Headlines

THE government is giving Woking Borough Council £9.3m to help pay for roads and other infrastructure needed for the Sheerwater Regeneration Scheme.

The money is coming from the Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF), which is distributing a total of £866m to local authority housing projects across England which involve up to 200,000 new homes.

Woking’s request for funding was one of only two successful bids in Surrey which were announced by Housing Secretary Sajid Javid and Chancellor Philip Hammond.

A plan of the revised Sheerwater Regeneration Scheme, showing the increased open space requested by the borough council

Guildford Borough Council is the other winner in the county, receiving £10m to replace the Ash level crossing with a bridge, to reduce road congestion and make housing developments in the area more viable.

Woking’s bid was submitted to the HIF’s Marginal Viability Fund. Capped at £10 million per bid, the fund provides money to help allocate additional housing sites or speed up the development of existing sites.

The leader of Woking Borough Council, Cllr David Bittleston, commented: “I’m delighted that the council’s bid was successful. The bidding process was hugely competitive with the government receiving bids comprising almost £2 billion in value.

See 15th February 2018 issue for full report

THE average council tax bill in Woking will go up by a total of £98.49 from 1 April, as the borough follows the county council and the police commissioner in levying close to the maximum permitted increase.

With all the authorities having decided their precepts, a Band D household – in the middle of the eight scales – will pay a total of £1,881.32, rising from the current rate of £1,723.83.

The lowest rate, for Band A, will be £1,254.21, up from £1,188.55. The highest, for Band H, is £3,762.64, against £3,565.66.

A full meeting of Woking Borough Council last Thursday approved an increase of 2.98%, for its share of the tax, just under the limit set by the government for 2008-19.

Band D households will pay £233.46 for services provided by the borough, an increase of £6.75 on the current year. The Band A rate is £155.64, up by £4.50, and Band H is £466.92, up £13.50.

The borough council is forecasting that it needs around £11.7m from local taxes and government grants. To meet this, its tax precept will raise £9.6m, it will be allowed to keep just over £2m in business rates and it has a £136,734 surplus on its council tax collection fund.

This income pays for refuse collections, environmental services, planning services and leisure facilities.

The leader of Woking Borough Council, Cllr David Bittleston, commented: “Despite the ongoing reduction in government funding, we have been able to keep the council tax increase to a modest level and protect services for local residents, whilst continuing to invest in the future of our borough.”

 

See 15th February 2018 issue for full report

VISITORS are to be charged up to £5 a time to park at countryside sites across Surrey, including Chobham, Ockham and Wisley commons.

Despite widespread opposition, Surrey County Council is introducing the fees to raise around £200,000 a year for conservation work on the 10,000 acres of heathland, downs and woods that it owns.

Pay and conserve – Chobham Common

They will be imposed in 15 car parks across five of the busiest sites between February and July next year, under the county’s Pay and Conserve scheme.

Drivers will be charged £1.30 for the first hour, £2.60 for up to two hours, £3.90 up to three hours and £5 for a complete day. A yearly season ticket will cost £60.

The charges were approved by the council’s cabinet on Tuesday last week, at the request of the portfolio holder for transport, Cllr Mike Goodman, who represents Bagshot, Windlesham and Chobham on the council.

He told the cabinet that government cuts and the need to support statutory services such as social care and education had forced the county to drastically reduce its yearly grant to the countryside managers, Surrey Wildlife Trust (SWT).

It had gone down from £953,000 in 2014 to £575,000, with the aim of cutting it to zero in 2020.

SWT needed £2.1m a year and had to make up the difference through grants, generating income from property and trading activities. The proceeds of parking charges would go to the trust and be ringfenced for conservation work.

Mr Goodman said Surrey was behind other local authorities and organisations such as the National Trust in charging people to use its car parks.

“I think it’s only fair that that those who benefit most from this countryside pay more towards looking after it,” he added.

The fees will be charged at the six car parks on Chobham Common, three at Wisley and Ockham commons, two at Whitmoor Common in Worplesdon, one at Rodborough Common in Witley near Godalming and three at Norbury Park near Leatherhead.

