At last week’s meeting of Full Council, I asked a question about homelessness in Woking. The question was prompted by a number of representations from residents who have highlighted the increase in rough sleepers underneath the canopy on Albion Square and in the tunnel underneath the railway station. Some of the people camped out have been begging aggressively around the station and along Guildford Road, creating a nuisance and intimidating atmosphere for residents and commuters.
In my question, a copy of which can be found here, I asked whether vulnerable people in Woking were slipping through the cracks and not getting the help and support they needed to avoid being made homeless.
I received an answer from Cllr Colin Kemp, the Portfolio Holder for Housing, who explained that the council was working closely with the York Road Project, which receives funding to support those facing or experiencing homelessness in the borough. Cllr Kemp explained that the York Road Project engages in active outreach to ascertain the reasons why people are sleeping on the streets, so it can get them the assistance they require. He also confirmed that rough sleepers able to sustain a tenancy are eligible to go on the housing register and can receive financial help through a bond scheme to help them find a place to stay. Those who are not sleeping rough but are concerned they could become homeless as a result of personal circumstances can go to the council for short term support and if necessary can be placed in emergency accommodation.
As a supplementary question I asked how the council was dealing with the issue of aggressive begging. Cllr Kemp noted that the police will speak to those responsible when complaints are received. However, he said that the council had received intelligence that those responsible were often from outside the borough, with the fact Woking is quite prosperous meaning the town is seen as a magnet for professional beggars from London and elsewhere.
I am pleased that the Executive is taking this issue seriously and that those facing homelessness are not being left to slip through the cracks.
Several residents have asked when the cobblestones underneath the station canopy will be repaired. The council has temporary laid down black tarmac to cover areas where there has been cracking and dislodging of the cobblestones, apparently as a result of a chemical reaction to the materials that were used to lay the surface. I agree that the tarmac is unsightly and detracts from what is supposed to be a modernised and improved entrance to the town from Albion Square.
At a meeting of the Town Centre Oversight Panel last night I was able to quiz council officers on the reasons for the delay in making the necessary repairs. I am told there are currently contractual issues between the suppliers and the maintenance company which need to be resolved, and the intention is to carry out the work as part of the wider redevelopment of the town centre that will be carried out through construction of the Victoria Square project. This means that the cobblestones are not likely to be replaced for some time yet, and probably not for several years.
While this is a disappointing reply, I appreciate that there is merit in waiting until the repairs can be carried alongside the much bigger development work planned for the town centre. At last night’s meeting we were given a preview of the latest display materials which will be used as part of the public consultation and engagement campaign to inform residents about plans for Victoria Square. This project has the potential to substantially transform the town centre for the better and increase the quality and diversity of shops, restaurants and public services in the borough.