34 Storey Tower Block Uproar, Woking.

September 4, 2018 11:37 PM
By Ann-Marie Barker. RH.

Statement from the Leader of the Liberal Democrats on Development in Woking

Anne-Marie Barker (Woking Lib Dems)Speaking following uproar over the summer, as plans were discovered for a further 34 storey tower block in Woking town centre, Councillor Ann-Marie Barker, Liberal Democrat Leader in Woking Council commented:

"Residents have watched the high towers of the Victoria Square Development grow and are seeing what an impact these towers have on Woking town centre and surrounding communities. To then learn of a further proposal for a 34 storey tower block, seemingly 'sneaked' out under cover of summer, by a wholly owned council company, that proposes zero affordable properties, appears a step too far".

There is much to be said for providing homes in the town centre. People living and working in towns bring vibrancy, life and business to shops and restaurants. The number of single person households is increasing nationwide and town centre flats meet that need.

But what about facilities and infrastructure? Just 57 parking spaces are proposed for the flats in the huge, 34 storey tower block. A high proportion of residents will commute - adding to already overcrowded trains. The residents will need doctors, dentists, hospital appointments, and some will be looking for school places, now or in the future. Our already stretched fire service will need the skills to tackle tower block blazes. Evidence from Grenfell suggests that even in a London of many tower blocks the Commander at the site of the fire had little experience in such situations.

Whilst these tower blocks may offer what many single occupants or couples want now, what happens down the line when many will start families and will often seek a home and garden?

Affordable housing will be provided as a result of this development, but where? The developer will give money for off-site affordable homes, but where will these go?

In part these tower block plans are a reaction to the Council's green belt review. Responses to that indicated that none of the original sites consulted on, including parts of Mayford, Sutton Green, Byfleet and Pyrford were acceptable for future development. The Council then put forward 'McLaren/Woodham New Town' to a new wave of furore. It seems to have taken the message of no green belt development and translated it as 'build high in Woking town centre'. A clear message is now being sent from residents 'why does protecting the green belt equal huge ugly tower blocks in the town centre'.

So what is the answer?

"Develop Brown field sites" may seem an all too easy response to bat away the development issue, but two recent sites immediately come to mind. The car showroom site in Old Woking is to be developed as homes for older residents, hopefully freeing up properties for family homes. The Robin Hood pub seems sadly to have reached the end of its life as a local hostelry but is an ideal brown field site for family homes. Brown field sites must be the first sties considered for any new housing developments.

'Town centre but more and shorter blocks' Woking is used to tall buildings. Export House (formerly the BAT building) has dominated our skyline for many decades. More but shorter blocks would be more acceptable.

Can we consider green belt? Liberal Democrats are a broad grouping of independently minded people. I have one councillor who has clearly stated opposition to any green belt development. Another, whilst seeking to protect the green belt, has put forward the proposition that allowing very small amounts of green belt to be developed could enable a clearer, more defensible green belt boundary. This could protect our green spaces for the future and the land taken would be used to provide affordable family homes.

What lies above all of this is the need for a mature debate across the borough. The green belt review was a tick in a government box. Unsurprisingly residents reacted negatively to plans to use green belt in their local area for future development. We need to move beyond box ticking and look at the wider picture. A conversation with the borough is needed.

I invite residents to write to me to start that conversation. What development is acceptable to you? How high should we go in the town centre? Should we use a small part of greenbelt if that would protect the wider greenbelt? I look forward to hearing from you at