WITH the ambitious £460 million Victoria Square project due to be rubberstamped at a Full Council meeting this evening (Thursday 8 December), the Chief Executive says the development aims to further propel Woking into the 21st century.
And, although many of his colleagues in the Civic Offices agree, not everyone shares his vision for the future.
A number of residents have expressed concerns: some feel that a lot of important questions about the expensive, extensive plans have not been answered; others believe their elected councillors have not represented them as they should.
However, last week Council Chief Ray Morgan warned that delaying the project – which in its infancy in 2012 was estimated at around £150m – would only hike the costs.
Woking ‘campaigner for democracy’ and former borough councillor Sandra Simkin said: “Why have the costs tripled since 2012? Councillors in this borough are elected to represent the residents, not to ignore their opinions and wishes.
“Mr Morgan has been urging his councillors to approve the development and risks plunging this borough into serious financial distress that it will never be able to recover from. There is a clear indication that this project is highly risky and the council should not be gambling with Woking’s future council tax.”
Byfleet resident Mike Beazleigh told the News & Mail: “To me, this development is a disaster. It just seems like a vanity project, at great expense, when there are other more important things that desperately need doing.
“The public are going to be paying for it for years and years. What if Bandstand Square Development goes bankrupt – is the council responsible for the payment? There seem to be so many questions unanswered.”
“They’re destroying the town I was born in and have live in all my life,” one worried lady, who was born and bred in Woking, told the News & Mail when she dropped by to ensure she had witnesses to her endeavours of making her voice heard by the council. She was about to deliver handwritten letters to each of the 30 councillors by hand to the Civic Offices on Monday – signed on behalf of the ‘People of Woking’.
She added: ‘It will be my offspring and their offspring who will be paying for this forever’.
Independent Councillor John Bond emailed Mr Morgan last Friday (2 December) seeking clarification as to the viability of the project, and asking for a prompt response to give him and other councillors sufficient time to evaluate and consider their decision before tonight’s meeting.
Bandstand Square Developments (BSDL) is a joint venture set up in 2012 to deliver the Victoria Square project, of which the council owns 48% and whose directors include, among others, Mr Morgan and Council Leader John Kingsbury. Cllr Bond questioned the uncertainty of the council being a minority shareholder. He also asked: “If [Mr Morgan] would confirm that the WBC directorships are by virtue of position (ie Chief Executive and Leader of the council) and would be transferred to the relevant new person if the representatives left the council. I’d also be grateful if you would confirm that no remuneration is included, to avoid any question of a conflict of interest,” he added.
Mr Morgan told last week’s meeting: “Nobody should be surprised about what the scale of it is. It’s gone through planning committee, public consultations, everything.”
But Cllr Bond’s response was: “I also believe that the Victoria Square project has changed so fundamentally over time that it should be subject to a full public consultation before any decision is made.
“I would also like to know if any councillor has been allowed to have the financial model prepared by Ernst & Young. I was very surprised when you [Mr Morgan] refused to allow me a copy despite your assurance in the second member’s briefing that every councillor could have ‘their own personal copy’. If councillors are to decide on this issue, I would hope that we will have all the relevant information well in advance.
Cllr Bond’s questions had not been answered to his satisfaction as the News & Mail went to press.