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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.

Run For The Hills!

Minnows Knaphill seek ace card in real David and Goliath battle at Kingfield

KNAPHILL FC are preparing for their biggest fixture in their history when they take on non-league giants Woking in the quarter-final of the Surrey Senior Cup next Tuesday, writes Andy Fitzsimons.

As the crow flies, only 2.7 miles separate Woking and Knaphill, but the footballing gulf is considerable.

With 83 league places separating the two sides, The Cards’ faithful could well assume that their side has already won the match before they kick a ball on Tuesday night (21 February). However, such complacency has never won football matches.

Woking FC boss – Garry Hill was unavailable for comment

For Woking, who have reached the final of the County Cup on no less than 28

Knaphill FC boss – Keith Hills

occasions; winning the competition 12 times – most recently in 2014, the next result will largely be borne out from a battle of wills.

Knappers’ boss Keith Hills knows that his players are not just out to make up the numbers; they have a point to prove.

While the Combined Counties League is a far cry from the dizzy heights of the National League, several of Hills’ first team squad have come through the ranks of the Woking academy.

Timmy Taylor, Connor Close, Josh Watkins and George Frith (injured) are all players that began their football at the Kingfield Stadium before joining the Knaphill revolution. It’s something that Hills believes could be the ace card up his sleeve.

Incentive

He said: “If there was ever an incentive for my players to show what they’re about, it’s next Tuesday. It doesn’t get much bigger than that for a club like Knaphill.

“For some of the players, it may be the first and only chance they’ll have to play in a quarter final of a cup competition and against a big-name club like Woking. It’s about seizing the moment and not letting the opportunity get the better of you.

“Undoubtedly, some players are going to be disappointed on the night, but that’s football. I can only field 11 players, and I have to pick the team on merit.”

Hills is likely to go with the same team that beat Tooting & Mitcham 1-0 in the previous round of the competition; one that was resolute in defence and potent on the counter-attack.

And if goalkeeper Richard Shelley can produce a similar match-winning performance like he did against The Terrors a fortnight ago, Woking are likely to have their work cut out.

“It was very hard to go to play a team like Tooting, who are top of the Ryman League South, and second-guess whether they were going to field a number of under-21 players or not,” explained Hills.

“It just so happened that their under-21s played the night before we were due to play, so we knew that they would field a strong first team squad, which we were prepared for.

“The lads played out of their skins against Tooting; I couldn’t fault any one of them. Tooting are a very good footballing side; they played triangles around us for the first 20 minutes and made it very difficult for us.

Equation

In the end, though, it came down to a simple equation: we took our chance and they missed theirs, which is why we won the match.

“We know that we’re the underdogs against Woking, so it’s important that my players remain focused, but enjoy the occasion. We’ve got everything to gain and nothing to lose, which is a good position to be in,” added Hills.

With Woking languishing just above the drop-zone in the National League, Cards’ boss Garry Hill may well decide to rest on his laurels for once and opt for a mix of experience and youth to help preserve Woking’s league status over winning any silverware this season.

It could mean, therefore, that all three of Woking’s on-loan players; namely: Chris Arthur (Crawley Town), Connor Hall (Sheffield United) and Macauley Bonne (Colchester United), will feature against Knaphill.

Speaking candidly about the cup fixture, David Freeman, Chairman and former manager of Knaphill, knows just

He said: “Next Tuesday is our cup final, there’s no two ways about it.

Reality Check: Knaphill FC chairman – David Freeman

“It signifies where we are now as a football club and just how far we’ve come in a relatively short space of time.

“We’re not expected to beat Woking; we know that, but we’re going to go to Woking next week and represent the club as professionally as possible, both on and off the pitch,” he added.

In stark contrast to Knaphill, Freeman recognises that Woking have got bigger fish to fry – so to speak – given where they are in the league and the resources available to both football clubs.

In 2001, Knaphill were plying their trade in the Surrey Intermediate League at a time when Woking had reportedly paid Crystal Palace £60,000 for striker Chris Sharpling. And four years before that, The Cards sold defender Steve Foster to Bristol Rovers for £150,000.

Ascendency

Yet despite their humble beginnings and lower league status, The Knappers remain in a position of ascendency and a shinning example for other football clubs to follow in when it comes to togetherness and attention to detail.

“We’re here where we are today because of the unity we have in the club and the bond the players have with each other,” explained Freeman.

“Over the past two to three years, there’s been a real sense of togetherness at Knaphill Football Club. And while it would be unnatural if people always saw eye to eye all of the time, football should harness a sense of belonging, which is why I genuinely believe that we are stronger together. It’s not about one individual.

“The committee and I set out to run this football club as professionally as we can. People will always look at what you’re doing and judge you on that, so I want to set the bar high.

“I know that we have inadvertently inspired other clubs to replicate what we do, but that is something to be proud of. It’s about continuing to do the right thing and let everything else take its course,” he added.