WITH firm public support for their vision of developing Fairoaks as a centre of aviation excellence, campaigners against a garden village on the land are stepping up their pressure on the airport owners.

Following its three packed consultation sessions at the weekend, the Fairoaks 2020 group is preparing a business case for keeping the airport operating.

“The next step is to work on the finance that’s needed for Fairoaks,” group chairman Douglas Mancini told the News & Mail. “We need to demonstrate the level of investment and the number of jobs it will create.”

MEETING – Members of the public listen to Fairoaks 2020 speakers

“We will share the information with the owners and Surrey Heath Borough Council and also post it on our website. It’s clear that developing Fairoaks is good common sense and logical.”

Mr Mancini was speaking after the meetings in Chobham Village Hall on Saturday and Sunday where an alternative to building around 1,500 houses was presented to the public.

“We were absolutely delighted with the outcome of the weekend,” he added. “It confirms what we are saying, that the airport has an economic impact in the area and is an important facility for the community.

“The key takeaway from the weekend is that this isn’t over by any stretch of the imagination.”

At the weekend, Fairoaks 2020 – formerly known as No Fairoaks New Town – fielded is own “masterplanner” to show that the airport could have a future as a flight and aviation education centre.

David Keirle, an architect who is involved in designing garden village-type housing estates in other parts of the country and flies out of Fairoaks, was one of the main speakers.

He put the case for developing Fairoaks as a general aviation airport and education centre, in a country where the decline in the number of airfields in the last 20 years had been “staggering”.

“The owners have a successful operational airport which could be a lot better,” he told the audience. “Why won’t they build on the jobs and educational possibilities?”

There had been no spending on the flight centre in recent years, but investment could bring extra trade to Fairoaks as general aviation facilities were lost elsewhere in the South East.

Farnborough Airport was dedicated to business flights and could not provide the same facilities as Fairoaks, so would not be an effective replacement. But there was a danger that the owners of Blackbushe Airport, near Camberley, could grab the initiative to expand, taking away some of Fairoaks’ business.

Mr Keirle agreed that a lot more housing was needed in the UK but building on the airport’s Green Belt land was not acceptable. “People around the world are envious of our Green Belt and we should not lose it in this way” he added.

See 1st February 2018 issue for full report.

SERVICES for young people provided by the fire-damaged Lakers Youth Centre in Goldsworth Park will carry on, youth workers have pledged.

They are looking at alternative places to hold club meetings, support young carers and give one-to-one mentoring for children, among other activities which take place in the building.

Nearby St Andrew’s Church and Woking Sea Cadets, whose TS Dianthus base is in Goldsworth Park, have offered their premises for use by the youth service teams which use Lakers.

Investigators do not know what caused the fire which put the centre in Denton Way out of action on Tuesday evening last week.

The two Woking fire crews, backed up by an appliance from Guildford, arrived at about 5.50pm to find part of the roof burning fiercely and immediately called for three more engines and an aerial ladder to be sent.

“There were multiple calls to the fire service so we knew it was a working job,” said Watch Commander Matthew Richardson of Woking’s red watch, who was in charge at the start of the incident.

AFTERMATH – The damaged part of Lakers Youth Centre where the fire started

“Part of the roof was well alight and it must have been burning for 10 to 15 minutes before the flames broke out and were spotted by those who called the fire service. There was a lot of timber in the roof construction, which made it very combustible.”

He added that the firefighters, working inside wearing breathing apparatus as well as from outside, used several water jets to quickly bring the blaze under control and stop it spreading to the centre’s hall.

Crews worked for more than two hours to make sure the fire was completely doused and an appliance was at Lakers throughout the night in case there was a further outbreak.

At the height of the fire, Saint Andrew’s Church opened its coffee shop to provide tea, coffee and biscuits for firefighters and the Waitrose supermarket in Goldsworth Park donated food, which was delivered by members of the church. Store manager Matt Bull said the supermarket was very happy to provide help when there was such an incident in the area.

