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THE fire that ripped across 18 acres of Chobham Common on Friday evening could have been started deliberately.

Surrey Fire and Rescue Service is treating the cause as “doubtful ignition”, which does not rule out arson in what were tinder dry conditions on the heathland.

However, a fire brigade officer at the burnt area on Saturday morning said the blaze appeared to have started in three places and arson was suspected.

The fire brigade was called to the common at 7.45pm, by a member of the public who had seen flames in the undergrowth north of the B386 Chertsey Road.

Two fire crews arrived to find heather, gorse and trees burning fiercely and quickly radioed for specialist wildfire appliances to be sent.

At the peak of the incident, three off-road Unimog engines, seven Land Rover appliances and two water carriers were being used to fight the blaze, with 39 firefighters involved.

A fire service spokesman told the News & Mail: “Crews worked through the night and on Saturday morning damping down hot spots. The incident was finally closed at 5.59pm on Saturday when we were certain everything was cool.”

The fire, on heathland which is part of Chobham Common National Nature Reserve, was one of several wildfires in the county last week. It was the first serious blaze on the Chobham heathland for at least five years.

Many hectares of heathland have burned at sites including Ash Ranges and Whitmore Common at Worplesdon, following several weeks without significant rain.

Last week’s sunny weather, combined with light winds, led the fire service to issue a warning that the countryside fire risk was at level 1.

Heathland owned by Surrey County Council, including Chobham Common, is managed by Surrey Wildlife Trust. A spokesman for the trust said: “We are deeply saddened by the fires that took hold over the Easter period on rare lowland heathland habitat.

“Whilst our team is still assessing the full extent of the damage, we know heathland fires can be devastating for wildlife. Species likely to be affected are ground-nesting birds such as nightjars, invertebrates and reptiles, which can be slow moving at this time of year.

“We would like to remind the public to think carefully and act responsibly when using the commons, especially when conditions are dry.”

She added that discarded cigarette ends or litter such as glass bottles could lead to fires breaking out. Visitors should not have campfires or use barbecues at any time and any heathland fire should be reported immediately via 999.

IT’S all change for Woking area rail commuters from August as the South West Trains franchise is awarded to a new conglomerate which promises more rush hour seats and extra services.

The South Western Rail routes have been awarded to transport giants First Group and MTR, the Chinese company that runs the Hong Kong metro.

They have been operated by the Stagecoach Group since privatisation 20 years ago, will allow the new partnership to run the franchise for seven years, with the proviso that it improves punctuality and increases capacity on the region’s busy rail network.

Announcing the franchise award on Monday, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: “It was more great news for rail passengers. First MTR South Western Trains Limited will deliver the improvements that people tell us they want right across the South Western franchise area, from Bristol and Exeter, to Southampton and Portsmouth, to Reading, Windsor and London.

“We are delivering the biggest rail modernisation programme for over a century and this franchise will deliver real changes for passengers, who can look forward to modern trains, faster journeys and a more reliable service.”

The Government said that the new operators will oversee a £1.2 billion investment to improve journeys for millions of train passengers. The new franchise claims it will provide 22,000 extra seats into London Waterloo during each morning peak and 30,000 extra seats each evening peak, as well as a fleet of 90 new trains, providing more space for passengers on Reading, Windsor and London routes.

It also said there will be more frequent and additional services across the franchise, faster journeys across the network and earlier and later trains.

Stagecoach chief executive Martin Griffiths said: “We are proud to have operated the network under the South West Trains brand for more than 20 years and we are disappointed that we have been unsuccessful in our bid for the new franchise.”

Mick Cash, the general secretary of the RMT commented: “The Chinese company is set to ‘make a killing’ at the British taxpayers’ expense.”

Staff at SWT have been waiting months to find out who their new employer would be however, many expected Stagecoach would keep the franchise.

One employee at Woking station, who asked not to be named, told the News & Mail: “On the whole Stagecoach has been a good employer and I am proud to work for South West Trains.

“This is very sad and disappointing news. I know things can go wrong, but mostly they’ve always delivered what they said they would and that would have happened if they had continued to run the service after August. They have been very good to me since I joined.”

Regular commuter Erica Skilton, 52, said: “This news comes as no real surprise. All I want though is a seat, a train that runs on time and robust real time information. That said, I don’t think much will change regardless of who’s running it.

“They’re trying to run modern trains on a Victorian infrastructure which means that they are always going to have their work cut out. If they paint the trains pink they still won’t run any faster.”

THE Princess Royal officially opened a £24 million world-leading vaccine development facility at The Pirbright Institute near Woking.

