Surrey County Council leader Tim Oliver and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt have laid down the gauntlet for the team driving Farnham town centre’s £14 million overhaul: get the work started this July.

The Farnham Infrastructure Programme’s lead officer Elaine Martin told councillors last Friday her team was minded to push back the start date of works to the town centre from October 2024 to January 2025.

This, she explained, was to avoid the 18-month works straddling two Christmas periods after feedback from town retailers.

But the delay didn’t wash with Mr Oliver and Mr Hunt, who both called for a July start-date and a mid-2025 completion.

Officers said they would speak to the county’s contracting and procuring teams, and “review the timescales”.

After four years of discussions and drawing up of plans, the county council finally agreed £14 million funding for the Farnham town centre works in July.

These include wider pavements throughout the town centre and new right-hand turns out of Castle Street and Waggon Yard, reversing sections of the one-way system in Downing Street and The Borough.

View a PDF map of the town centre plans here.

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And last Friday, the Farnham Infrastructure Programme team was challenged to start work on a £14 million overhaul of the town centre in July – six months earlier than proposed by council officers.

Elaine Martin, programme manager, told members of Surrey County Council’s Farnham Board that a January 2025 start date for the 18-month town centre works would avoid disrupting two Christmas periods.

But Chancellor Jeremy Hunt – eager to secure something resembling pedestrianisation before switching constituencies at the next election – suggested a July 2024 date would have the same benefit.

And he was backed up by county council leader Tim Oliver who said: “All of us around this room expected the works would start a lot earlier, in 2024. We really need to push that hard, because if the procurement starts in January then that hopefully would mean we would have everything in place to start over the summer. 

“We really, really, really need to try and achieve that.”

County councillor for Farnham North, Catherine Powell, also spoke up for a July start, and undertaking the most “impactful” work in the school summer holidays when the roads are less busy.

Surrey’s programme team vowed to “take away” Hunt and Oliver’s July plea and discuss timescales with the council’s contracting and procuring teams. 

Ms Martin revealed it can take up to six months to procure contractors and materials for such a major project, so the clock is ticking.