- New administration targets reduced costs and disruption to residents.
- Council seeks more funding from government for Woking’s key infrastructure project, Victoria Arch widening scheme.
At its next meeting on Thursday 14 July 2022, Woking Borough Council’s Executive will consider project options for the Victoria Arch widening scheme which, if approved, will initiate a fundamental review of the scheme including consideration of alternative delivery options and reduced costs.
This action follows the new administration’s pledge, at its first Executive meeting in June 2022, to undertake a strategic review of the major and complex infrastructure scheme.
Published today [6 July], a report submitted to the Executive outlines important factors which impact on the current project’s delivery, most notably:
- The additional budget required to cover the costs of the project.
- A request for both Surrey County Council and Network Rail to share the risks associated with the project.
- A review of the current complex programming and delivery options.
- Further progression of the ‘Town Centre Masterplan’.
At the meeting of the Executive in October 2021, councillors were updated on the scheme’s progress, and it was agreed to revise the timetable by pausing the start of further significant works on the ground.
Programming and investigative works undertaken in the last six months have identified increased costs of between £53m to 54m above the original project budget of £115m. Woking Borough Council is the grant recipient of the government funding, and it has the overall responsibility for the project costs and any overspend.
Project costs have been continuously reviewed since the successful bid application to Homes England in 2018. Predominately, the overspends stem from the following influencing factors:
- The original scope of the project did not identify the full requirements and implications of the rail bridge replacement.
- The rise in inflation and increased costs of materials and labour driven by Brexit, the COVID-19 pandemic and more recent conflict in Ukraine.
The projected budget requirement has been communicated to Homes England, the government funder, alongside a request for greater project risk sharing with its delivery partners, Surrey County Council and Network Rail.
Speaking about the recommendations to be put forward to the Executive for consideration, Cllr Will Forster, Woking Borough Council’s Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for the Borough’s Key Projects said: “The new administration has serious concerns about the scale of the project’s budget deficit, the Council shouldering all of the risk on its own and the significant road closure involved in the Victoria Arch widening scheme. This is why we will fundamentally review this project and pause any future work until there is a viable scheme which can be delivered without additional expense to the Council.
“A review would also enable the Council and its partners to revisit some of the most contentious parts of the Victoria Arch widening scheme. As a starting point, we will consider other design options to reduce the overall costs and scale of the project, such as proposals that remove the need to lower the road underneath the arch, and/or reduce the road from a dual carriageway to a single carriageway.
“We need to address the proposed closure of the Victoria Arch whilst the bridge replacement works are conducted. The current estimated closures are up to two and half years for vehicles and up to seven months for pedestrians and cyclists. These closures are undesirable, so we will aim to find solutions which are less damaging to our town centre.”
Since 2021, the Council has also been undertaking work to create a ‘Masterplan’ for Woking Town Centre, which has been developed with the aim of reviewing the housing delivery needs within the town centre following the COVID-19 pandemic and to develop a more certain future for inward investment and town centre vitality.
The Masterplan, which covers 10 themes including sustainable development and the town centre skyline, is due to be considered by the Executive at the same meeting, 14 July 2022, for approval to undertake a 12-week public consultation running until October 2022. The results would then be submitted to the Executive and Council for adoption which is expected to be in early 2023.
Cllr Will Forster added: “The consequences of the Masterplan consultation results and adoption may mean that the total housing numbers in the town centre and the sites that would deliver additional housing above the Local Plan sites may need to be reviewed. If so, the contract with Homes England would need to be revisited, as the grant for this infrastructure is dependent on a certain number of residential units being delivered from a number of sites including Council owned sites.”
With the support of its project partners, the Council remains committed to the revitalisation of the outdated Victoria Arch, which for years has served as a pinch point for vehicles and provided an unwelcoming environment for pedestrians and cyclists.
To ensure the project maintains momentum and readiness for a revised work programme, the Council will continue to deliver some existing workstreams which include:
- The demolition, clearance and development options of the Triangle site on the south-side of the Victoria Arch.
- The collation and analysis of the results gathered by the recent trial hole works, completed in June 2022, which will help inform a final highways delivery plan.
- The submission of a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) to obtain ownership of private land within the Triangle which is integral to the delivery of the project.
- The submission of planning applications for the aggregates yard access road, including a temporary access via York Road and a permanent access via Guildford Road.