BUSINESS people were told there was “a remarkable story” evolving in Woking following the town centre refurbishment.
Borough Council deputy chief executive Douglas Spinks, speaking at a Woking Means Business breakfast meeting, alluded to the fictional Martian invasion of the town in HG Wells’ classic book The War of the Worlds at a briefing introduced by BBC broadcaster and journalist Declan Curry.
Mr Spinks said: “The early editions of the evening papers had startled London with enormous headlines: A MESSAGE RECEIVED FROM MARS: REMARKABLE STORY FROM WOKING”.
Referring to the 18-month town centre refurbishment, Mr Spinks added: “There is a remarkable story happening here in Woking right here and now, notwithstanding the current economic climate”.
He said the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) would be adding “a prestigious name to add to the town” and suggested the charity would not be moving its 300-strong workforce and headquarters from Godalming to Woking if it did not want to send “the right impression to visitors from around the world”.
Mr Spinks touched upon McLaren’s car production, the access road to Sheerwater and planning application for an ASDA store before announcing that the council had set aside £4.6million to “alter the public realm of Commercial Way”.
Plans were currently sketch proposals, he said but added: “Like any redecoration, you realise how shabby other areas are.”
Mr Spinks admitted the town market had been “a long-running eyesore” and welcomed the future arrival of M&S as an anchor store in a planned £150million redevelopment to integrate the Peacocks and Wolsey Place shopping centres.
Summing up, Mr Spinks said the town’s evolving picture demonstrated the “remarkable story taking place in Woking today”, some led by the borough council, others in partnership with the council alongside private schemes.
He said: “Together we are making a difference, we are achieving great things and the message is, Woking is open for business.”
During the meeting Woking Borough Council’s chief executive Ray Morgan told business people to “stop whining and moaning, it’s a waste of time.”
He suggested businesses should become “less dour” and encouraged them to turn off the TV, stop listening to depressing messages in the media and be creative instead by coming “up with good ideas”.
Asked to expand on the theme by BBC Radio 5 journalist Declan Curry in a question and answer session, Mr Morgan said he did not understand the English culture of “looking on the negative side” and suggested the Olympic spirit had lifted the nation.
On a trip he maded to London, he said: “Everyone was talking about it the Olympics on the Tube. Why beat each other up when we try and fail? It is part of the journey to success.”
In his introduction to the briefing Mr Curry admitted some commentators believed Britain was going through the worse economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s, due in part to the toxic factor of debt.
He said: “We were too reliant on debts with banks at the centre of the web and we forgot that this was not a substitute for hard work.”
Mr Curry bemoaned the fact that millions of adults across Britain could not read or write, add up or subtract despite 12 years of compulsory education. And he suggested businesses should invest in climate, low carbon energy, skills and talent and adapt the workplace to accommodate an ageing population.
In his introduction, Woking Borough Council deputy leader David Bittleston, a born and bred Wokingite, said he remembered when the town centre consisted of Robinsons’ department store in Chertsey Road towards Woolworths and he recalled the swimming pool with a disco beneath it. He said: “We’ve moved on a long way since then.
During the Q&A session West Byfleet Business Association chairman Pauline Hedges said the plans for Woking were wonderful but asked, ‘what about the rest of the borough?’
Mr Morgan admitted that some would consider his answer was not PC but the majority of the council’s income came from trading in Woking.
He added: “You have to fix the heart first before you fix the leg.”