The Jenner Building is home to the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) National Vaccinology Centre. It accommodates 100 scientists working on cutting-edge research to generate new vaccines for a variety of livestock diseases, including those that can spread to humans. Scientists mainly focus on poultry diseases such as bird flu and Marek’s disease, but they also develop vaccines for other animal viruses such as the devastating African horse sickness virus.

The building is 14.6m tall and has 3,700sqm of floor space across two floors, which is equivalent to 19 tennis courts.

It has shared, open-plan laboratories that can each house between six to 30 scientists. Specialised labs include a bio-imaging, cell culture suite and a Home Office incubation laboratory

Recent breakthroughs at Pirbright include using new technologies that facilitate the development of a new-generation of genetically modified vaccines.

Dr Bryan Charleston, interim director and CEO of The Pirbright Institute, said the organisation was very honoured to have Princess Anne officially open the centre.

“Our innovative new facilities will enable scientists to develop a greater understanding of virus-host interactions and how best to combat diseases using the latest technologies including the genetic modification of vaccines and viruses,” Dr Charleston said.

[red blob] THE Jenner Building was designed by the architects NBBJ, who were appointed in 2012. It consumes 20% less energy than the buildings it replaced. This was achieved by including features such as automated façade vents for night-time cooling, rainwater harvesting, extensive use of LED lights, and 283 photovoltaic panels on the roof with a brief to design for adaptability in the context of an evolving campus and changing research programmes and to ensure the design reflected the rural campus while setting new standards for sustainability and quality of experience for occupants.

Landscape designers Robert Myers Associates created a wildflower meadow to the south, part of which was awarded to the Institute for winning the CIRIA biodiversity BIG Challenge Awards. The rest of the wildflower planting was donated by construction company John Sisk & Sons, and is haven for wildlife and insects.

WOKING shoppers and businesses could to join a groundbreaking worldwide loyalty card scheme that combines cash-back with bonus points.

The planned scheme would involve shoppers signing up for a Lyoness card with shops and other businesses in the town centre.

The card, run by the Austrian-based Lyoness Management GmbH, is available in Britain but Woking Borough Council would be the first local authority in the country to take part in a mass sign-up of the programme.

It would be free to shoppers who would get cashback up to 5% that would go into their bank accounts, while businesses in the scheme would get 0.5% on all transactions, not only in Woking but in any of the 47 countries around the world where the card is accepted.

Woking Borough Council would receive 0.5% of all transactions, all of which would benefit good causes through the Woking Community Foundation.

 Jubilee Square, Woking, Surrey.
Pictures by: Jake Darling
www.giddendarling.com

The plan is to be put forward tonight (23 March) to the council executive, which will be asked to recommend that the full council appoints Lyoness to run the programme at its next meeting on 6 April.

Businesses will have to buy the electronic devise to process card transactions and pay a small monthly fee, but will benefit, not only directly from the money back on transactions, but by increased custom and marketing generated by the card.

They would offer products or services to the Lyoness bonus points system at discounts of between 5% and 15%.

It is believed that other loyalty schemes in neighbouring boroughs have been considered but dismissed on cost grounds, whereas the Lyoness version, which will be known as the Woking Loyalty Card Programme if it receives the backing of the full council, is seen as costing the authority very little, while offering widespread benefits. It would be managed by the council’s Business Liaison team as part of its business engagement duties and would add very little administration cost.

The draft plan involves the scheme being introduced to the town centre, and then to other parts of the borough with the hope that surrounding local authorities will see the advantages and join in.

It is believed that some local authorities in London are watching the planned Woking scheme closely.

Business Liaison portfolio holder Cllr Saj Hussain said: “This would be great – it would put Woking on the map as the card will be available globally – Australia, Dubai and elswhere. With the benefits to businesses, shoppers and good causes, it is a win-win situation.

“I hope the executive and council agrees and look forward to this coming to the town.”

THE redevelopment of Woking town centre has moved an important step forward with retail giant Marks & Spencer signing a lease for a two-storey 50,000sq ft food and clothes store in the plush Victoria Square complex.

The deal means that the superstore is now a certainty for the base of the £460million development that will include a 196-room Hilton Woking hotel and 390 apartments.

David Ayre, Property Manager at Marks & Spencer, said: “We’re really looking forward to work starting on our store later on this summer.

“M&S Woking will bring shoppers the very best of M&S’s clothing and food products – as well as outstanding customer service.”

