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Unregistered Key Risks Identified in Woking Council’s £115 million Victoria Arch Project

Published on: 24 Nov, 2021
Updated on: 26 Nov, 2021

It’s costing around £32.5 million for Woking council to buy and demolish the triangular site. Image – Julie Armstrong

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

An internal audit of a £115 million Woking Borough Council highways scheme found key risks that had not been included in its risk register.

The Victoria Arch widening scheme, Woking’s biggest ever infrastructure project, relies on a £95 million grant from Homes England awarded on the condition that the improved A320 enables extensive housebuilding in the town centre.

The borough council is expecting 4,555 new homes across 13 identified development sites in the town centre.

But recent planning applications for tall buildings in the centre of Woking have been refused, such as EcoWorld’s for Goldsworth Road. If the consequent appeal fails and other development proposals do not proceed, it could be a problem for the council.

If the authority cannot deliver against its housing target it will have to pay back the government’s money with interest, and it has already spent £28 million.

According to the audit, the terms of the Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) state that “in the event of a ‘Fundamental Default’, Homes England is entitled to require Woking Borough Council to immediately to repay the HIF funding and all other amounts due under the agreement together with interest”.

The draft report, which was actioned by the council’s overview and scrutiny committee in September, notes that such a possibility is not included in the risk register.

Director of planning Giorgio Framalicco told the committee at its meeting on Monday (November 22) that officers have accepted and welcomed all the recommendations and given dates they will be actioned by.

The scrutiny committee agreed the next step was for a working group to review the housing target side of the project.

Mr Framalicco advised that the £95 million, a “quite exceptional level of grant” was on the basis of developing housing.

He said: “The delivery of housing is entirely linked to the award of the grant and to revisit that link would fundamentally affect the contract that we have with our partners.

“Without the bridge improvements to and capacity improvements to both cars and pedestrians and cyclists then the network itself would be essentially unable to cope with the additional housing that would be delivered in the town centre.”

He did not believe covid had changed that as traffic was returning to normal.

Councillor Ian Johnson (LD, Mount Hermon), who chairs the council’s HIF oversight panel, told the committee work was already at least a year behind schedule and properties in the Triangle had been expected to be demolished by August 2020.

He said £32.5 million had been approved for work on the triangle, between Guildford Road and Station Approach, and the cost to date had been £28 million.

The audit categorised assurance on the effectiveness of internal controls as ‘limited’, second from the bottom in four ranks.

This means: “There are significant weaknesses in the framework of governance, risk management and control such that it could be or could become inadequate and ineffective.”

The report said risks had been allocated to stakeholder organisations instead of individual risk owners within these organisations, which could result in action not being taken to mitigate the risk.

Council managers said risks would be allocated to individuals by the end of this year, and the risk register would be updated to include the risk of fundamental default.

They also agreed that reviewing risks should be on every agenda automatically, rather than when it was considered to be needed.

The report did note “elements of the control framework operating effectively, including regular governance meetings, and meetings with external stakeholders to manage external dependencies as well as risk registers being in place.”

A planning inquiry into Woking planning committee’s refusal of EcoWorld’s Goldsworth Road tower blocks opens on November 30 and is due to finish on December 14.

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test 3 Responses to Unregistered Key Risks Identified in Woking Council’s £115 million Victoria Arch Project

  1. John Ferns Reply

    November 24, 2021 at 11:05 pm

    Does GBC have an equivalent risk register?

    If so, where is it published? A search of the GBC website for ‘Risk register’ reveals 30 hits, most of which relate to pre-2015 and the remainder do not appear to lead to anything that resembles the traditional “Red, Amber, Green” summary.

    How many of GBC’s major capital projects are subject to government funding and to what extent are they contingent on completion within defined time scales?

  2. Keith Francis Reply

    November 24, 2021 at 11:25 pm

    I still know and visit my home town of Woking and didn’t realise that “The Triangle”, as it was always known by Woking residents, which is at the far end of Goldsworth Road and the Kingsway on the way to St John’s had somehow been moved to the other side of the railway line on Guildford Road before the Victoria Arch.

    Councillors and developers, please don’t incorrectly apply that title to a completely different piece of land of that shape.

    • John Leeming Reply

      November 25, 2021 at 11:53 am

      Indeed. It should be “…the triangle between …” and not “…the Triangle, between…”

      Editor’s comment: Thank you article corrected.

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