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Woking Rejects Plan For Five Giant Town Centre Tower Blocks

Published on: 14 Jan, 2021
Updated on: 16 Jan, 2021

Woking Borough Council

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

A huge high-rise development that would include Woking’s tallest building and create 929 homes was refused at the town’s planning committee on Thursday (January 15).

EcoWorld London wants to build five tower blocks in a regeneration of the town centre end of Goldsworth Road.

The highest would have 37 storeys, three higher than the tallest in Victoria Square, and excessive height was a common complaint among the 193 objections Woking Borough Council (WBC) had.

High rise developments are becoming more commonplace in Woking – Photo Lee Spiers

St Johns Cllr Graham Cundy (Con) said the council had a “tall buildings policy in the town centre” to preserve their “villages and green belt”.

But Hoe Valley Cllr Louise Morales (Lib Dem) rejected an officer’s argument that “there is an emerging character in Woking town centre for high-density developments”. She said in the past three years only three of 25 planning applications in the ward were above two storeys.

A study showed the towers would restrict daylight to 60% of neighbouring windows.

Labour Cllr Mohammad Ali, whose Canalside ward includes the development site, said: “To put things into context, inner London is an average density of 46 dwellings per hectare. You’re proposing 800.”

WBC planning officers said the density was considered acceptable for a town centre location.

Mount Hermon Cllr Liam Lyons (Lib Dem) talked of developers who “dodge their affordable home obligations”.

Only 48 of the residences (5 per cent) would be classed as affordable, when Woking council’s core strategy would require 40 per cent.

“I am frustrated to the ends of the earth with these viability assessments that keep giving developers a get-out-of-jail card,” said Cllr Lyons. “The losers are the people of Woking who badly need these affordable homes.”

Cllr Ali said the developer’s obligatory contributions averaged at £4,452 per dwelling. “Compare that to the market value and expected profit a developer would make,” he said.

He did not find it justifiable to build 43% of the homes WBC is obliged to deliver by 2027 all on one site.

“If I take the whole of Goldsworth Road, the DPD [document outlining where a council intends to allow development] actually allows about 220 dwellings. Will you really go four times higher than that?

“As a ward councillor I do wish to see this area improved, but not to the bulk, density or size that violates many of our policies.

“You promised a citizens’ panel. If you approve this you will already have disregarded elements of the core strategy, disregarded elements of the DPD. You would have set the height, you would have set the density as a precedent through planning, so what are you going to consult those residents on?”

Cllr Cundy said the scheme provided a “rejuvenation and greening of the street scene”.

“People living in the flats will contribute to the recovery and vibrancy of our town centre, which will be much needed post-Covid,” he said.

WBC officer Brooke Bougnague said the plans had been to three separate design review panels, independent panels of architects used to critique and improve a scheme.

“It would have a regenerative effect in the vicinity and contribute significantly towards the continuous enhancement of the town centre,” she said.

But Bernadette Fischler, for campaigners Oaks and Vale Farm Road Residents Group, said the scheme did not “align with the realities of a post-Covid world”, adding: “It will sit at the very edge of town and aggressively tower over Victoria Square and the adjacent residential areas.

“High rises have a negative effect on people’s mental health and physical wellbeing and even contribute to the spread of Covid.

“With 60% studios and one-bed units, there’s an over-reliance on commuters and not enough space and light is provided for working from home.

“The meagre 5% affordable flats are insufficient during an economic downturn.

“In short, this scheme creates a collection of units that are too small, too cramped, too dark, too expensive and too impactful on the surroundings.”

The application had 49 comments in support, mainly on meeting housing demand, regenerating the street and supporting homeless people, a new homeless shelter for York Road project being in the development.

Ms Fischler said: “To make new premises for the York Road project conditional on the approval of five massive tower blocks would be, quite frankly, immoral.”

Matt Turner, for the applicant EcoWorld London, said the scheme could increase spending in Woking of more than £14.5 million a year.

“We’re investing in Woking for the long run,” he said. “We will spend £2 million greening this part of town, with a new pedestrianised street, green walls and public outdoor space, open to all.

“We will create jobs. We will provide new flexible commercial spaces, with special offers for small local businesses.

“Covid has shown us the importance of access to spacious private amenity areas and functional green space. This is a cornerstone of our scheme.”

Canalside Labour Cllr Tahir Aziz and Cllr Morales said the plan should be refused due to its bulk and mass, loss of light and privacy and insufficient number of cycle spaces.

Cllr Aziz said the scheme was almost double the 560 units approved in a 2016 application for the area and yet a reduction in car-parking spaces, to 263.

WBC development manager Thomas James said there is a move towards less parking provision and, though there is a cycle-parking shortfall, two spaces per flat was in reference to family units.

Five committee members voted to refuse the development (Tahir Aziz, Amanda Boote (Ind, The Byfleets), Saj Hussain (Con, Knaphill), Louise Morales, Melanie Whitehand (Con, Knaphill) and three to permit it (Graham Chrystie (Lib Dem, Pyrford), Graham Cundy and Chitra Rana (Con, Goldsworth Park), with Liam Lyons undecided.

Later, EcoWorld London refused comment. Ms Fischler said: “There is no doubt the developers will come back with a vengeance and appeal, but this is certainly a milestone success to celebrate.”

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