Love them or hate them, Woking needs the towers, says chief exec

WOKING Borough Council’s soon-to-retire chief executive has robustly defended building tower blocks in the town centre – and criticised the councillors who refused applications for more high-rise apartments.

Tower blocks under construction as seen from Horsell

Ray Morgan also denied that he was trying to turn the town into “some kind of Singapore” and insisted concentrating development in the centre was essential for driving the borough’s economy and maintaining public services.

Mr Morgan was prompted to speak out after listening to comments made during a Woking Debates event held online via Zoom on Saturday. The subject was Woking in 2050: Dream or Nightmare.

Ray Morgan speaking from his home during Saturday’s Woking Debates event

The debate, although not the title, was suggested by Woking MP Jonathan Lord, who was one of the speakers. More than 70 people, including councillors and members of action groups that oppose what they regard as overdevelopment, logged on.

Mr Morgan, who leaves his council post on 31 March, said he had not intended to participate but thought it would be interesting to hear the debate. However, he posted responses to comments made in the “chat box” and then agreed to speak at the end of the session.

“Let’s just explain why we have the tall buildings,” he said. “It’s a bit like beauty. Some people think one thing is beautiful and some people think something else is beautiful.

“I actually kind of like the towers I’ve built in the town centre, but I apologise to all of you who don’t.

A closer look at the towers being built

“The tall blocks are because the consultation of residents in 2010 leading up to the core strategy planning document was residents of the borough all wanting to protect the Green Belt. You also don’t want us to over-intensify existing urban areas. That left us one place to go, Woking town centre.”

It was questioned why planning officers had recommended approval for recent tower block applications, but they were refused permission, suggesting a “major disconnect” in the council.

“Residents have complained against the tall buildings and the planning committee has turned them down. The politicians know that I think that’s harmful because that’s 1,700 homes, probably for housing about 3,000 people,” he said.

“They would have construction jobs and they would have had people living and working in the town centre and they would generate revenue in your shops, your theatres and they keep your services going.

“The only chance to keep services to look after the most vulnerable is to drive the economy, and that’s what the town centre is about.”

* The debate can be viewed at www.YouTube.com – search for Woking in 2050: Dream or Nightmare?

For more on this story, see the 25 February edition of the News & Mail

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