Over the last 3 or so years, the Society chairman, Philip Riley, has been working closely with Woking Borough Council on a plan for a major development on the Canal in the town, and on other ways in which the Canal could benefit locally. We are indeed fortunate in that there are members on the Woking Council who are particularly supportive of the Canal, and it has been an aspiration of theirs to see the Canal “brought to life” in Woking for many years. With the help of Tony Davis, planning consultant to the IWA, who agreed to draw out draft plans, a development proposal was eventually put together. A proposal document was tabled at a recent Council meeting and incorporates the following elements (drawings can be seen here):
- Hard edge and mooring points along the side of the Canal adjacent to the new WWF building (sometimes referred to as Woking Quay, or Woking Wharf), below left
- A reproduction full-sized barge (based on the design of AJ Harmsworth’s Basingstoke), created at the Lightbox and to be used as an additional exhibition centre
- A towpath extension and new footbridge at Chobham Road, to allow walkers and cyclists continuous passage as the towpath crosses from one side of the Canal to the other, without having to cross the road
- A new winding hole at the St John’s end of the Woking pound, to allow easier turning of trip boats, and
- A boat basin near Brook House Common to accommodate 30 or so leisure and rowing boats (above)
The cost for the works was estimated to be roughly £4.3m, and an additional £130K would be required to obtain the necessary consents and to produce a planning application.
However, it was evident that the time for embarking on such a project was not right: the will of the Council was that this development should not be taken forward, which of course is a great disappointment, but no surprise at all, to the Society.
Leader of the Council Cllr. John Kingsbury explained in a recording of the meeting proceedings that the Council was heavily committed with completing the Victoria Square development, which had to take priority. However, indicating his own support for the Canal project, Cllr. Kingsbury left the door open to the possibility that it could be revived in future – and of course the Society will continue to campaign for this.
Commenting on the outcome, Philip Riley said, “The decision by Woking BC not to proceed with the project at this stage was a considerable disappointment to the Canal Society. However, the Society will continue to work with the Council to explore ideas for much needed improvements to the canal corridor in Woking town centre and will examine with the Council whether options can be identified to secure project funding for certain elements of the proposals”