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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.

WOKING’s Lightbox gallery and museum celebrated it’s 10th anniversary with a big birthday bash for the entire community at the weekend.

The special family-friendly day was entirely free and included live music, food, crafts, activities for all ages and, of course, I giant birthday cake.

Over the past decade The Lightbox has welcomed close to a million visitors and established itself as one of the leading cultural venues in the South East.

Cutting the cake – Marilyn Scott and Mayor Graham Cundy

Inspirational driving force and sole director of the charity run gallery, Marilyn Scott, led the team that successfully fundraised for the Lightbox to be built.

She said: “The last ten years has seen The Lightbox go from unknown newcomer on the gallery and museum scene in the UK to now being recognised as one of the most exciting and innovative in the country.

“This would not have been possible without a fantastic staff, supportive local authority and above all immense local support and pride.

“We are celebrating with everyone who has played their part in our success.”

Anniversary events culminated on Saturday with the big birthday bash when all of the galleries were free for the day.

The canal-side courtyard was filled with vintage games, live music and a visit form the Friends of Woking Palace ,who brought Tudor history to life.

A Butterflies and Bugs craft workshop for families and younger guests was later mounted as an art installation as a reminder of the historic day.

A nostalgic photo exhibition of the past decade honoured members of the public, existing and recent staff members, volunteers and popular exhibitions.

Mayor of Woking, Cllr Graham Cundy, cut a giant birthday cake which was shared amongst the party-goers.

THE town centre was packed for the three-day Woking Food and Drink Festival with thousands of people sampling produce from near and far.

The growing trend for small-scale food and drink production, with the emphasis on local goods made by local people, was heavily on show.

Al Crisci and Antonio Carluccio with their assistants

More than 80 exhibitor tents extended from Commercial Way to Gloucester Square and events took place in the Tante Marie Culinary Academy, The Lightbox, Market Walk, Jubilee Square and the WWF-UK Living Planet Centre.

Musicians dotted around the town entertained the crowds who enjoyed late summer weather on the first two days and seemed to be undeterred by the rather damp Sunday.

The Tante Marie Culinary Academy Theatre hosted a huge selection of top culinary experts with demonstrations of a wide array of sweet and savoury dishes. The stars included chef Antonio Carluccio, OBE, with Al Crisci, MBE, founder of The Clink restaurant.

Other crowd-pullers were Great British Bake Off semi-finalist Chetna Makan, MasterChef finalist trio Alison O’Reilly, Giovanna Ryan and Lorna Robertson (known as Three Girls Cook), international restaurateur Bruno Loubet, and rising chef and author Olia Hercules.

Carluccio, who has become an annual favourite at the festival, said “I have fond memories of Woking because I used to come many years ago for picking mushrooms. Now it’s completely different with this event here, the food festival, which is just wonderful.

“[This year] I am trying to do good deeds for The Clink, which is for ex-convicts who are learning to cook; they do a very good job. I hope people enjoyed everything here [at the Food Festival].”

Another star was Katy Ashworth, the I Can Cook presenter on CBeebies who took to the stage at the Rhoda McGaw Theatre.

Cllr Mark Pengelly, Woking Borough Council’s portfolio holder for culture and community development, attended the event and said: “Woking Food and Drink Festival is without a doubt one of the calendar highlights for the town.

“This year we saw yet another remarkable programme of food and drink experts and celebrities demonstrating their remarkable skill and knowledge, as well as a superb array of the finest cuisine on sale, much of it from the Surrey area and surrounds.

“The new attractions, including the Bite-size Talks, Meet the Producer and Expert sessions and the Cellar Wines and Deli Zone, were excellent.

“We are waiting to hear the results of the Surrey Life Food and Drink Awards. Will the festival win the Best Local Food Event award for a third year in a row?

“I am very proud to see the festival growing from strength-to-strength and I am already looking forward to what next year’s event has in store. Well done to everyone who was involved in its organisation.”

WOKING members of Wisley Royal Horticultural Society are being urged to sign a petition to save hundreds of trees threatened by the axe.

It follows a rallying call by TV gardener Alan Titchmarsh who is shocked by the latest moves at the RHS’s flagship gardens.

The RHS has described the proposal as “the ultimate land grab” of more than 10,000sq metres of Grade II listed woodland that includes 500 trees.

The RHS says there are two options to widen the A3 in Surrey as part of M25 improvements and one would lead to the loss of magnificent specimens, including one planted by the Queen to mark her silver jubilee.