The Victoria Square development, comprising the former Woking Market, Post Office, Globe House, Woking Fire Station and part of the existing Wolsey Place Shopping Centre, will be delivered by Bandstand Square Developments Ltd, a joint venture between Moyallen, owners of Peacocks Shopping Centre, and Woking Borough Council.

Various stores in the Wolsey, including Boots, will be moving over the next six weeks to help to ease the building.

Council chief executive Ray Morgan said he wanted to emphasise that the town centre was open for business during the inevitable disruption, including road closures and diversions.

Mr Morgan said that residents were being put off from coming into the town centre because of negative headlines about the changes.

He said there was a particularly difficult day in January, but that was mostly down to problems on the M25 that had knock-on effects.

“We do want to discourage through-traffic; using the A320 as a cut-through from the A3 to the M25. But we want to encourage people to continue to come into the town for work, leisure or retail therapy,” Mr Morgan said.

He said there would be further announcements about changes to the roads, including having a bus lane on the far left of Victoria Way between Lockfield Drive and the pedestrian crossing near the New Victoria Theatre. There would be a bus stop near the Bedser Bridge across the Basingstoke Canal to allow easier pedestrian access to that part of the town.

Mr Morgan said that the new apartments would be for rent only and would cost about £1,800 a month for a two-bedroom home.

He said these would be aimed at couples, aged in the 22 to 38 bracket, who both had jobs and might want to share with another couple.

There would be other accommodation in the town centre that would be targeted at people with lower incomes.

NEARLY 5,000 runners of all ages took part in the Mercer Surrey Half Marathon and two shorter races last Sunday around Woking.

Thousands more spectators filled Woking Park for the event that started and finished at the Leisure Centre. More than 3,600 runners braved the rain to compete in the main event, which had been named as“The UK’s Best Road Run Race” by independent race review website Racecheck.

For those not quite up to the 13.1 miles (21km), there was the inaugural 5k event that attracted just short of 500 entrants. The same number also took part in the 2k Kids’ Race.

Andrius Jaksevicius, running for Belgrave Harriers, came first in the Half Marathon, finishing in 1hr 9min, 49sec. Just under a minute later, Stephen Blake from Woking Athletics Club crossed the finish line to claim second place. Stephen said: “It’s a brilliant event, I’ve done it the last three years now and it’s getting bigger and better every year.”

Helena Eastham, the first woman across the line in 1h 22min 26sec, said “I’m very happy with my time … This is the best half marathon I’ve done, it’s absolutely fantastic.”

Surrey Half Marathon 2017

Among those taking part was Tony “The Fridge” Morrison, who completed the race while carrying a 42kg (93lb) fridge on his back. Like many of the year’s runners, Tony was raising money for charity and dedicated his achievement to a close family member who has been diagnosed with cancer.

The 5k race was won by Ben Bishop of Woking AC in 16min 59sec, with Mark Rowland of Waverley Harriers third and James Spencer of Woking AC third. Katie Hopkins was the first  girl home and finished 7th overall.

Woking children performed well in the kids’ race with Nathan Holmes, George Christmas and Sava Vujnovic finishing second, third and fourth. Top honours went to Harry Hyde of Farnham. Out on the run course there were five water stations manned by a small army of volunteers and local cadets.Hundreds of local residents took to the streets at various “Cheer Stations” to applaud runners and provide high fives and jelly babies!

A particular thanks is extended to two of the live bands who performed on the route every year – the Surrey Youth Brass Ensemble and Ukejam.

Race Director Toby Jenkins and his team of organisers – Rory, Becky and Hollie – extend their thanks to these businesses for supporting the event, and also to all the runners, volunteers, marshals, spectators, bands and staff “whose spirits were not dampened by the weather”

SELLING a Fairoaks Garden Village to the people of Chobham and surrounding communities was always going to be difficult but the ‘masterplaners’ given this task are finding  it almost impossible.

Senior people from JTP architects came to the village last Wednesday evening claiming they had received support for the concept of building 1,500-plus homes on the Fairoaks Airport land.

They were reporting back on a community consultation weekend, when local residents were invited to join in the creation of a ‘vision’ for a garden village.

But the reception from around 120 people in a packed village hall was almost unanimously hostile, with challenge after challenge throughout the evening to the information being presented.

The garden village as envisaged by JTP Architects, showing housing, community spaces and green spaces

The meeting was led by JTP partner Charles Campion, who stressed that a garden village would help Surrey Heath Borough Council meet its need for 382 homes a year up to 2032.

Its business units would also help Surrey Heath and neighbouring boroughs to cope with growth across all employment sectors of an additional 21,600 jobs in the next 35 years, he said.

