Woking Borough Council

2.0 Spatial portrait and key issues and challenges facing the borough to 2027

The following spatial portrait provides an overview of the current state of the Borough and includes a description of the key characteristics of the area. It also sets out the key issues and challenges facing the Borough which have informed the development of the policies in the Core Strategy.


The Borough of Woking is located in north-west Surrey, about 40 km (25 miles) from London and is 6,400ha in area. Woking is the main town which is located in the centre of the Borough. Woking is a modern town which is currently undergoing renewal. The vast majority of the population lives in the main built-up part of the Borough which is dotted with smaller centres, known locally as "the villages". West Byfleet in the east and Knaphill in the west are the largest centres with other key centres being Byfleet, Sheerwater, Horsell, Goldsworth Park, and St. Johns. A few small villages, of which the largest are Brookwood and Mayford, lie just outside the main built-up area.

Outside this main urban area, the remaining 60% of the Borough is Green Belt. Relatively little of the Green Belt land is in active agricultural use, the main uses are open spaces, playing pitches, golf courses, commercial nurseries and horse grazing. There is also a significant amount of low density residential property, and some industrial premises, in the Green Belt. The Green Belt also contains extensive heathland. The most significant areas of heathland, Horsell Common, Sheets Heath and Brookwood Heath, are designated as part of the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area (SPA). Sheets Heath also forms part of the Thursley, Ash, Pirbright and Chobham Special Area of Conservation (SAC). In addition there are six Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) all or part of which are found within the Borough: Ash to Brookwood Heaths, the Basingstoke Canal, Colony Bog and Bagshot Heaths, Horsell Common, Smart's and Prey Heaths, and Whitmoor Common (fragment only).

The Borough lies on the north bank of the River Wey, with water meadows and flat relatively fertile land by the river, and gently undulating sandy ground to the north and west, which form attractive local features. However, the land alongside the Wey and Hoe Stream is liable to flood and currently, around 3,500 properties in the Borough are located within such areas. Work is currently underway on the Hoe Valley Scheme, which is a comprehensive development proposal including a significant flood alleviation scheme for the area.

Key issues and challenges

  • How to strike a balance between the need to protect and/or enhance the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area and the Thursley, Ash, Pirbright and Chobham Special Area of Conservation and the need to achieve growth to meet the needs of the community.
  • The need to protect the purpose and integrity of the Green Belt from the growing pressure for further development that cannot all be accommodated within the urban area and/or on previously developed sites.

Historic development

The development of Woking as a major town only started with the coming of the railway in 1838. Until that time, the area now occupied by Woking Town Centre was open heathland and much of the rest of the Borough was occupied by nurseries, the most significant one being Slocock Nurseries. One of the main legacies of Woking as a heathland and horticultural area is the extensive tree cover. Woking Borough is mentioned in the Domesday Book and was originally a village on the River Wey, some two miles to the south of the current town centre. In Tudor times, it was the location for one of Henry VIII's royal palaces, remains of which can still be seen today in Old Woking.

Woking has developed into the large modern town we see today, over the last 150 years. Housing development, originally intended for wealthy London commuters, was built in areas such as The Hockering, Hook Heath, Pyrford and West Byfleet. Woking Town Centre grew into a Victorian commercial centre, with public buildings, shops and workers' housing. Large areas were used for horticulture to serve the London and local markets. In the 1950s, Sheerwater was developed as a London County Council housing and industrial estate, and many families relocated there from London. In the 1970s and 80s, Goldsworth Park was developed, as a major new community of around 5,000 homes. The population of Woking Borough has grown from under 5,000 in 1851 to over 92,000 today.

Major industrial estates have existed in Byfleet and Sheerwater for more than 50 years, and over the last 40 years, Woking Town Centre has become a major employment centre, with substantial office and retail development. Today, Woking has nearly as many people commuting into the Borough to work as those who commute out.

Redevelopment in Woking Town Centre over the last 40 years has resulted in the demolition of much of the original Victorian town centre. ChristChurch is the only listed building of historic interest. Elsewhere in the Borough, the original villages still contain medieval churches and many buildings of architectural and historic significance, as well as a number of conservation areas. Scheduled ancient monuments, sites of archaeological significance, historic gardens and areas of historic landscape interest all form part of Woking's cultural heritage and deserve appropriate protection for future generations to enjoy. There is a need to not only protect, but also to enhance such assets and their settings while responding to modern development pressures. A Character Study, which also looks at the Conservation Areas, has been undertaken to provide evidence about how some of these assets could be protected. The Heritage of Woking Study also provides additional information.