MORE than 1,000 patients have waited 30 minutes or more in an ambulance outside A&E departments that serve the Woking area so far this winter.

Paramedics have been facing significant delays in handing over their patients at St Peter’s Hospital in Chertsey and Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford.

DELAYS – Ambulances parked outside the St Peter’s Hospital A&E Department

At St Peter’s in the last week of December, 594 people were held in ambulances for up to an hour. Of these, 144 waited at least an hour to be transferred to the care of A&E staff.

Delays at the Royal Surrey meant 543 patients waited between half an hour and an hour, 103 for more than an hour.

The statistics, the latest available from the NHS, were revealed by Woking Liberal Democrats, who say hospitals in the area are also suffering from dangerously high bed occupancy rates.

Lib Dem county and borough councillor Will Forster commented: “I think these figures show the NHS crisis in Surrey is worsening. Over a thousand patients are being left stuck in ambulances outside our local A&Es while several hospitals are suffering from a severe lack of beds.

“Every ambulance stuck outside an A&E department could well be needed by another patient waiting desperately at home for help.

“Each day seems to bring yet more bad news about the state of the health service, the blame for this lies firmly at the Government’s door.”

The Unite union, which represents paramedics and ambulance technicians in South East Coast Ambulance Service, is also alarmed by the increasing pressures being faced by the NHS.

The union’s regional officer, Chris Gray, told the News & Mail: “We are finding the crisis is getting worse every year. It’s clearly a funding issue, despite what the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, says.

“Ambulance crews can’t leave their patients at an A&E until they have been handed over to a nurse or doctor. The problem is caused by emergency departments becoming full because hospitals have no beds for patients to be moved on to.

“They say they plan for the winter every year but they don’t find the resources and funds to do this properly.”

Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust’s director of operations, Tom Smerdon, said in a statement last Friday: “Over the last week we have seen higher than ever A&E attendances, which has put huge pressure on the rest of the hospital.

“For example, on Wednesday we saw 320 people in the emergency department whereas we would usually expect to see around 290 at this time of year.

“Admissions have been high throughout December, with a further 15% increase in patients admitted to hospital since Christmas. We are also noticing that people are sicker than usual, which means they need to stay in hospital for longer.

“Despite this, our staff are working incredibly hard to make sure everyone who needs urgent medical treatment is seen and we certainly don’t turn anyone away.

“We would remind people that A&E is for emergencies only. There are other places providing urgent care, such as GP surgeries, that might be more appropriate and we would encourage people to think carefully about choosing the right service if they need medical help.”

THE co-founder of the Ambassadors Theatre Group, a police detective, and the former chief executive of the Green Investment Bank were the main Woking recipients of New Year’s Honours.

Rosemary Squire, who set up the Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) in 1992 with her future husband Howard Panter, lives in West Byfleet and two of her children went to school in Horsell and Woodham.

Dame Rosemary Squire

She was appointed DBE for services to Theatre and Philanthropy. She is a patron of the Woking charity LinkAble, which paid tribute to her support.

LinkAble chair of trustees Brenda Infante, said: “Rosemary Squire supported LinkAble in establishing a drama group, ActAble. It has gone from strength to strength and opened the second day of the Woking Drama Festival 2017.

“Our service users have also benefitted from donations of tickets to the Christmas pantomime, thanks to Rosemary’s influcent.

“We are proud to call her our patron.”

Dame Rosemary said: “I am absolutely delighted to receive this great honour which I take as tribute to the creativity and resourcefulness of theatre in this country. I hope that what I’ve been able to achieve will convince young entrepreneurs just starting out that they can succeed in this industry – and that it can be a fascinating and rewarding journey.

“I’d like to thank the many people that have worked alongside me over the years – the storytellers and creative teams, the people who make the wheels of the business turn and the supporters who believe so passionately in what we do.

But my greatest thanks go to my husband and business partner Howard Panter whose boundless optimism and enthusiasm are a continuing inspiration to me.”

Dame Rosemary had been appointed OBE in 2008. Sir Howard was knighted in 2013.