Mr Campion and his colleagues unveiled a new self-contained community including  a mix of homes for all generations, a shop, a pub, a GP surgery, a primary school, cafés, a hairdressers, a gym, sports pitches, a village green and other open spaces for recreation.

Much of the housing would be run by a community land trust, which would ensure homes were built at an affordable price, based on average earnings in the area.

The trust would also run community buses to take children to school and commuters to Woking Station and residents would be encouraged to cycle to work and to catch trains.

Mr Campion said a garden village on Green Belt land had to meet distinct criteria to justify planning permission. It had to be in the right location, fit the landscape, create a unique identity, have a village way of life and invest in invest in enterprise.

He said he was convinced this could be achieved at Fairoaks, but most of his audience seemed to be far from persuaded that the proposed development had any benefits for the people of Chobham, Ottershaw, Horsell and other surrounding communities.

A show of hands demanded by an audience member had just one person in the hall saying they were in favour. The Chobham Society had previously conducted polls that showed an  overwhelming majority of respondents against the plan.

Despite Mr Campion saying the teenagers could be among those who benefited from the new homes and they were entitled to express their views, many saw their involvement as a cynical ploy to show support.

Comments made at a consultation the previous week included unhappiness at the loss of Green Belt and the merging of communities through other planned and possible developments in the area; already congested roads becoming impossibly clogged with traffic; poor public transport; overstretched hospitals and GP surgeries; and schools unable to meet pupil demand.

There were positive responses, including for the provision of new housing for the children of local people and the assisted living homes for the elderly.

But others objected to the loss of the Fairoaks business units, where 65 companies, most of which are not connected with aviation, now operate.

A Fairoaks Garden Village – put forward by Surrey Heath Borough Council – was not included in the first tranche of 14 such developments accepted for Government support in January.

RESIDENTS have almost unanimously refused the offer to help create a ‘vision’ for a garden village at Fairoaks Airport.

The consensus of people at community planning sessions in Chobham Village Hall last Friday and Saturday was that there should be no large-scale housing development on the airfield land.

Most people who answered in exit polls conducted by Chobham Society – 188 – said they did not want the airport to be taken out of the Green Belt. Just three said they were in favour of a garden village and six were undecided.

The sessions were run by JTP Architects ‘masterplanning’ consultants, who sought ideas and opinions for building a new community of 1,500-plus houses, on behalf of the Fairoaks owners.

Typical of the responses written by those attending, read out by JTP partner Charles Campion, was: “We already have a garden village. It’s called Chobham.”

The sessions attracted more than 200 people over the two days, which included visits by coach to the airport and adjoining land earmarked as a SANGS – new recreation land aimed at keeping people away from nearby vulnerable heathland.

Chobham Society committee member Nigel Eastment told the News & Mail: “From talking to people coming out, it was clear that the major concern was traffic. There was talk of water, sewage and environment but always it came back to roads, and people struggling with the current traffic levels.

“The fear is that significant measures such as road widening, roundabouts and even dual carriageways will forever change the character of both Chobham and Ottershaw and act as a huge car park as the traffic moves slowly to the next bottleneck.”

Surrey Heath MP Michael Gove was at the Friday session and went on one of the visits. Until now, he has not responded to requests for comments on the garden village but he told the News & Mail: “I was grateful for the opportunity to hear a range of views from my constituents at Friday’s meeting.

“I hope to help facilitate more meetings to ensure the community’s voice is heard loud and clear.”

See next week’s News & Mail for a full report.

PUPILS from two Woking schools met the Earl of Wessex during his visit to a Surrey education charity and showed him the engineering skills they have learned.

On his tour of the GASP Motor Project Workshop in Albury, near Guildford, Prince Edward asked Tegen Brown, Allanah Collins and Lucy Francis, from Woking High School, about their task in taking apart an engine.

“It’s opened my eyes,” said Millie, while Lucy added: “I’d never done anything like this before but now I think of engineering as a possible career option.”

HRH The Earl of Wessex KG GCVO talking to Tegen Brown, Allanah Collins and Lucy Francis of Woking High School

Tegan said: “Now I know how to help my dad. I know more than my brother about engines!”

The earl also met pupils from Bishop David Brown School in Sheerwater, who demonstrated the engineering techniques they learned on a 12-week programme delivered by GASP in partnership with the Chertsey-based engineering company, Stanhope-Seta at Chertsey.

 

Julie Siwak said: “Now I want to do work experience with Stanhope-Seta.”  Before the Royal Visit was over, the company had offered her that opportunity.

