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Woking to Build Tallest Tower Yet as Government Inspector Overrules Councillors

Published on: 11 Jan, 2022
Updated on: 13 Jan, 2022

View of central Woking from Victoria Arch, Woking. Google Street View

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

A government planning inspector has said Woking town centre is “suitable” for tall buildings and overturned a planning committee’s refusal of five tower blocks.

The huge high-rise development that will include Woking’s tallest building yet will now go ahead on Goldsworth Road after EcoWorld London won an appeal yesterday (January 10).

The development – three storeys higher than Victoria Square – will demolish the Woking Railway Athletic Club’s base and York Road Project’s day centre and provide both with new homes, as well as 929 flats.

It was refused permission by a divided planning committee one year ago, but now the government inspector has said “there can be no doubt” that Woking Borough Council “intends for there to be a cluster of tall buildings in Woking town centre”.

John Braithwaite’s decision states the Goldsworth Road development, whose tallest tower reaches 37 storeys, would “not harm the character and appearance of the area”, adding: “It is not, in fact, a question of whether the appeal site is a suitable location for tall buildings but a question of how tall the buildings should be.”

Resident Bernadette Fischler speaking against Goldsworth Rd development at the borough council planning committee meeting

Bernadette Fischler campaigned against the application with others in the Oaks and Vale Farm Road Residents Group, who made statements at last month’s five-day inquiry.

She said today: “We find it difficult to imagine that this decision to go ahead with five further tower blocks, even higher than what we have already, will be welcomed by Woking residents.”

Fellow member John Summers said: “I think it’s hugely disappointing to see this outcome, overturning the decision made by the councillors elected by Woking residents.

“The buildings will loom over a local residential area of terraced homes, as well as continuing the misery of traffic chaos we are already all enduring as a result of Victoria Square.”

Mr Braithwaite concluded these homes were “much needed” and would contribute significantly to the council’s housing need that is “unmet year on year”.

Residents handing out leaflets outside Tesco in Woking to raise awareness of the Goldsworth Road development. Photo – Oaks and Vale Farm Road Residents Group.

Woking Liberal Democrats argue that with 59 per cent studios or one-bed flats and 38 per cent two-beds, most are not the type of homes needed.

A spokesperson said: “One bedroom flats are less likely to be in demand after Covid. With South Western Railway cutting local train services, building so many more flats aimed at commuters does not make much sense.”

She added: “We are still suffering from Woking council’s previous leadership’s obsession with building higher and higher.”

Giorgio Framalicco, Woking Borough Council’s director of planning, said: “We are committed to working closely with the developer to ensure that disruption is kept to a minimum and we deliver the best outcomes for local residents.”

EcoWorld London is planning to start work on-site as soon as possible and managing director Conor McGahon said they are “totally committed to creating positive change for Woking”.

He said: “Working in partnerships is a fundamental part of our DNA and we look forward to working closely with the council and community as we create 929 much-needed new homes, new biodiverse green spaces and retail all set within extensive pedestrian-friendly public space for everyone to enjoy.

“We are also very happy to be able to provide the amazing York Road Project with a brand new centre that will enable them to continue their important work for vulnerable people.”

The developer will also provide nearly £10 million towards the town centre’s infrastructure works, but will provide just five per cent of affordable homes when Woking council’s core strategy requires 40 per cent.

Despite this the national inspector was content it would “include as many affordable housing units as is viable”.

He disagreed with the planning committee that the towers would have a “significantly harmful” impact on the neighbouring properties’ privacy, daylight and sunlight.

Height was a common complaint among the 194 objections received by Woking Borough Council, which also received 49 comments in support.

The inspector’s comment on the council’s intention for a cluster of tall buildings is based on its adopted SADPD, a document aiming to deliver the council’s vision by allocating land across the borough for various uses.

The SADPD assigns land on Goldsworth Road, Church Street West and Victoria Way for development that “will maximise the use of the site”.

It also says development there should take into account the context of the nearby Victoria Square development, which already has 34 and 30 storey towers.

In the inspector’s view if the 34 storey tower remained the tower furthest to the west then the cluster would be “unbalanced” in views from Guildford on the A320 and its left side would be a “cliff edge’.”

He thought the imbalance would be put right by a development of tall buildings on Goldsworth Road, with heights becoming lower in the direction of the fire station.

He said the new build’s additional three storeys on Victoria Square would be “slight, not readily noticeable, and in itself, inconsequential” and he believed “it would be appropriate for the cluster to have a dense core rather a single tall centre point”, for more distant views.

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Responses to Woking to Build Tallest Tower Yet as Government Inspector Overrules Councillors

  1. Dave Middleton Reply

    January 11, 2022 at 6:12 pm

    One has only to look down from the Hog’s Back, to see how out of keeping the existing tower blocks are in the wider landscape.

  2. Jan Messinger Reply

    January 11, 2022 at 9:50 pm

    The “best outcome for local residents” comment is a joke. Who wants these huge high rise flats the ones already there can be seen from the Hog’s Back along with blighting the views from the River Wey and many more areas locally. It looks awful already.

    I feel sorry for Woking but Guildford seems to be going the same way, sadly. Where is this huge population of Woking residents who need this? I see it as the overspill of London who wants it.

    Does Surrey Fire & Rescue have a large enough service to meet the needs of the households of 929 new flats should they be needed?

    Locally, house purchases seem to be people moving out of London to substantial but cheaper property here. Maybe it is the same, bargain priced flats in Woking for those wishing to leave the metropolis.

    Poor Surrey, no hope of a green and pleasant land. There will be none left soon. Maybe from 37 stories high you might see some.

  3. Stuart Barnes Reply

    January 12, 2022 at 9:33 am

    Is there no end to the destruction of what was once our green and pleasant land?

  4. L Black Reply

    January 12, 2022 at 10:31 am

    The old heart of Woking has been ruined by the twin towers monstrosity. The traders in the town centre must have lost thousands, if not millions, over the chaos caused by the construction works. It has been ongoing for years, creating additional costs to motorists with all the diversions.

    Just as it appears to be finally over the local council has decided to widen Victoria Arch, yet another diversion for drivers coming into Woking from the Guildford Road. At this rate, no one will bother with Woking at all in the future.

    Do we really need yet another tall tower anywhere in Woking? What about parking for all these new residents?

    I am a lifelong resident of Woking but never venture into the town now, let alone when the new proposed works commence. Think of the current upheaval for residents, they are the ones paying the councillors allowances with our taxes. The decision-makers don’t have to live amongst all this chaos.

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