Key issues and challenges

  • How to achieve a balance between the existing character of the area and the design of new development that incorporates high sustainable construction standards.
  • How to ensure a design approach that is flexible to accept tall buildings in the town centre whilst retaining the general image of Woking.

Characteristics of the population

The population of Woking in 2009 was 92,400. The 2001 Census showed that Woking had a slightly younger population than England as a whole, with 20.6% under 16, compared with 20.2% nationally, and 14.6% over 65 compared with 15.9% nationally. These are relatively small differences, and in general, Woking is close to the national average. As shown in Graph 1 below, the number of people in all age groups is increasing over the plan period, with the exception of the 15-29 age group. In common with the nation as a whole, the forecast is for the proportion of older people to rise in the future. Compared to other age groups the number of people at retirement age has the steepest increase over the 20 year period. There is some spatial variation in the age profile. The youngest populations are found in the Goldsworth Park and Maybury and Sheerwater areas.

In 2001, the proportion of residents from a black or minority ethnic background was 8.7%. This was the highest proportion in Surrey, but slightly below the average for England as a whole of 9.1%. This population, largely Asian and Asian British, mainly lives in Maybury and Sheerwater, where over 30% of the population is from a Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) group.

Woking has relatively low levels of deprivation. The Borough as a whole is within the top 10% of least deprived local authority areas in the country. However, high levels of affluence in the Borough mask pockets of relative and absolute deprivation, with the Dartmouth Avenue and Devonshire Avenue area of Sheerwater being identified as within the 14% most deprived areas nationally and the most deprived area in Surrey.

Key issues and challenges

  • The increasing rate of the elderly population and the need to plan to meet their needs.
  • There are pockets of deprivation within the community that needs to be addressed.


In 2007, around 80% of homes in Woking consisted of houses, and almost 20% were flats and maisonettes. The single largest component was detached houses, which made up almost 29% of homes, which is well above the national average of 23%. The proportion of flats is around the average for England of 19%, however, more than half of all flats are in and around Woking Town Centre. In the remainder of the Borough, almost 90% of accommodation is made up of houses.

In 2001, 77% of homes were owner-occupied, compared with 69% in England as a whole. All parts of the Borough are dominated by owner-occupied housing. Even those areas where many homes were originally built as local authority housing now have a majority of owner-occupied properties, reflecting the impact of council house sales. The lowest proportion of owner-occupied housing is in Maybury and Sheerwater at 57%.

Information from the Land Registry shows that the average house price in the Borough at the end of 2010 was £345,674 which is consistently higher than the average of £274,326 for the South East and £232,628 nationally (Oct-Dec 2010). House prices in Woking fell a little in 2009 following the economic downturn (average of £301,082 in the fourth quarter of 2009) but had recovered by early 2010 and by the last quarter of 2010 were up 13.8% on last year. The difficulty in accessing mortgage finance coupled with the requirement for larger deposits and long-term affordability pressures has led to an inability for many potential first time buyers to purchase properties. The average earnings in the Borough during 2008 were £24,570; this is 13.6 times less than the average house price. The need for affordable housing for those who cannot afford to obtain housing on the open market is considerable. The Strategic Housing Market Assessment shows that there is a need for an additional 499 new affordable homes per annum. The majority of the unmet need is for family housing.

The Council has to plan for the housing needs of all members of the community; this includes the needs of groups with specific needs such as the elderly and Gypsies, Travellers and Travelling Showpeople.

Key issues and challenges

  • The urban area is surrounded by the Green Belt and other environmental designations such as the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area and the Thursley, Ash, Pirbright and Chobham Special Area of Conservation. The need to identify sufficient land that is available and suitable in sustainable locations to meet all types of housing need continues to be an issue.
  • There is significant unmet need for affordable housing, which will have to be delivered in a period of severe public sector budget constraint and an economic downturn; The need to balance the priority to secure affordable housing with the viability of development schemes is challenging.
  • The need to meet the accommodation needs of the elderly as the rate of the elderly population continues to grow.
  • The need to meet the accommodation needs of Gypsies and Travellers in sustainable locations.
  • There is significant need for family homes, in particular, affordable family homes that cannot all be met in high density flatted accommodation in the main urban centres.

The economy

Woking's economy is generally buoyant, and predominantly made up of the service sector. The percentage of Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) claimants in Woking in March 2011 was 2.1% compared to 2.6% for the South East and 3.8% for England (Office for National Statistics). Economic activity rates in Woking in Oct 2009 - Sept 2010 were 81.3% compared to 79.3% for the South East and 76.3% for England (ONS). Woking has a highly skilled resident workforce compared to national and regional averages and wage levels are also comparatively high.

