Councillors in Woking are considering their next steps after plans for a tower block of 366 flats in the town centre were approved at a second appeal.

Watkin Jones Group and McKay Securities’ 2019 application, via Turley, for a building of Build-to-Rent flats, ranging from five storeys to 28, which would also include commercial and community space, was turned down by Woking Borough Council, against officers’ recommendation, in 2020.

The development, at a 0.45-hectare site at Crown Place in Chertsey Road, means the demolition of the HG Wells Conference Centre, the former Big Apple entertainment centre and bingo hall plus a music centre, nightclub and hotel.

Reasons given for the 2020 refusal were height, scale, massing and design, insufficient affordable housing and harm to the Thames Basin Special Protection Area.

A subsequent appeal was dismissed in December 2021. However, the developer challenged the appeal in the High Court and the decision was quashed. A second appeal, heard in September, was allowed in a decision published on November 3.

The High Court challenge suggested inspector Sarah Holden had incorrectly interpreted the law with respect to the affordable housing requirement in a BTR scheme, misrepresented policy on scale and had not correctly accounted for the need for BTR. The challenge also questioned her interpretation of heritage issues.

The decision to allow the appeal was greeted with dismay by Cllr Ann-Marie Barker, leader of Woking Borough Council.

In a statement she said: “I am bitterly disappointed with the outcome of the planning inspector’s decision to uphold the developer’s appeal and grant permission for the 28 storey redevelopment of the former HG Wells Conference and Events Centre site in Woking town centre.

“Local residents have made it clear to me that they do not wish to see further high rise development, and this appeal has overturned the decision of democratically elected local councillors on the council’s planning committee.

“We must consider whether this decision is legally sound. Officers are currently reviewing the decision to understand what options remain open to the council, the implications for Woking town centre and the emerging masterplan.”

A Watkin Jones spokesperson said: “We are very pleased that the planning inspector has agreed with the original officers’ recommendation and we expect to start work next year to create these homes that will offer people who need somewhere to rent in Woking a great place to live.

“Beyond 366 new homes, the scheme will bring a community centre, new space for businesses, and improve the link from Chertsey Road to other parts of the town.”

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