Fellow Bishop David Brown pupils Bilal Iqbal and Ben Hancock said they enjoyed the practical experience, which had given them increased confidence and opened up new possibilities.

The earl was shown the different accredited programmes providing basic motor engineering skills delivered by GASP . He also saw the charity’s mobile vehicle that takes sessions out to young people throughout Surrey. Before leaving, Prince Edward unveiled a plaque to mark his visit.

GASP works with young people who respond well to vocational learning outside the classroom; with some of the hardest to reach young people in society; and with those who have special educational needs, usually aged between 14 and 19.

Using motor mechanics as a key motivator, the charity provides customised programmes of activity, which give youngsters opportunities to re-engage with education and learning and to move on into training and employment.

Henry Curwen, chief of GASP, which began in 2005 as evening classes for pupils in the immediate area, said that in 2011-12 it ran around 70 sessions in the day and evenings for 40 young people and this had grown to 450 workshops for 210 youngsters in 2015-16.

Many of those taking part were at risk of becoming NEET (Not in Education, Employment of Training). Of those, 170 gained AQA Unit Award accreditation and for some, it was the first recognition they had ever achieved.

Prince Edward was greeted at the start of his visit by the Lord-Lieutenant of Surrey Michael More-Molyneux. Other dignitaries included the Mayor of Guildford Gordon Jackson, the Chair of Surrey County Council Sally Marks, and the County Council’s CEO David McNulty.

Mr McNulty said: “GASP stands out because of the impact it has on individual young people’s lives. You can almost touch the change in them.

“Every time I come into contact with GASP there is another, tweak, another improvement in their programmes as they listen to feedback from the students.”

WOKING is in danger of becoming linked to neighbouring boroughs by an urban sprawl that will devastate the Green Belt, a conservation manager is warning.

He says housing developments under way or proposed near where Woking, Surrey Heath and Runnymede meet will also put unacceptable pressure on internationally important heathland.

The alert comes from Paul Rimmer, estate manager of Horsell Common Preservation Society, who has been mapping proposals for taking land out of the Green Belt for housing.

Mr Rimmer manages nearly 900 acres of heathland, much of which is part of a European Special Protection Area for vulnerable bird species. He started his survey after a ‘Woodham New Town’ became a possibility for land next to the common.

He and the society have lined up with the objectors to 274 acres of Green Belt land adjoining Martyrs Lane being allocated for 1,200-plus homes for 2027-2040

“We have put possible developments in the surrounding area on a map and it’s clear that there could be a merger of communities on the edges of the three boroughs,” he said.

“The borough councils seem to look at their development plans in isolation, disregarding what is going on in neighbouring areas.

“My fear is that Woking will become linked with Chertsey, Addlestone, Ottershaw and Woodham, with no Green Belt left in that area.”

Mr Rimmer said the possible Woodham development site was close to Fairoaks Airport in Chobham, where Surrey Heath Council was supporting the building of a garden village of at least 1,500 homes.

Not far away was the Sheerwater regeneration area, where 350 homes were being added to estate.

In Runnymede, several sites close to Martyrs Lane were suggested for development in the borough’s draft development plan. These include Bousley Rise and Brox Road in Ottershaw, Coombelands and Old Road in Road Town, and land alongside St Peter’s Way and the M25 motorway at Chertsey.

Paul Rimmer’s map showing possible housing development sites. They include: 1 Land east of Martyrs Lane; 2 Fairoaks Airport; 3 Ottershaw; 4 Row Town

“All these developments are close together, but no-one is taking a strategic view of how they would affect the surrounding countryside and the infrastructure such as roads,” Mr Rimmer added.

Horsell Common Preservation Society, along with its chairman, David Robbins, has objected to the Martyrs Lane land being ‘safeguarded’ for future development.

Mr Rimmer says Woking Borough Council is disregarding a landscape assessment and Green Belt review of the area in allowing it to even be considered for housing.

He refers to a report to the council in August 2016 by ecology and masterplanning consultants Hankinson Duckett as to whether the site can be developed without significant damage to its landscape character.

Hankinson Duckett divided the land into two parcels – A to the north including disused nursery and farmland and B to the south including the Woodham Court Sports Club pitches and New Zealand Golf Course.

Parcel A could take 900 and B 2,000 homes when assessed against the borough’s housing needs, it said.

After detailed assessments of the two parcels and their relation to neighbouring communities, the report concludes they both have ‘critical importance’ towards to the purposes of the Green Belt in checking urban sprawl and safeguarding the countryside.

“It’s clear from its report that the council should not even be thinking about taking the land out of the Green Belt,” said Mr Rimmer.

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