ATG’s roots began with the building of the New Victoria Theatre and adjacent cinema complex in Woking in 1992. Under the couple’s joint leadership the group built up a portfolio of almost 50 theatres across Britain and in the US and Australia, employing around 4,000 people.

Last year the couple stepped down as joint ATG chief executives  but retained some roles and financial interest in the group.

Shaun Kingsbury was awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) for services to the green economy.

Mr Kingsbury was chief executive of the Green Investment Bank until August last year when it was sold by the government to an Australian-owned group.

He previously held several posts in different parts of the energy industry.

Detective Constable Alice Barr, who is based in Woking, was awarded the Queen’s Police Medal in recognition of her support for families of murder victims.

DC Barr, said: “This has come as a complete shock and honour. It is was totally unexpected but I would like to accept this on behalf of the whole family liaison team at Surrey as it is not an easy role to undertake and we all support each other.

“The role means people only tend to meet us when the worst possible things have happened in their life. While we can’t make the situation better I feel passionately that we are there to help families manage and cope with the investigation and the justice process through their grief.”

Surrey’s Chief Fire Officer Russell Pearson has been awarded the Queen’s Fire Service Medal  for outstanding service to the emergency services and the public.

Mr Pearson joined Surrey Fire and Rescue Service in 1992 and was appointed Chief Fire Officer in 2007.

Two people from Windlesham were awarded a BEM.

Paul Roy, the vice-president of the Spinal Injuries Association, was honoured for his services to healthcare and Adele Silvey, who has been a volunteer at  Thames Valley Hospice since 1987, was recognised for her services to hospice patients.

THE changing face of Woking town centre can be seen from these photographs of the work being undertaken to construct the new Victoria Square complex.

The one on the right was taken about 11 years ago showing Cawsey Way looking towards the railway line. The angled building that served as a café at one of the entrances to Wolsey Place is just about the only feature recognisable in the recent image of the construction works.

In the photograph taken around 2006, the partly-build Centrium luxury apartments can be seen at the top and the recent view shows the 15-storey block towering over surrounding buildings.

GV’s of Cawsey Way in Woking. (2.11.2004)

In a recent visit to the Victoria Square organised for all the local media, the project managers showed that most of the preparation work is complete.

All is going to plan but the recent cold snap could prove difficult if temperatures drop far below zero as this affects the concrete being poured into foundation pillars and other parts of the building.

The fairly extensive rain and drizzle are, however, welcome as they help to keep down the dust and perform a better task than sprayers that are designed for that purpose.

Paul Walker, the project manager for construction giant Sir Robert McAlpine, said high winds were a potential problem because of the use of 1,000-tonne cranes and the effect on moving heavy parts around the site.

Mark Ireland, the prime site project director, said that the substructure of the three towers had been redesigned. Originally, engineers planned very large piles to take account of the clay soil. But this had been recalculated and the piles have been dramatically reduced in size but increased in number. This made the operation cheaper, quicker and would also help to spread the load more evenly across the piles.

The only excavation left is that for the foundation of Tower 1. One of the senior managers said he did not expect to find the bones of any long-lost king, or even old Cards programmes, as the areas below previous buildings had all been dug out.

If anything of archaeological or local historical, interest is revealed, then the relevant authorities would be contacted for advice.

There will be a Green Car Park, to add to the Red, Blue and Yellow ones in the town centre, between Tower One and the hotel.

The old spiral ramp off Victoria Way will be replaced with one that will have a double ramp and will connect to every floor of the Red Car Park.

Behind the hoardings along Victoria Way is a traffic management system that means the heavy construction vehicles are not mingling with normal traffic.

Once the buildings start to go up, after the cranes have been set up early next month, the lorries will drive into the site, be offloaded, and then continue on to the road without having to make difficult manoeuvres.

All being well, the £460 development should be complete in just three years’ time.

Cawsey Way, with the busy bus stops outside the old fire station, will then be a memory that might one day feature in a version of the Peeps into the Past that features every week in the News & Mail.

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.”