Skyscrapers are not the answer

June 28, 2019 4:45 PM
By Councillor Ann-Marie Barker
Originally published by Woking Liberal Democrats

As developer Cortland applies for planning permission to build a 39 storey skyscraper on the site of the former BHS, in Commercial Way, leader of the Liberal Democrats on Woking Council Ann-Marie Barker said

"Skyscrapers are not the answer for Woking's future".

Woking Victoria Square Skyscrapers

"Concentrating development in the town centre makes sense and protects our green belt but that does not mean we need a town centre full of skyscrapers" fumed Cllr. Barker "Fifteen storeys, the height of the 'ship' development behind the station, would be more appropriate for a town the size of Woking".

Cllr Barker points out "When the skyscrapers of Victoria Square were proposed we were told they were stand out, exceptional, buildings for the town. Now they are being used as a precedent to build a Woking full of skyscrapers. The Council's Chief Executive regularly denies his ambition to make Woking the Singapore of Surrey. On current evidence that is exactly where we are heading".

"It seems the Council is encouraging developers to go higher and higher" explains Cllr. Barker. "Cortland consulted local people on plans for a 30 storey block on the BHS site last year. Now they have come back with plans for a 39 storey skyscraper, a 30% increase in height".

"This week Watkins Jones group are consulting about another skyscraper, 30 storeys high, on the site of Crown Square. At the consultation I was told the developers had been 'encouraged by the Council to go higher'" said Cllr. Barker

Add this to suggestions of a Woking Council company, Thameswey, putting a 34 storey skyscraper behind Barclays, Victoria Square, highest block 34 storeys, and plans to come forward for 'Gateway' on land between Commercial Way and High Street where heights of 39 storeys have been suggested.

Skyscrapers are not right for our town and do not answer the requirement put on us by government. The Council is required to provide 292 homes a year and has said half should be in the town centre. One hundred and four of these homes should be 'affordable'. With Victoria Square providing 400 homes, 310 proposed for the old BHS site and 300 for Crown Square plus plans for Woking Gateway to have around 475 flats the required figure is easily being met.

These development won't come all at once but they are 5 years supply for the borough, 10 years of what is planned to be provided in the town centre, and this has to be added to all the other homes provided in a given year. There are proposals in the pipeline for homes to help fund development of the new Woking FC stadium in a similar timescale, and that could be a further 3 years of supply.

Skyscrapers will bring their own issues. They will put pressure on local infrastructure, bring more cars (without sufficient parking) and are likely to create a town with limited light and wind tunnels between the huge blocks.

Affordable housing is a massive need in our area but most of these developments are not geared to affordable family homes.

"Skyscrapers are not the answer. They are not what Woking needs".