Council leader unveils ambitious plans for future of Woking

Following his re-election as Leader of Woking Borough Council, Cllr John Kingsbury gave a speech in which he stressed Conservatives’ commitment to invest in the future of Woking, transform Woking town centre and deliver affordable housing, as well as other key priorities for 2016/7.

Cllr Kingsbury’s remarks can be viewed in full below.

“Madam Mayor, fellow Councillors, it is an honour for me to serve as Leader of the new Council following the Boundary Review which reduced the number of Members from 36 to 30. I assure you that I will to do my best to lead the Council in the interests of the residents and businesses of the Borough of Woking.

“I will exercise my leadership through an Executive. I am pleased to advise that Councillor David Bittleston will be Deputy Leader of the Council and Councillors Bowes, Hunwicks, Hussain, Kemp and Whitehand will serve as Executive Members. 

“Madam Mayor, that deals with the formality of our governance arrangements. I would now like to welcome all new Councillors to the Chamber and hope that you will all embrace the ambition of this Council to continue to improve the Borough and to meet the needs of the community. I also am grateful to all those Members who served with us in the past and wish them well for the future.

“The Borough elections are over, at least none of us have to stand again until 2018. It is important that we put behind us the arguments we had during the election campaign and work as one Council. I am of course delighted that the Conservative Party has continued as the majority Party on the Council and I recognise the Liberal Democrat Group as the official opposition. I also welcome our two new Party Groups, Labour and Independents. I would of course have preferred less of all of you but ‘we are where we are’ and we should move on and work together in the interests of the community; they will expect no less and we should not let them down.

“For those of us that served on the previous Council we did our best to set sound foundations for this new Council. I believe we did so. In coming months we will need to make some key decisions on significant matters that will affect the Borough for many years to come. Let us do so being mindful of the needs of future generations and not just those existing electors that can argue loudly in their own interests.  In know this will be difficult but we owe it to the children of the Borough, our future electors, to rise above the local challenges of today and make sound decisions for the future.

“Madam Mayor, in our Manifesto for the May 2016 Election we, the Conservatives, set out our commitment to our key promises; I will briefly mention these as we intend to ensure that we keep our promises.

Transforming Woking Town Centre

“We have achieved much over the past five years in transforming Woking Town Centre; we now have the Town Centre Integrated Transport Package and Victoria Square to complete.  

“The Integrated Transport Package will improve the pedestrian, cycle, bus, taxi and vehicular movement in the town centre both sides of the railway. We approved a £22.8m package of works in our Investment Programme and have bid for £11m from the Local Enterprise Partnership, EM3, and I am hopefully this will be approved later this month or early next. The balance of funding will come from development contributions, including Victoria Square.

“Victoria Square is part of a long ambition to improve the town and bring back Marks and Spencer in an appropriate store; 60,000 square feet, over five times larger than its previous store in the Peacocks.

“It is a major project for us and one that we will have to be at our most creative to finance in such a way that does not prejudice local services in the short term. We will need to keep the development at arms length from our day to day activities until it is built and well established as the project will need five or ten years, possibly more, of operation before it can fully service the cost of regeneration. Some enabling works will be undertaken this summer and autumn and we will receive the report to finally sign off the delivery of the project at our October meeting for it to fully start in early 2017. As I will have retired from the Council by the time Marks and Spencer opens in 2020 I hope my successor will invite me to the official opening.

A Sound Financial Strategy

“Through securing value for money in all that we do we will do our utmost to keep any Council Tax increase as low as possible and do so without cutting services.

“This will be tough with Central Government continuing to remove financial support from Local Government but we will do all we can through improving the Council’s operational efficiency and investing in revenue generating projects.

Delivering Affordable Housing

“Our projects at Moor Lane, Westfield Avenue and Brookwood Farm – which together provide over 840 new homes for local people, including some 300 affordable homes – are under construction and now taking new residents. We have bought over 250 vacant homes and refurbished them for local people to rent through our subsidiary Thameswey Housing Limited.

“We are committed to deliver more to meet the needs of local people for affordable homes to rent or to buy. The Council's Medium Term Financial Strategy set out our approach to securing affordable homes over the next five years. At the July Council Meeting Thameswey Housing Limited will present a revised Business Plan to show how it can positively invest in the provision of affordable homes.

“Also at its July meeting the Planning Committee will receive the updated Planning Application for the Sheerwater Regeneration project, which seeks to transform Sheerwater as we have transformed the town centre. I know some people are concerned about the impact on some residents but we have a good track record of treating people fairly. At its meeting in October or December the Council will need to make a decision on whether or not we proceed with the regeneration. I hope we do proceed and then we can enter into detailed negotiations with the occupiers and owners of the affected properties and assist them in relocating, either within Sheerwater or elsewhere. I believe the Regeneration of Sheerwater is essential if we are to secure the balance of the need for affordable homes, the regeneration of communities and the improvement of the local economy.