Woking FC commercial manager – Geoff Chapple
(Picture by David Holmes)

Former Woking manager, now commercial director, Geoff Chapple, says Woking will take the cup fixture against Knaphill seriously. He admits, however, that current boss Garry Hill will consider the club’s National League programme and is likely to avoid picking players that might be nearing suspension.

All of Woking’s loan players have been given permission to play in the County Cup by their parent English Football League clubs.

While Knaphill continues to set its sights on gaining promotion to the Ryman Football League within the next two years, the Woking fixture will always herald a significant milestone from where the club were, to where they are now.

For some, it’s the shape of things to come; and who knows, if they continue the way they are, Knaphill could even be playing Woking in a league match before the 2022 FIFA Qatar World Cup.

 

*Pictures by Andy Fitzsimons (unless stated otherwise)

LITTLEWICK Road had to be closed in the early hours of Monday after yet another water supply pipe ruptured, adding to the traffic chaos around Woking caused by extensive roadworks in the town centre.

The gushing leak from a watermain trunk, believed to be up to 60 years old, caused the highway to collapse and the road had to be shut to traffic between Horsell Birch and Lockfield Drive.

Water flooded into around 12 homes in Littlewick Road, ruining floors and furniture, after a trunk main ruptured just after 4am.

It was the second time this year Littlewick Road has been closed because of a burst main: it was shut two weeks ago at the junction with Chobham Road for pipe repairs.

As if drivers in the area haven’t been struggling enough to find alternative routes , a sinkhole in Old Woking Road, near the junction of White Rose Lane, opened up again this week, just days after it had been repaired – causing the road to be shut at least until this weekend.

A Littlewick Road resident told the News & Mail: “I realised something was wrong just after 4am and rushed downstairs to see water lapping against my front doorstep.

“I immediately isolated the electricity and called the emergency services, as I could see the road outside was flooded.”

The daughter of another resident said: “My father called me about 4.30am and was deeply upset. He told me that there was water flooding into his house and that the fire service was coming. The flooring at the front of the house is ruined.”

Affinity Water said on Monday that the 15in cast iron main probably burst because of pressure from vehicles passing above it. He added that the damaged section was being replaced with a pipe made of modern composite materials.

Contractors had repaired the trunk and water was flowing through it again by lunchtime on Tuesday. Littlewick Road was expected to be open to traffic yesterday (Wednesday).

An Affinity spokesman said that people whose homes had been flooded would be compensated for the damage. “Our incident support manager has visited the site and we have arranged for a contractor that specialises in repairing flood damage to attend,” she added.

Problems with ageing watermains have caused problems on the busy A320 between Woking and Chertsey, where repairs to ruptured pipes have led to at least seven road closures in the last five years.

In Old Woking Road, highways engineers are trying to discover what is causing the recurring sinkhole, on a route used by many to avoid the chaos in Woking town centre.

A spokesman told the News & Mail: “The last time the hole opened up it was decided a collapsed sewer was the cause. Our engineers are now trying to find out if something is else under the road.”

Old Woking Road will be shut at least until the weekend but the engineers say repairs might have to continue until Monday.

Meanwhile, phase two of the traffic management layout in Victoria Way began on Monday and is expected to last six weeks.

Victoria Way has been reopened to southbound traffic but closed to vehicles travelling north, which have been diverted via Goldsworth Road, Church Street West and Forge End.

Goldsworth Road is closed eastbound between Morrison’s roundabout and the junction with Church Street West, which itself is one way towards Forge End.

Further works needed for the redevelopment of the town centre will start on Saturday (10 February) and are due to last for a week.

by Rachel Saker

SURREY County Leader David Hodge took a sudden U-turn on Tuesday when plans for a referendum on what would have been the highest council tax hike in the country were scrapped.

Due to drastic Government cutbacks on the county’s social care services, the Full Conservative-led Council had expected to vote on the 15% increase, which Woking’s MP Jonathan Lord had endorsed. The stark message put across to the public had been to vote for the rise or essential services will be cut.
The cabinet had approved the proposal on 31 January, which meant that if it had been voted for at Tuesday’s Full Council meeting, the decision would have gone to a referendum on 4 May.

However, the meeting was adjourned three times before Councillor Hodge instead replaced the 15% hike recommendation with 4.99%. It meant that a decision could be made there and then by the council. Anything above a 5% increase would have required a referendum.

A total of 72 councillors voted for the motion, while 18 were against, which included Liberal Democrats, Independents and Labour.

Conservative County Councillor Saj Hussain told the News & Mail: “I am pleased we have been able to come up with a sustainable budget at 4.99%. The initial 15% recommendation was to safeguard the future, but we have been assured of a fair funding selection looking at Surrey’s social needs going forward. There will be no compromise when it comes to social care.”

But angry Labour Councillor Robert Evans said: “Today [Tuesday] has been a shambles. The leader knows it and the Conservatives know it.

“We need proper answers. One minute we’re told that Council Tax will have to go up by 15% and that ‘there is no alternative’ if we want to provide proper adult social care, and the next minute we’re told it’s not necessary.”

