Fear of blocks on landscape

WOKING householders have expressed major concerns about proposals for the £4 million Coign Church site in Goldsworth East.

They feel the plans to build a pair of tower blocks, comprising a 17-storey building with a 1,000-seat auditorium in the basement, and a 20-storey one with a roof garden, are ‘ill-considered’.

HIGH HOPES – artist’s impression of church site

HIGH HOPES – artist’s impression of church site

Of the 170 apartments, 47 are one-bedroom and 123 are two-bedroom, but only 120 parking spaces have been allocated. Of these, 41 are to be reserved for the church, which means residents will be battling it out for the remaining 79 bays or for a space on the small, already congested nearby streets.

Coign Church trustees have estimated the market value of the site at 1-5 Church Street West and its associated properties – numbers 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17 and 19 Oaks Road – to be in the region of £4m.

They have entered into a partnership with French company Bouygues Development.

Liberal Democrat ward Councillor Amanda Coulson (below) said: “I support religious groups who seek to enlarge their facilities for a growing congregation, but we cannot use this to justify a complete overdevelopment of the church site.

“Woking has a huge demand for affordable housing and yet the proposed apartments above the church are also not ‘willingly’ making a contribution towards this end or the infrastructure.

“It also questions the use of our council’s Core Strategy, which clearly indicates that developments should have height near the centre of town with the buildings then tapering down towards the houses on the outskirts.

“How we can justify two towers, one of 20 storeys and the other 17, right next to the two-storey houses is beyond me and I hope the Planning Committee will take this into serious consideration. I wholeheartedly support residents’ objections and share their concerns of the impact it will have on roads and amenities.”

Although the number of Woking Coign Church members are unlikely to fill the 1,000-seat auditorium, representatives have said they intend to privately let it out. But this would add to residents’ fears of disturbance from vehicles coming and going, and compound the parking problem. And no theatre drop-off point has been earmarked.

Thames Water have also objected to the plans with concerns of surface water problems.

Resident Fred Griffin, 71, who has lived in nearby Vale Farm Road with his wife Aileen for 12 years and in Woking for 33, said: “We are not opposed to a proportionate development to the church, but the community do not want two enormous tower blocks. It is vast overdevelopment and the area can’t cope.”

He said no provision has been made for the infrastructure and that the church say they do not have to contribute because they are a charity.

He added: “The plans don’t meet Woking Borough Council regulations. The Core Strategy stipulates they ‘should respect the street scene of the surroundings’ but they do not comply with other housing in the area. The developers are ignoring the fact that the site is outside the town centre. If all plans go ahead, there will be seven towers in a small area – three proposed at Victoria Square, two 20-storey office blocks at the approved Altura site, and now these two.”

Resident Nick Hooper, 39, who has lived in Oaks Road with his partner Bernadette for five years, said: “Everyone agrees changes are needed and I am happy to see a larger church, but it is the sheer scale of the plans – with all the traffic going into Oaks Road – which are ill-considered. The majority of comments giving support on the website are church members who don’t live in the area.”

Bernadette added: “We feel great sympathy with people wanting a new church – it is the size of the apartment blocks we object to. I personally am also quite upset by the fact that a church wouldn’t want
to provide any affordable housing at all.”

Conservative ward Cllr Hilary Addison (below), concurs. She said: “The towers dominate and pay no heed to the existing houses. The roads are too narrow to support the additional vehicles, let alone the passage of heavy vehicles during construction, and there will be problems with inadequate parking.

“Finally, residents do not oppose a proportional redevelopment, but this is disproportionate.”

Woking MP Jonathan Lord said: “I have received letters and emails from quite a few residents who are concerned about the bulk and potential height of the development and I have a great deal of sympathy with their concerns.”

Prior plans for the site in 2006 created a public backlash and were dismissed.

Coign Church members resisted the opportunity to make any comments.

Early this month, a petition was handed to the council. Although closed to online comments, PLAN /2013/1207 can be viewed and representations made by letter or email until a decision is made, likely to be early in April.

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