This evening (Thursday, September 28) councillors will be debating and voting on Woking Borough Council’s financial strategy. This plan is the council’s next step towards balancing the books for next year’s budget.

Despite inheriting an awful financial situation, the Lib Dems and I running the council have rescued Woking’s budget enough that we will be able to meet the council’s statutory obligations, protect vulnerable people and maintain core essential services.

However, services the government classes as discretionary are at real risk. If the council is to keep delivering and supporting these services past April next year, it needs to make these services ‘self-funding’ through higher charges and making efficiencies.

I know these discretionary services are really important to people. A fortnight ago, I criticised Woking’s MP and the government for not protecting more services by refusing to extend the scope of statutory services. The national decision about what is classed as discretionary, coupled with Woking’s dire finances, means tough decisions are inevitable.

From Monday, the council will start consulting on a range of changes to services. The council is having to consider things that none of us have ever wanted to ever consider – that’s how bad the situation facing Woking is.

I know how financially tough things are, and with my council colleagues I am ready to make difficult decisions – but I have a huge problem with the prospect of closing the Pool in the Park. I’m arguing the council needs to leave no stone unturned in trying to find a solution that does not close Woking’s main swimming pool.  

We need to explore ways to keep the pool open, whether that is through higher charges, a different operating model or community-based ownership.

I will do all I can to keep this jewel in Woking’s crown but I am aware the pool is an ageing building and local people need to know that keeping the pool open will mean a need for further investment in the next few years.

The other topic I want to write about today is the news that both the council and government have recently decided to stop the Victoria Arch widening scheme.

This was a controversial scheme we inherited from the previous Conservative administration that we have locally been reviewing for some time, but the council has now decided to draw a line in the sand on this project and stop it completely.

The original plans were at least £53 million over budget, involved a three-year closure of the road under and around the bridge, create a dual carriageway (contrary to our climate-change commitments) and would put the aggregate yard access road via a residential road. So there is a lot to be pleased about that this scheme is no more.

The council has tried to create a sensible plan that didn’t involve a lot of money or a big road closure. Despite lots of discussions with the government and two plans submitted for approval, the government does not want Woking starting on another project.

That leaves us in Woking stuck with an eyesore of the Triangle just south of Victoria Arch.  

This is sadly a stark example of the incompetence of the former council: they started demolishing some of the Triangle before having a plan in place and owning all of the properties in the area.