In a letter to members, Wisley Royal Horticultural Association said: “We are worried that some potential Highways England plans could cause irreversible damage to Wisley in the future and hope you might help us to protect this very special and much loved place.

TV presenter Alan Titchmarsh stands in front of the line of trees, some over 100 years old, that will be cut down to make way for the widening of the A3 next to RHS Garden Wisley.

“If Highways England decide that widening the west side is the preferred option then irreplaceable historic trees that are over 100 years old, and still have centuries more to live, could be eliminated for a short-sighted road improvement scheme, which would increase air pollution and noise pollution and destroy the habitats of a wide range of wildlife and the beauty of the garden.

“If you are also worried about the potential destruction of these 500 beautiful trees and impact this will have on RHS Garden Wisley please show your support and sign our petition.’’

Visitor David Basnett, from Farnham, said, “It will ruin an important part of the garden that we visit regularly. We hope that the plan will be stopped and Arno and his little sister Lyra will be able to continue to enjoy this place.”

RHS ambassador Titchmarsh has called on gardeners to oppose the plans and declared: “We must stand together and protect our gardens.’’

Titchmarsh, said: “This potential garden grabbing plan would be another unacceptable example of this government’s poor perception of horticulture and lack of appreciation of the vital role that plants play for the environment, for the nation’s health and well-being and for the UK economy.

“Wisley is the UK’s centre of excellence for horticulture and horticultural science and helps millions of people to garden and grow plants.

“I’m calling on the UK’s army of 27 million gardeners to make it known that a disregard for these important trees and lack of appreciation of the national importance of this garden would not be acceptable if the short sighted and environmentally damaging option was chosen.  We must stand together and protect our gardens.”

The RHS says it has carried out expert highway studies and is calling on the government agency to choose the “east option”. It does not encroach on woodland from the Garden, does not threaten the trees and would improve road access to Wisley, which welcomes 1.2 million visitors a year.

Sue Biggs, RHS Director General, said:  “It would be criminal for this irreplaceable woodland to be lost when another viable plan would avoid cutting down these century old trees and still meet the important need to widen the A3.

“We’re currently investing over £70 million into RHS Garden Wisley in horticulture, new laboratories, learning buildings and visitor facilities, making the garden an even more important centre for science, and a better place to visit.

“The role that these trees play in mitigating pollution, giving a home to wildlife and providing a visual and noise barrier to preserve the peace and productivity of the garden cannot, and must not, be underestimated.”

Important trees that would be lost forever include “The Queen’s Tree”, planted by the RHS Patron Queen Elizabeth II to mark her Silver Jubilee and a number of trees that are rare in cultivation.

Highways England says in a Have Your Say planning document:  “This section of the M25 is of nationally-strategic importance, as it is vital for access to and from Heathrow and is a key route from the Kent ports to much of the rest of the country.

“The cost to the economy of ongoing delays here would be considerable if left unchanged.’’

A brochure and questionnaire about the Highways England project can be picked up from Woking library.

The preferred route will be announced later this year when there will be a full public consultation.

Work will get under way if planning consent is agreed in 2020.

MORE than 80 knives were handed in across the county as part of a week-long amnesty organised by Surrey Police.

Knife bins were placed at police stations, including Woking, with people encouraged to hand their blades in anonymously without the fear of prosecution.

The amnesty was part of a national initiative, Operation Sceptre, aimed at tackling knife crime.

The Force was encouraging people to recognise that carrying a knife does not provide protection; a weapon can be used inadvertently in the heat of the moment, or can be turned against the owner and have life-changing effects.

Operational activity which took place during the week saw officers carrying out weapon sweeps and proactive patrols across the county with various partner agencies, including housing agencies, council enforcement teams and Park Patrol.

Superintendent Gary Pike, who led Operation Sceptre on behalf of Surrey Police, said: “Thank you to all those who helped support this campaign. I’m pleased to see that a number of knives have been removed from the streets of Surrey. As far as I’m concerned, one knife is one too many.

“To all those tempted to still carry a knife, our message is clear, it won’t protect you, in fact you’re more likely to come to harm. You will get prosecuted if you are caught. Please think twice before going out with a knife.”

It is illegal to:

  • Sell a knife of any kind to anyone under 18 years old
  • Carry a knife in public without good reason – unless it’s a knife with a folding blade 3 inches long (7.62 cm) or less, e.g a Swiss Army knife
  • Carry, buy or sell any type of banned knife
  • Use any knife in a threatening way, even a legal knife such as a Swiss Army knife.

