 sq ft of new retail floor space added as well as 429 build-to-rent residential apartments, multi-storey car parking, a medical centre and two public plazas.

With the demolition of Globe House and old fire station now complete, the site is being prepared for the main building work.

Cllr David Bittleston, Leader of Woking Borough Council, said: “After several years of careful discussion, planning and consideration, I’m delighted to witness the start of Woking town centre’s transformation as Sir Robert McAlpine’s team move on site and get to work on a major project which will deliver real benefits.

“This development presents us with an unrivalled opportunity to shape a prosperous future and make our ambitions and our vision a reality.”

A LARGELY forgotten part of Woking history is to be revived in a new play centre on the high-profile site of the former Blockbuster Video in Guildford Road.

The unsightly abandoned premises is to be transformed into a large play centre with a number of zones. One of these, a children’s garage, will be called Conway and will be a replica of the glass-fronted showrooms and filling station of that name that occupied the site in the 1930s.

Yvonne Frew, senior manager of the Treasure Cove Play Centre, said the intention was to acknowledge the local history.

“The story of Conway garage will be displayed and a caricature picture of Mr and Mrs Conway will feature on an adjacent wall,” Yvonne said.

The new venture will also occupy the site of two former food shops next to the old Blockbuster.

The play centre, which is expected to open in early November and will run seven days a week, will also feature a huge model ship, with role play activities for children as pirates, mermaids, fairies and superheroes.

There will also be a children’s music corner and stage and an interactive sensory baby and toddler area.

There will be a café and the venue will be available for birthday parties.

Yvonne said that she hope to run occasional closed sessions for disabled children who may struggle to cope with a busy play centre on a regular day.

“The venue will be a place where children have the opportunity to play in an environment that engages imagination through sensory and role play.”

Similar play centres, called Little Street, are running in West Byfleet and Frimley.

Cllr Mark Pengelly, whose Mount Hermon ward includes the site, welcomed the new venture on a “dilapidated eyesore slap bang on one of the main roads into Woking”.

He said: “I am overjoyed that the same site is to be turned into a promising new local business and a fun place for families and kids.”

Cllr Pengelly also welcomed the reference to Conway West Motor.

“Woking’s changed so much over the years and I’m sure that many local people, like myself, never realised that a garage stood on that site previously. It’s great to see our local history being celebrated in this way and also to help to educate people about it,” he said.