WOKING Borough Council can now access some £80 million of government money to facilitate the progress of two flagship projects.

A meeting of the council’s executive last week heard that approval for the additional borrowing has been secured for £22.2m in loans to ensure the completion of the town centre’s Hilton hotel, which has been much delayed by issues with the building’s cladding, and for the £57.5m requested for the Sheerwater regeneration.

“A key point to stress is that the council is not borrowing more, this is money the council had already agreed to borrow,” said Ann-Marie Barker, the leader of the ruling Liberal Democrats.

“What changed is that government, rather than just allowing us to draw down that money, required us to set out business cases, showing that having this money would give a better ultimate return to the public purse than not having the money.

“Government has agreed to allow Woking to continue drawing down money so the hotel and the current three phases of Sheerwater can be completed.” 

Referring to the hotel, Cllr Barker added: “The contractor is fully responsible for work on the cladding but there were costs to be paid as part of the overall construction programme. The hotel and its fixtures and fittings are owned by Victoria Square Woking Ltd, a joint venture of Woking Borough Council and Moyallen.

“There has inevitably been a loss of income because of the delay in opening the hotel, but all costs relating to the cladding failure are ultimately the responsibility of SRM [contractor Sir Robert McAlpine].”

The meeting also heard that the latest budget monitoring report projects a full-year overspend of £7.6m.

”We will be working to reduce that figure,” Cllr Barker said. “Much of this comes from an increased cost of borrowing, relating to higher interest rates and the fact we can no longer access intra-authority loans because of our Section 114 status.”