Town Centre Oversight Panel
During this week’s meeting of the Town Centre Oversight Panel councillors were given a preview of the next round of display materials that will be used to inform residents about the progress of the Victoria Square project. The exhibition stands should be available for viewing in Wolsey Place next weekend. The Victoria Square proposals entail a drastic change to the town centre, stretching from Victoria Arch to Bandstand Square and incorporating the former Post Office and Woking Fire Station, which is to be relocated.
The proposals for the site have been evolving for a number of years and have developed to combine retail, hotel and leisure use with almost 400 new one and two bedroom flats and expanded town centre parking provision. The project will deliver a major new Marks & Spencer store, including a foodhall and cafe; seven additional retail units including a bigger Boots store; a 190-bedroom four star hotel including a spa, gym, conference facilities; several restaurants, an additional 380 new parking spaces; and a medical centre.
A planning application is due to be submitted by the council and will be considered later in spring. I am fully supportive of this project and am keen to see it come to fruition. My only hesitation is in the size of the new buildings. At 34 storeys, one of the four towers will be the tallest building in Woking and around a third bigger than New Central. I have raised concerns about height during the oversight process and will make representations when this comes to planning committee. At the same time, I hope residents will agree that this is an exciting project that has the potential to take Woking to the next level by redeveloping the current rather tired marketplace and providing us with more job opportunities and a much great variety of retail, housing and leisure options.
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.