Fringe Box



Planning Inspector Allows Another High-rise for Woking

Published on: 19 Apr, 2024
Updated on: 21 Apr, 2024

CGI of the proposed Technology House tower block in Woking Image Abri

By Chris Caulfield

local democracy reporter

A 25-storey Woking high-rise can go ahead after it was ruled the block of 224 flats would fit with the town centre’s proliferation of tall towers – and the council’s touted efforts to block them “held little weight”.

Developers Abri applied to build the “affordable” block last year but Woking Borough Council’s planning committee threw it out arguing it would create a ghetto” that would “segregate” people on lower incomes.

This is despite the promise of more affordable homes being built quickly than had been managed in the past three years.

Aerial view of the proposed tower block in Woking, among the others Image Abri

This week however, a planning inspector flipped the decision saying the town’s previous love affair with towers – together with its decision to cram housing into the centre of Woking – meant the new building would fit right in.

He added that the council’s draft town centre strategy, which sought to limit high rises, was effectively useless and ‘held little weight” as it was unlikely to come into effect any time soon.

The inspector said: “I have given the Draft Town Centre Masterplan very little weight. That is because it is ‘draft’ and there is significant uncertainty to its adoption.”

Sam Stone, director of land and planning at Abri, said: “We’re grateful the plans for Technology House have been approved on appeal.

“There’s still work to be done and now we must make sure it’s still financially viable to deliver the homes and meet the needs of the local community.”

The original plans were to make every home in the block available at affordable rates. Since then the position has changed to where they can only guarantee 40 per cent – 90 units, although they would still aim for more.

The inspector said this was because the developer was unable to commit to a figure at the time of the appeal because of grant funding uncertainty with Homes England.

He added: “I accept there has been an under-delivery of affordable homes and there remains an urgent need for more affordable housing within the borough.

“Consequently, the appeal scheme would make a key contribution towards addressing an important unmet need and carries substantial positive weight.”

Mr Stone said: “At Abri we believe everyone has the right to a good quality, safe, warm and sustainable home.

“We’re committed to delivering more affordable homes and will continue to work with Woking Borough Council to make sure we can deliver housing where it’s most needed.”

According to the inspector, the town centre, including unbuilt plans, had a “substantial bearing” on the final decision.

They said: “I have given most weight to what is already built and can be seen in the existing street scene, townscape, and landscape.”

The inspector added: “Woking is referred to by the main parties as being subject to several regeneration projects largely in the western part of the town centre including Victoria Place, a 34-storey development.

“Additionally, the allowed ‘Eco World’ scheme 1, at land to the north and south of Goldsworth Road, comprising 37-storeys is a significant part of the arguments made.”

Cllr Ann-Marie Barker

Responding to the decision, the leader of Woking Borough Council, Ann-Marie Barker (Lib Dem, Goldsworth Park), said was disappointing that the Planning Inspectorate again allowed a private developer to erect a high-rise building in the town centre.

She said: “A four to six-storey development would have been preferable for this location.

“However, I do welcome the new homes that the development will provide, particularly as there will be a high proportion of affordable homes.”

The inspector refused Abri’s application against Woking Borough Council for costs.

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