A Better Railway for Woking

“The railway was the making of Woking in the mid 19th Century; it will be again for the 21st Century. The Council is working with Network Rail on significant improvements at Woking, both to the train network and the station. Subject to Central Government Funding approval there will be a grade separated junction on the Portsmouth to London line that will significantly increase the number of trains through and stopping at Woking. The proposed new through line on the south side of the station will also increase capacity for trains to stop and necessitate a complete rebuilding of Woking Station on the south side of the tracks. The integrated transport package to the north of the railway will be a start of the pedestrian, cycle, bus and taxi facilities and officers are currently in negotiation with Network Rail to enlarge the station entrance on the north side to provide more ticket facilities and more entry terminals which can hopefully be within the next two years. 

“Improvements to the passenger facilities on the south side of the track will continue to be pursued and as soon as network Rail con confirm its requirements the Council will work with it and EM3 to secure further improvements that will facilitate growth and better passenger facilities.

Supporting our Voluntary Groups

“As Public Finances continue to be constrained the Voluntary Sector is critical if the Council is to help vulnerable people adversely affected by reductions in other public spending. I know some will say that these matters are not our responsibility or concern. I disagree. I think in modern local government we need to recognise that all the needs of our residents are our concern and that we should do all we can to help those in need. We will continue our positive support for voluntary groups and will seek to secure additional funding where the need justifies it.

Investing in our Communities

“We have invested in new youth and community buildings across the Borough in recent years and will continue to do so where the needs arises as these provide the platform for many volunteers across the Borough to help local people.  

“Our community is strong and many people are willing to give up their time for free to work with people of all ages across the Borough. We can continue to help by ensuring they have the right premises.
“The Prime Minster’s Big Society continues to be alive and well in Woking!

“Madam Mayor these were the Conservative Manifesto Commitments; we will deliver them. However I wish to mention some other issues that will be important to us all over the coming months.

School Places

“Parents rightly ask where the new school places will be as housing in the Borough increases. They are right to do so.

“We have previously taken positive steps to address this forecast need by identifying sites for new schools, both Primary and Secondary. We will shortly review these needs with our partner, Surrey County Council, as I understand we may still need some additional Primary School places near the town centre having already made a new site available at Brookwood Farm.

“The Executive at its meeting on 9 June will consider officer recommendations to proceed with the building of the Hoe Valley School and Recreation facilities at Egley Road. I understand that the Education Funding Agency has, subject to Ministerial Approval, provisionally agreed the construction budget. It is likely therefore Madam Mayor that we will ask for the Council to hold a Special meeting on 16 June to receive the Executive recommendation to proceed with the construction. I would be grateful therefore if all Members will note the date in their diaries.

Woking 2050 and Natural Woking Strategies

“Our Woking 2050 and Natural Woking strategies have received attention nationally as they demonstrate how a Council can be committed to growth whilst valuing and enhancing green spaces, enhancing bio-diversity and reducing the risks posed by climate change.

“We will continue our development of parks and play spaces for local residents and I hope many of you have enjoyed the new park at Heather Farm built by Horsell Common Preservation Society with financial assistance from the Council. Our plans for the Hoe Stream will, if EU funding is secured, enable us to connect the town centre through a Linear Park, an ambition never secured by our forefathers, with our proposed new Park at Havering Farm.

“Free access to green space for recreation is vital to the future of our Borough and we will seek to do the same when proposals come forward for the Wey.

“We will also need to make sure that we have enough playing field and sports pitches for the needs of future residents. I know that when we propose them residents would like them put somewhere else, not in their back yard. We will however need to put them in someone's back yard and I hope that following the review of need this summer we can agree a programme for new pitches later this year.

Green Belt

“A major challenge for us this year will be the essential review of the Green Belt.  When, after an Examination in Public by a Government Inspector, our Local Plan was approved it was upon the basis that the Council would promptly undertake a review of its Green Belt and ensure adequate development land would be available to meet the needs of the Borough from 2022 to 2040.

“We undertook our first review and published the results for consultations. We received numerous representations and many of us have the scar tissue to prove how emotional this matter is for local people. However being a Member of Woking Borough Council is more than just representing the views of those that elect us, as important as that is. We have a duty to the future of the Borough and legally we must undertake the review and put forward proposals for the future beyond 2022. 

“Officers are currently reviewing the various responses to the first consultation and will make recommendations to the Council in July. Whilst I am sure we will all have local interests and local areas that we cherish it is important that we take account of our wider responsibilities to future generations; not easy I know but we must try. It is important for future generations that we do it well.  

“Madam Mayor, I have focused on the Conservative manifesto commitments and some key issues. There is much more that the Council does but I do not intend speaking further on the vast array of activity and corporate priorities that our embedded in our Service Plans.

“Madam Mayor, I assure you and the Council, that I, and my Executive Members, are fully committed to the delivery of all of our Service Plans.

“Woking is about taking action today. Our strap line, ‘Towards Tomorrow Today’, is not a hollow gesture but a real commitment to action. We are here to lead the community; yes we must listen, engage and consult, but most of all we must lead. Only through strong leadership will we secure a better Place in which to live and a stronger community for the People of Woking. It’s up to us, the Council, to make a difference. It’s for us to lead and I assure you that is what I will do over the coming year.

“Madam Mayor, again I thank you and fellow Councillors for your support and I look forward to another positive year in the service of the residents and businesses of Woking.”