“Just what has the Government offered? There must have been eleventh hour discussions today, with all the delays and adjournments, so what have they said?”

Lib Dem Leader Hazel Watson claimed that Surrey’s budget has been a ‘disaster’, adding that Councillor Hodge had cancelled an ‘unwinnable’ referendum.

She condemned the budget as ‘a charade’ and that she was ‘astonished that no new Government money was announced to plug the gap in finances’.

She added:  “Liberal Democrats and Surrey residents, thousands of whom signed a petition, have forced the Conservatives to back down from their unpopular and unaffordable 15% council tax hike. But there is no certainty over where the money will come from to avoid drastic cuts to essential services.

“This is a sign of panic designed to save Tory seats in the elections in May. They are gambling with the county’s finances as they have failed to provide any details of how the budget is sustainable next year, let alone in the next few years. The Leader of the Council has presented us with no figures, no plan, and no idea of where the money will come from.

“The reality is that the finances will remain in a poor condition until a fairer funding arrangement for vital adult social care services is agreed with Government. That is what Lib Dems are calling for today and that is what was wholly missing from today’s Conservative budget.”

THE NEXT 12 months are likely to be a major turning point in Sheerwater FC’s 59-year history, but for once it’s out of their hands, writes Andy Fitzsimons.

With their Recreational Ground earmarked for housing, The Sheers are currently waiting for plans to be approved for a new ground on the green site of Bishop David School in Sheerwater.

Welcome News – for Sheers’ boss Pete Ruggles

If sanctioned by Woking Borough Council (WBC), the school’s grounds will play host to a new state-of-the-art sports facility, which will enable The Sheers to continue to play in division 1 of the Combined Counties Football League (CCFL) for the 2018/19 season.

However, the clock is ticking; and with a reported build-time of 12 months, work will need to commence in the next few months if Sheerwater are to comply with The Football Association’s (FA’s) new stringent ground-grading criteria, which comes into force on 31 March 2018.

Floodlights

All existing member clubs plying their trade at step six of football pyramid – which includes division 1 of the CCFL – will be required to have floodlights installed at their ground (with an average lux reading of at least 120) by the end of the next financial year. Any member club that is found to be in breach of this ruling will be relegated to one of the county leagues (step seven).

For some onlookers, it’s a timeline that could make or break Sheerwater Football Club. But with regeneration very much the buzz-word of the moment, The Sheers are hoping that plans are well-advanced to enable them to compete on a level playing field with the likes of Knaphill and Westfield.

Cllr. Beryl Hunwicks, portfolio holder for health and wellbeing development at WBC, said: “The council supports the aspirations of all local sport clubs.

“Over the past two years, we have worked with Sheerwater, Westfield and Knaphill football clubs to improve

Current Home: Sheerwater Recreation Ground

their grounds and ancillary facilities to enable them to remain within their respective divisions.

“We’re aware of the time for Sheerwater to install floodlights set by The FA and will continue to work with the club to ensure the grading requirements for its ground are considered so it can remain with division 1 of the League,” added Cllr. Hunwicks.

Future-proof

In addition to the plans for a new ground, the Council has also said that any proposal will be future-proofed to allow Sheerwater to progress to the premier division of the Combined Counties Football League, which will be welcome news to current boss Pete Ruggles and his recruitment drive for new players this summer.

In response to the council’s pledge, The FA has stipulated that, if Sheerwater’s ground is not ready by the March 2018 deadline, then the club would be in breach of their ground grading compliance.  It would, therefore, be relegated to one of the county’s feeder leagues at the end of next season; such as the Surrey Elite Intermediate Football League.

Dylan Evans, facilities & investment manager (south east region) for The FA said: “The League (CCFL) requires assurance that all participating teams comply with the required standards and have secure use of their grounds for the full season.

“With any new ground development, we would strongly encourage Sheerwater to liaise closely with the League, especially if there could be a delay to construction. Providing the League is supportive, it may be possible for the club to be given a reprieve and then move to the new ground when it is completed.

“I would strongly recommend that the League are consulted and kept up-to-date with developments,” he added.

New ruling

While The FA has previously postponed the deadline for the new ruling to come into force, it’s unlikely that good fortune will repeat itself.

Only 14 of the member clubs in division 1 [step six] have floodlights and fully comply with the requirements of a grade G ground. The exemption for the other four clubs without floodlights only applies to 31 March 2018.

Currently, there is no compulsory number of clubs completing at step six, although it is widely thought that the optimum number is 20 clubs, two less than those competing in the premier division above (step five).

There are no rules to govern a situation where all four member clubs were unable to install or be granted the necessary planning consent on deadline date. In such an event, relegation-threatened premier division clubs could be granted a reprieve. The FA would also consider moving clubs between the various leagues at step six to even up the numbers.

Sheerwater’s proposed new ground at Bishop David School must give the impression of being a football ground suitable for the National League system and meet with the approval of The FA and the board of directors of the Combined Counties Football League. It must also be able to demonstrate security of tenure, as required by both parties.

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