ST JOHN’S CHURCH in West Byfleet was packed out for a different sort of service when 260 people piled into the pews to discuss proposals for a major transformation in the village.
Byfleet, West Byfleet and Pyrford Residents’ Association called the meeting to discuss plans to remodel Sheer House and the adjoining retail centre in Station Approach.
Owners Cube Real Estate have lodged an outline application to build a total of 53 flats in one, two and four-storey towers.
Plans rule out an increase in parking but include the demolition of the area’s public toilets and cladding to all facades.
The leases of the business occupants run out next year, but the plans state that office floorspace, retail units and the public library would be retained.
On the panel were Woking MP Jonathan Lord, planning chairman Ashley Bowes, councillors Richard Wilson and Gary Elson, and John Bond and Martin Doyle from the residents’ association. Also present were Cllrs Anne Roberts, Graham Christie and Saj Hussain.
Association planning advisor Richard Thomas stated that any changes would be much more welcomed if the development was aesthetically pleasing.
He said: “We don’t object to development but it needs to look attractive and not be oversubscribed.”
Currently under consultation, Cllr Bowes (right) explained that the applicants have gone through the process legally and stressed that the application is still at a very early stage.
Cllr Wilson, who has lived in the village since 1971, suggested West Byfleet would be better off if the entire building was stripped down.
He said: “The building has been there since the 1960s and needs demolishing.
“They plan to get rid of the toilets and are suggesting children use facilities in the NHS centre or at Waitrose.
“There will be no affordable housing, they are not addressing parking and there will be infrastructure problems.
“Already we have pressure on numbers.”
And Mr Lord seemed to agree that the proposal could have been managed in a more encompassing manner.
He said: “This is a very important application for the future of villagers.
“It should have been considered as a whole project along with the wider issues.”
When one resident asked how it would fit in with the Local Plan, Cllr Bowes replied: “The 1968 building was not designed to be here this long but public money is a major consideration. I’d be confident in advising a refusal if the development did not have a robust reason to justify it.”
But resident Peter Quinn failed to hide his frustrations and said: “I am appalled – the extra storeys are totally inappropriate. The best thing would be to take down the building and start again. It needs to be
Association chairman Godfrey Chapples tried to reassure residents by explaining that the project would likely be a phased development.
Residents have until March 26 to comment on PLAN/2013/0026 on the council website or visit www.the-residents.org