In July 2013, Woking Borough Council announced that it and its housing management company, New Vision Homes were to explore the possibility of regenerating Sheerwater.
The initial idea was that the Council and New Vision Homes would join up with the social housing and regeneration company Pinnacle and construction company Balfour Beatty to demolish around 500 homes in the centre of Sheerwater, and rebuild 1,000 homes – which would result in a net increase of 500 homes, along with improved education, leisure and retail facilities.
The reasoning behind this is that Maybury and Sheerwater is not only the most deprived area in Woking, but in Surrey as well – the Dartmouth and Devonshire Avenue area of Sheerwater is within the 10% most deprived areas nationally. Much of the housing in Dartmouth and Devonshire Avenue is not in a good state and not fit for purpose (there’s an argument that they never were to be brutally honest) – most of the accommodation there are studio and one-bedroom flats.
As urban regeneration schemes like the one suggested for Sheerwater have previously turned around deprived communities, and as there was a promise of a comprehensive consultation with local residents – the Woking Lib Dem Group and I supported the original vision.
However, a year later the Council was petitioned by angry local residents saying they were not happy with the consultation and that the proposed regeneration was wrong. Almost 500 residents signed a petition calling for the plans to be put on hold until a proper consultation and a series of public meetings had taken place.
Following the presentation of the petition, I was the first Councillor to stand up to speak and I happily backed up the petitioners’ call for more consultation. The Lib Dems and I might have supported the principle of regenerating Sheerwater, but if the regeneration is to be done at all it must be done with local residents – it cannot be forced on them or be seen to be forced on them. It seems clear that the consultation up until now has not worked, otherwise residents would not have been forced to highlight their concerns through a petition.
I was delighted that following my call for more consultation, Conservative Councillors responsible agreed to undertake a further and wider consultation to ensure that Sheerwater residents have a chance to have their say. I hope that the team behind the Sheerwater Regeneration project relaunches the consultation process – as from now on, the consultation needs to be wise, open and honest.