Council admit: ‘We should have done better over Sheerwater plans’

SHEERWATER residents say they are pleased with the 41 recommendations made to the council after the processes behind controversial plans to regenerate their ward were put under the microscope.

The results of an in-depth review by the Sheerwater Independent Scrutiny Panel were addressed and accepted by the council at a meeting on Thursday night, when Conservative Council Leader John Kingsbury admitted he and his colleagues ‘should have done better’ when delivering certain aspects of the proposed multi-million pound operation.

Some 952 new homes are planned, but 600 existing properties are also set for demolition as part of the project. Consultations and the creation of the ISSP have already set the council back more than £3 million.

And having campaigned to force chiefs to admit to their mismanagement of the scheme so far, the Sheerwater Residents Association have made it clear that they will not rest on their victory.

SRA Chairman Louise Kenrick explained: “We call upon Woking Borough Council to stop this project. Prior to any restart, we require a full independent review of the viability and merits of the regeneration; as well as proper engagement with the entire community, including alternative proposals that will deliver the desired elements of the regeneration but on a much smaller scale.

“The panel have highlighted the need for the council to understand that the Sheerwater community has been damaged.

“Mistrust and lack of confidence was noted from a poorly started consultation process that failed to reach or engage people from the beginning. This is all before any plans are submitted to planning.”

However, the review did not identify any just cause for altering the proposals, and an application by New Vision Homes could be cleared for submission next week.

Cllr Kingsbury says that the regeneration remains a key objective of the council, and is central to addressing complex issues faced within the community, and to help meet growing housing need.

“Now the recommendations of the panel have been accepted, we must move forward with the community, which I hope we are able to do,” he explained.

“While the report does not identify anything that would prohibit the council from progressing with the Sheerwater Regeneration Project, there are clearly aspects we could, and should, have done better.

“As councillors, we must all play our part in engaging with, and representing, the communities we are elected to serve, and the borough as a whole.

“For officers, they need to consider how they best engage communities when considering complex projects that affect them. We must all learn from this experience.”

Following the acceptance by elected members, the Head of Legal and Democratic Service will work with council officers
to ensure all recommendations outlined in the report are acted upon. A special council meeting will now be held on Wednesday (November 4), when councillors will decide whether to allow New Vision Homes to proceed with the submission of a planning application.

Cllr Kingsbury finished by calling for co-operation: “We the council must also take ownership of the regeneration of Sheerwater and lead by example.

“Through the creation of a revised Project Team, Officer Steering Group and reconstituted Member Oversight Panel, we shall have in place stronger mechanisms to ensure that the community are at the heart of our decision-making process – now and in the future.

“We must gain their respect and trust so that the community has confidence in what we set out to achieve.”

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