Fringe Box



Woking Council On a Knife-Edge as Election Day Looms

Published on: 4 May, 2022
Updated on: 5 May, 2022

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

This Thursday’s election could see a shift of power in Woking.

The Conservatives are in pole position on Woking Borough Council with 13 members, but the Liberal Democrats are hot on their heels with 12.

In a distant third place is Labour with three councillors, all in the central ward of Canalside, and the Byfleet villages have two elected independents.

The Tories may be nervous after the Lib Dems this month took two-thirds of the vote in a by-election in neighbouring Surrey Heath, the former Tory seat Bisley and West End.

The national context might favour Conservative opponents. With the cost of living crisis, tax increases and inflation hitting seven per cent, the national press is talking about a renewal of the sort of threat the Lib Dems were said to pose before the Cameron-Clegg coalition.

But even the Lib Dems themselves are not predicting a majority on Woking Borough Council.

They are forecasting 14 of the 30 seats, assuming they make gains in Horsell and Goldsworth Park, a result that could still leave the council under no overall control.

This time last year they refused to entertain the Tories’ suggestion of taking control through coalition.

But they now say being the largest party would give them the legitimacy to take control.

Leafy Horsell is finely balanced. Lib Dem Adam Kirby won there last year but it would only take a 4.2 per cent swing for the Tories to take it.

It was a two-horse race then and this time the Lib Dems will have to work harder as the addition of a Green candidate may split the vote.

Last year’s closest result was Heathlands, where Liberal Democrats would need a 4.2 per cent swing.

All candidates there have green belt protection at the heart of their agenda, but green space between Mayford and Woking has already been released from land designated green belt, by the council and the government’s planning inspector.

A planning application is expected this summer for 94 new Cala homes and a 62-bed Barchester care home in this green field west of Egley Road, to the south of Hillside.

It is telling that only one person on the Lib Dems’ canvassing in Mayford last week mentioned the towers – the vexed blocks of flats are not in those residents’ line of sight.

Conservatives say that by delivering the borough’s housing need in and around the town centre, they have protected green spaces, while Lib Dems and Labour want to limit skyscraper heights.

Labour, who are contesting seats in Canalside, Hoe Valley and Pyrford and were last year successful in getting a review of the council’s planning process, think “Tory-led vanity projects building tiny flats in overcrowded high-rises is inappropriate for our town” when the greatest need is for three bedrooms or more.

But “unworkable plans” restricting development in the town centre would, the Conservatives say, “undoubtedly mean more development on our villages and green spaces” and “choke off housing supply”.

They say they will “ensure affordable and social homes built by the council go to local people first”.

Both the main parties say they will let residents have a say on future development, with Lib Dems saying they will create a town centre masterplan to let residents have an input, which the Conservatives say they have done and are doing already.

The Heritage Party, who are standing in Heathlands, Mount Hermon and St John’s, describe the council’s residents’ panel as a “PR exercise” and would push to abolish it.

The Greens say they “are pleased to have a record of engaging with residents via questionnaires, petitions and, in some areas, newsletters throughout the year” and encourage cooperation between groups.

They have candidates in most wards this time but say they stood down strategically last year “and this year when other candidates could add diversity to the council”.

All opposition parties are concerned with the council having to pay over £55 million interest each year to pay off its £1.84 billion debt.

On the climate, Conservatives say they will help people facing rising energy costs by “committing to local green power generation for homes across our borough” and Lib Dems want to “install solar panels on public buildings, build more cycle lanes and tackle fuel poverty by “greening homes” starting with the most vulnerable. 

Labour want to introduce traffic-calming measures and 20mph zones in residential streets and near playgrounds.

The Green Party have “worked with world-class experts to make one of the most precise pollution monitoring networks of its kind in the UK”, while the Heritage Party says they will “stop the net-zero insanity, where this is funded by Woking Borough Council, as it is a policy that destroys jobs, creates the cost of living crisis and will ration energy only for the well-off, whilst having next to no beneficial impact”.

In the best-case scenario for the Conservatives, they could statistically end up with 18 of the 30 seats.

They would have to keep their five seats in Heathlands (fully Con), Goldsworth Park (mix of LD/Con), Horsell (mix of Con/LD), Knaphill (fully Con) and Pyrford (fully Con) and gain seats in the Byfleets (mix of Ind/Con), Canalside (fully Lab), Hoe Valley (fully LD), Mount Hermon (fully LD) and St John’s (fully LD).

Party No of current councillors Best case scenario Worst case scenario
Conservative 13 18 8
Liberal Democrat 12 19 9
Labour 3 5 2
Independent 2 3 1
Green 0 6 0
Heritage 0 3 0

As far as the general election goes, whenever that comes around again, Woking is a target seat for the Lib Dems but would need a sizeable 9 per cent swing as MP Jonathan Lord secured a 9,767 majority. Esher and Walton and Guildford are more winnable for them, with swings of just 2.2 or 2.8 per cent needed.


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