THE £115 million Victoria Arch widening scheme is to be put on hold by Woking Borough Council’s new Liberal Democrat administration.

A meeting of the council’s Executive on Thursday next week (14 July) will initiate a fundamental review of the scheme, including an examination of the delivery options, ways to reduce costs and disruption to residents.

The initial report, to be submitted to the Executive, cites four principal areas of concern: 

• The additional budget required to cover the costs of the project.

• A request for Surrey County Council and Network Rail to share the risks associated with the project.

• A review of the current complex programming and delivery options.

• Further progression of the Town Centre masterplan.

Investigative work in the last six months has identified project cost increases of some £54 million to the original budget of £115 million.

And concerns have been compounded by Woking Borough Council being the grant recipient of the Government funding central to the infrastructure project, meaning it has overall responsibility for project costs and any overspend.

As a condition of receiving the £95 million Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) grant, administered by Homes England, the council agreed to build more housing in the town centre, above what was in the local plan/core strategy.

However, since the successful application to Homes England in 2018, two factors are seen as driving the significant overspend: the original scope of the project did not identify the full requirements and implications of the rail bridge replacement; and the rise in inflation and increased costs of materials and labour driven by Brexit, COVID-19 and the conflict in Ukraine.

The projected budget requirement has been relayed to Homes England, the Government funder, alongside a request for greater project risk-sharing with delivery partners Surrey County Council and Network Rail.

Lib Dem deputy leader of Woking Borough Council and portfolio holder for the borough’s key projects, Councillor Will Forster, said: “The new administration has serious concerns about the scale of the project’s budget deficit, the council shouldering all of the risk on its own and the significant road closure involved in the Victoria Arch widening scheme.

“This is why we will fundamentally review this project and pause any future work until there is a viable scheme which can be delivered without additional expense to the council.

“A review would also enable the council, and its partners, to revisit some of the most contentious parts of the scheme. As a starting point, we will consider other design options to reduce the overall costs and scale of the project, such as proposals that remove the need to lower the road underneath the arch, and/or reduce the road from a dual carriageway to a single carriageway.

“We need to address the proposed closure of the Victoria Arch whilst the bridge replacement works are conducted.

“The current estimated closures are up to two and half years for vehicles and up to seven months for pedestrians and cyclists. These closures are undesirable, so we will aim to find solutions which are less damaging to our town centre.”

The council’s work on creating a masterplan for the town centre plays into the Victoria Arch scheme as it is likely to review housing needs after the pandemic.

Cllr Forster added: “The masterplan consultation and adoption may mean that the total housing numbers in the town centre and the sites that would deliver additional housing above the local plan sites may need to be reviewed.

“If so, the contract with Homes England would need to be revisited, as the grant for this infrastructure is dependent on a certain number of residential units being delivered from a number of sites, including council-owned sites.”

The masterplan, which will include sustainable development and the town centre skyline, is due to be considered by the executive at the same meeting (14 July) for approval to undertake a 12-week public consultation running until October.

The results would then be submitted to the executive and council for adoption, which is estimated to be in early 2023.

Despite the pause, the council says it remains committed to the revitalisation of the arch, for years a pinch point for vehicles and an unwelcoming environment for pedestrians and cyclists.

To maintain the project’s momentum, the council will continue with:

• The demolition, clearance and development options of the Triangle site on the south side of the arch.

• Analysing the results of recent trial hole works to help inform a final highways delivery plan.

• The submission of a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) to obtain ownership of private land within the Triangle.

• The submission of planning applications for the aggregates yard access road, including a temporary access via York Road and permanent access via Guildford Road.