The maximum penalty for carrying a knife is four years in jail or a £5,000 fine.

The Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey, David Munro said: ““Like Superintendent Gary Pike, I would like to extend my thanks to everyone who helped support our most recent knife amnesty campaign. This amnesty encouraged knife owners to safely dispose of these harmful and deadly weapons and I am pleased that 80 knives were handed in.

“We’ve all seen the devastating effect knife crime can have on people’s lives and we must continue working together to rid these off our streets. I am pleased that this amnesty again helped reduce the number of these deadly weapons in Surrey and I hope those still carrying knives will think twice.

“With Surrey Police, myself and my office will continue to raise awareness, particularly amongst young people, that carrying a knife can have the most serious of consequences. They are too often seen as a form of protection when really they pose serious danger to those carrying the knives and others around them.”

The knife amnesty bins were supplied by Black Country Metal Works Limited. All knives surrendered as part of the Surrey amnesty will be used to create a “Dove of Peace Monument”, which will represent the national intolerance of violent and aggressive behaviour associated with knife crime.

HUNDREDS of people clapped, waved and cheered as waves of cyclists passed through villages to the east of Woking borough during the Prudential Ride London events on Sunday.

More than 25,000 sponsored riders were on a route which took them through Byfleet, West Byfleet and Pyrford and on to Ripley en route for Surrey Hills. Our second photograph shows the peleton of professional riders passing through Byfleet.

AMATEUR and professional cyclists saddled up on Sunday for the Prudential Ride London cycling events.

The peleton at Byfleet

More than 25,000 riders took to the roads and were cheered on by thousands of spectators who lined the route.

Cyclists rode from Weybridge, through Byfleet, West Byfleet and Pyrford and on into Ripley en route for the capital and a grandstand finish along The Mall.

Local roads to be closed for the event included Brooklands Road, Parvis Road, Old Woking Road, Oakcroft Road and Upshot Lane and roads connecting them.

It gave organisers time to install safety barriers, make safety checks and allow stewards and volunteers to get into place.

New safety measures adopted by organisers allowed for a relatively incident-free event after riders were forced to stop for around two hours last years when an entrant crashed into a tree.

Cyclist Alexander Kristoff, 30,  won the professional race after a thrilling sprint finish

London’s Walking and Cycling Commissioner Will Norman described the event as “the greatest cycling festival in the world”.

WHILE the plot surrounding a potential takeover of Woking FC thickens, a few things have emerged from behind the smokescreen, writes Andy Fitzsimons.

Despite the National League club’s radio silence on all matters relating to possible investment in the club, an adjourned meeting between two Asian businessmen and a director of another non-league club 16 miles away may hold a clue.

Several names have already been touted in connection with The Cards takeover, including former Chelsea players John Terry and Frank Lampard; and a group of Chinese investors from Lander Holdings, who sought to buy a stakeholding in Southampton FC in January ’17.

However, when two Asian investors made an impromptu visit to Leatherhead FC’s Fetcham Grove ground back in April ’17, this conundrum began to unravel.  Their brief was reportedly crystal clear: to buy a football club on the periphery of the M25.

Since then, a number of potential UK and overseas investors are believed to have been shown around the Kingfield site in south Woking, but Terry and Lampard are not believed to be amongst them.

The News & Mail understands that the club used the former England duo as a red herring to divert attention away from what may be bubbling behind the scenes.

And then there’s the proposed development of the Kingfield site, which is owned by Kingfield Community Sports Centre Limited. Possibly a separate issue from the club, as it will require full planning approval, the current shortage of one and two-bedroom dwellings in the borough makes it an attractive business proposition in its own right.

Amid this backdrop of uncertainly, Alexander Jarvis of Blackbridge Sports, already named as being pivotal to the club investment, is now thought to be weighing up several financial offers.  It is not yet known, though, whether these options include the development, or if Jarvis’ very close Eastern connections mean the aforementioned Asian business consortium is leading the charge for the club.

Any development of the Kingfield site will need to align with Woking Borough Council’s Economic Development Strategy and Action Plan.

The fact that Woking already bucks the trend when it comes to growth over many other Surrey towns cannot be ignored.

Projections show a 13% increase in population from 99,000 in 2014 to 112,000 by 2039, which places a huge demand on housing.  Therefore, it makes the Kingfield site a prime development opportunity, without disenfranchising Surrey’s senior-most football club.

The only certainty is that whatever happens, or doesn’t, securing the long-term future of any football club always takes far longer than people expect.  In this scenario, it’s already much longer than The Cards’ fans would like.