WOKING Council has agreed to borrow up to £700million to enable its flagship Victoria Square town centre regeneration to be completed.

Soaring costs, with significant causes including delays due the COVID-19 pandemic and difficulties involved in building a new car park, have pushed the total loan requirement for the project up by £130million.

The recent full council meeting authorised borrowing the required amount to successfully finish the complex, to be repaid over 55 years

This will allow the completion of the town centre area that includes two residential tower blocks, a 23-floor hotel, shops, leisure facilities and a medical centre. The cost was estimated at £460million when building work started in 2017 and £540million in 2019.

Cllr David Bittleston, who had a leading role in the project until he stood down as council leader last October, said construction had been hit hard by the pandemic. This had caused the work to shut down for a period and then it was affected by shortages of materials.

“We made the assumption that we would be seeing an end to the pandemic in October,” he said. “The new figures are a result of going back into lockdown in December. It’s been a very difficult journey.”

The council was told that the replacement red car park alone would cost a total of £58million.

Misgivings about the borrowing and the council taking the financial risk were expressed by councillors, including Liberal Democrat Graham Chrystie and Independent John Bond.

Lib Dem leader Ann-Marie Barker said: “The cost of this project has only gone one way. Like the towers the project has built, costs have gone up, up and up.”

Her proposal that officers should “seek and report back on any efficiency savings that could be made without compromising the quality of the final deliverable project” was accepted without a vote.