At last night’s [13 February 2020] Full Council meeting, Woking Borough’s elected members approved the next stage of a £115 million highways enhancement scheme, which will be Woking’s biggest infrastructure project to date.
Acceptance of a £95 million grant, offered by the Government and administered by Homes England, paves the way for the Council to complete the acquisition of the Triangle site on the south side of the town, deliver the significant improvements to the town centre’s road network and widen the outdated Victoria Arch bridge by 2024.
In 2018, Woking Borough Council in partnership with Surrey County Council submitted a comprehensive funding bid to the Government’s highly contested Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF), which finances a small number of strategic and high impact infrastructure schemes to unlock housing sites.
Last night’s decision to formally accept the HIF grant is the first step towards determining official working arrangements with government agency, Homes England, and triggers the start of detailed negotiations to finalise the grant’s conditions and contract. It is anticipated that the contractual arrangements could be secured in a matter of weeks, quickly followed by a comprehensive procurement process to select contractors to deliver the bid proposals.
The Councils’ successful HIF bid sets out carefully considered and modelled proposals to alleviate long-term congestion issues within Woking Town Centre, future proof the highways and rail network, and unlock 13 brownfield sites for much needed town centre housing, of which a significant number would be affordable.
The proposals are reliant upon the delivery of each stage. These include:
- The acquisition and demolition of all properties located within ‘The Triangle’ (pocket of land surrounded by the one-way gyratory system, incorporating Guildford Road, Victoria Road and Station Approach). The Triangle is of strategic importance for the entire project. Without the acquisition and demolition of the existing site, it is not possible to deliver the proposed highways improvements along Guildford Road and the widening and replacement of Victoria Arch railway bridge. Works are anticipated to start in summer 2020 and conclude in summer 2021.
- The delivery of highway improvements along Guildford Road. Working with Surrey County Council, the proposed improvements include: the removal of the one-way gyratory system and the introduction of a two-way dual carriageway, shared pedestrian and cycle paths, and installation of four new toucan crossings for pedestrians and cyclists. Works are anticipated to start in late 2021 and conclude in early 2024.
- The widening and replacement of Victoria Arch railway bridge. Working with Network Rail, the ambition is to widen the highway that passes under the bridge to improve traffic flows between both sides of the town and provide better access across the railway and to the railway station for cyclists and pedestrians. The road widening will link with the redeveloped dual carriage highway to the north. Works are anticipated to start in spring 2022 and conclude in early 2024.
Speaking about this important step and the proposed project, Cllr David Bittleston, Leader of Woking Borough Council, said: "This is infrastructure enhancement on a grand scale! It’s a once in a lifetime offer which would not be financially viable without this £95 million grant and support of Surrey County Council and Network Rail.
“Our previous and current development credentials have assured central Government of our ability and commitment to deliver big scale projects. So, I would like to thank council officers and elected members at Woking Borough Council and Surrey County Council for the hard work required to achieve this amazing outcome.
"It has been the Council’s long-held aspiration to unlock this part of the town centre and future proof it by providing seamless travel options for all users, improving connectivity around and through the town and, ultimately, providing fit for purpose infrastructure for future housing.
"Whilst there are many long-term benefits of this project, we appreciate that there is a group of residents and businesses who will be directly affected by the proposed demolition of the Triangle site. We have actively engaged with residents, landlords and businesses within this site with positive results.
“To date, 80% of the Triangle site has been acquired by the Council. Over 50% of the businesses have identified alternative premises to relocate to and 30% have confirmed that new premises are no longer required; all have been supported by the Council. We’d like to thank all affected parties for the engagement and patience on this matter and we will continue to work proactively with the public at all stages of the project."
Sophie White, Homes England’s Director of Infrastructure Grants, said: “We are committed to working with ambitious local authority partners seeking to meet their local housing needs through delivery of key infrastructure.
"Our multimillion-pound funding will resolve much needed improvements to local road and rail infrastructure, unlocking critical housing sites and allowing the Council to deliver their vision for new homes in Woking Town Centre."
Cllr Colin Kemp, Deputy Leader of Surrey County Council, said: "I’m pleased that another key milestone has been passed as we prepare to turn these ambitious plans for Woking Town Centre and the surrounding area into a reality.
"The improved road and rail links and affordable housing will help keep Woking Town Centre a vibrant place for years to come, which is why Surrey County Council is pleased to be working with Woking Borough Council and other partners on this vital project."
Mark Killick, Route Director for Network Rail Wessex, said: "We look forward to working with Woking Borough Council and its partners to deliver a new railway bridge at Victoria Arch.
"We are open to working with third parties on improvements to the railway for passengers, who are at the heart of everything we do. We actively encourage developers and other organisations to come up with schemes such as this that will improve the railway and local infrastructure."
For more information, including the proposals maps, and/or to subscribe to the project’s enewsletters, please visit www.woking.gov.uk/victoriaarchscheme