Battle hots up over tower-block plans

A PUBLIC inquiry into the decision to refuse a planning application which includes five tower blocks and more than 900 homes in Woking town centre begins tomorrow.

Woking Borough Council’s planning committee turned down the initial application by developers EcoWorld London, for both sides of Goldsworth Road near its junction with Victoria Way, in January.

An artist’s impression of the proposed tower blocks redevelopment, looking along Goldsworth Road to the town centre, with the Victoria Square construction site in the background

All existing buildings on the site would be demolished, including the former KFC UK headquarters, the former Job Centre building, Woking Railway Athletic Club and premises used by York Road Project, which works with homeless people.

The project and the social club would be provided with new facilities in the complex, including a shelter for homeless people.

Gearing up to oppose the development once again are the Oaks and Vale Farm Road Residents’ Group, who represent about 60 people living in the immediate area.

“It’s quite intimidating for us to go up against a big international developer with their hotshot lawyers and expensive expert witnesses,” said Bernadette Fischler, who will make a representation on behalf of the group at the hearing.

“We can’t afford any of that, we’re just a local residents’ group who are trying to stand up for good development in their neighbourhood. But I think we have a strong case. So even if it’s just little me standing there to make a statement, I know I have the full backing of our group and many more Woking residents who want to see sensible and sustainable development in the town centre, not more and higher skyscrapers.”

The group clearly see the development’s title, Greening Goldsworth Road, as misnomer. “It’s creating 929 homes and five tower blocks between nine and 37 storeys – for comparison, the big towers in Victoria Square are 28 and 34 storeys,” Bernadette added.

“Only 5% of the dwellings will be affordable and only 2% likely to be big enough for families. They expect to sell 216 parking spaces for the estimated 2,400 residents. And the planned building time is eight-plus years.

“This is a density only seen in central London and the over-reliance on small single-occupancy dwellings does not meet today’s housing needs.

“The group greatly welcomes thoughtful, appropriate and sustainable development in the area and wholeheartedly agrees with the approach to build in the town centre to protect the green belt. But based on the group members’ experience of living and often raising families in the area, commuting to work and using the local facilities such as shops, schools and GPs, the group strongly opposes mega developments that are not necessary at that size and don’t meet the needs of the community.”

In response, EcoWorld London said: “We are committed to delivering this important regeneration project in the heart of Woking. The project would deliver over 900 homes, a mix of commercial uses, such as cafés and restaurants, extensive public realm and a new homeless shelter for York Road Project.”

It is tempting to frame the inquiry simply as David and Goliath, and indeed the objectors have already been struck by misfortune. Three of their four designated advocates for the estimated eight-day hearing are unable to participate fully because of either a family emergency, illnesss or, bizarrely, a prior commitment to star in a pantomime.

However, in preparation for the appeal, the group have demonstrated serious intent, crowdfunding an updated version of a report by the independent consultancy Chestnut Planning, which has identified a number of areas of concern, including

  • the need for a comprehensive masterplan for Woking town centre
  • separation distances between the tower blocks are too small
  • residential density is significantly higher than Victoria Square.

The group also highlights a series of areas in which they suggest the proposed redevelopment is at odds with the Woking Core Strategy.

* THE public inquiry opens at the Council Chamber, Civic Offices, Gloucester Square, with the facility to participate virtually, on 30 November at 10am. Members of the public may attend and, at the Inspector’s discretion, express their views. If you wish to participate in the inquiry virtually email brooke.bougnague@woking.gov.uk or call 01483 743843) for details. Contact the council for disability provisions. Documents relating to the appeal can be viewed via PLAN/2020/0568.

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