WOKING Borough Council is examining its options after permission was granted for a major high-rise redevelopment in the town centre.

The planning application for Crown Place, covering a roughly wedge-shaped site bounded by Chertsey Road and Church Street East, and including the former Big Apple building and the HG Wells complex, was submitted on behalf of Watkin Jones Group and McKay Securities in late 2019.

Now, after the application’s long and convoluted progress, a Planning Inspectorate decision to uphold the developer’s appeal allows “demolition of all existing buildings including existing footbridge to Victoria Way car park and redevelopment of the site to provide a new building ranging from five to 28 storeys, comprising up to 366 residential units, commercial and community uses”.

Cllr Ann-Marie Barker, leader of the council, said: “I am bitterly disappointed with the outcome of the planning inspector’s decision to grant permission for the 28-storey redevelopment of the former HG Wells Conference and Events Centre site.

“Local residents have made it clear to me that they do not wish to see further high-rise development, and this appeal has overturned the decision of democratically elected local councillors on the council’s planning committee.

“We must consider whether this decision is legally sound. Officers are reviewing the decision to understand what options remain open to the council, the implications for Woking town centre and the emerging Masterplan.”

The council’s planning committee refused the original planning application in March 2020, against an officer’s recommendation to approve. The decision was subsequently appealed by Watkin Jones and McKay.

The appeal was heard in October 2021 and dismissed by a planning inspector two months later.

However, Watkin Jones and McKay challenged the inspector’s decision in January this year, and the Secretary of State for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities confirmed in April that the inspector’s decision should be quashed and that the appeal be re-determined by the Planning Inspectorate.

This hearing, in September under a different inspector, led to the latest determination.

And one observation in particular among inspector Christina Downes’ 71-point summary will surely hit a nerve.

“It seems to me,” she says, “that such [tall] buildings, including towers, are now part of the character of the town centre overall.”

A spokesman for Watkin Jones said: “We are very pleased that the planning inspector has agreed with the original officer’s recommendation.

“We expect to start work next year to create these homes that will offer people who need somewhere to rent in Woking a great place to live.

“Beyond 366 new homes, the scheme will bring a community centre, new space for businesses, and improve the link from Chertsey Road to other parts of the town.”

* FULL details of the planning application can be found on the Woking Borough Council planning website under PLAN/2019/1141.