There were 45,700 employees in Woking in 2008. The number of jobs in the Borough had been increasing steadily, but has levelled off since 1999, in common with much of the South East. The largest sector of Woking's economy is financial and business services (37.6%). This is significantly higher than the national average of 22% and includes considerable representation from the IT and telecoms sectors, as well as financial services.

The representation of other sectors tends to be at or below the national average. The manufacturing sector, and the public administration, education and health sectors are particularly under-represented. In the case of manufacturing, this reflects the position in much of the South East. As far as public administration, education and health are concerned, this is due to the fact that Woking has no university education facility or major hospital within the Borough boundary.

The biggest concentration of jobs is in Woking Town Centre, principally in retail and office jobs. The other main employment centres are in the business parks and industrial estates in Sheerwater and Byfleet. Unlike some other parts of Surrey, there are relatively few large modern out of town business parks and Woking Town Centre remains the single most important employment location. The vacancy rate for employment floorspace (including retail) in Woking in 2004/5 according to ODPM data was 10% which is around the average for the South East. However, local surveys of vacancy of employment uses identified a rate of around 23% in 2004/5 and 19% in 20091.

Woking's major hotel, the Holiday Inn, is located in Woking Town Centre. There are also several smaller budget hotels. These hotels cater mainly for business visitors. The main conference and meeting venue, H.G. Wells Conference and Events Centre, is also in Woking Town Centre.

Key issues and challenges

  • How to ensure that there is sufficient land at sustainable locations to meet modern business needs.
  • How to control the loss of employment land to alternative uses at a period when the Government's econmic agenda is pro-growth.
  • How to set a positive framework to support business start ups and small businesses.
  • How to deal with unallocated employment sites within the Green Belt without compromising its openness.

Retail offer

Woking Town Centre is the focus of retail floorspace in the Borough. Woking has over 80,000m² of retail floorspace, making it the second largest shopping centre in Surrey after Guildford. It has two covered shopping centres, The Peacocks and Wolsey Place, which provide the majority of the floorspace. Woking Town Centre provides for the majority of shopping needs in the Borough, although local residents do shop further afield, particularly in Guildford. There is also an edge of town centre food store - Morrisons, which provides for the needs of residents in the locality. The second largest shopping centre in the Borough, West Byfleet, has around 15,000m² of floorspace.

Out of town retail parks are relatively limited in Woking. There are small retail parks at Byfleet, and Oriental Road Woking, and a larger retail park just outside the Borough at Brooklands.

Supermarkets at West Byfleet, Goldsworth Park and Knaphill provide for local convenience shopping. Knaphill and West Byfleet also have a range of other shops. The remaining local centres, including Byfleet, Horsell, Kingfield, St. Johns and Sheerwater, provide for basic local needs. Vacancy rates in all the centres are low.

Key issues and challenges

  • How to define the boundaries of the town centre and its shopping area to reflect its functionality and focus of activities.
  • How to define the hierarchy of centres in the Borough to reflect their status and functionality.

Leisure and community facilities

Woking is generally well provided for in terms of open space provision. There is very good access to large areas of semi-natural green space from all parts of the Borough, with around 500ha of heath, woodland and canal and river banks with public access. Nowhere in Woking is more than 2km from a large accessible green space.

Provision of playing pitches and children's play areas is generally adequate, although there are some local shortages which need to be addressed. There are 11 golf courses, which are one of the main occupiers of land in Woking's Green Belt.

Woking Town Centre's New Victoria Theatre is one of the largest and most successful theatres in the South East region. This is part of the Ambassadors complex which also hosts a smaller community theatre and a multi-screen cinema. There is an exhibition space called The Lightbox in the town centre. The town centre's evening economy has grown in recent years, but still provides for a mainly local catchment. In addition to the cinema and theatre, Woking has a number of leisure facilities. The Big Apple family entertainment complex includes ten pin bowling, laser quest, and children's soft play with a Gala Bingo on the upper floors.

Woking Leisure Centre and Pool in the Park are within walking distance from Woking Town Centre and provide opportunities for indoor sports and swimming. There is a range of public and community halls serving most local areas, and some joint-use arrangements to enable public use of school sports facilities. Generally, public satisfaction with leisure and community facilities is high at around 80%, and there are no major gaps in public provision. However, it is difficult for community and faith organisations to find sites for larger premises. Some local organisations have outgrown their existing facilities and are actively looking to relocate. The price of land in the urban area makes this difficult to achieve.

Transport and accessibility

Woking has the second busiest railway station in Surrey, after Guildford, and has excellent connections to London Waterloo. Other stations serve the local areas at Byfleet and New Haw, West Byfleet, Brookwood and Worplesdon. The bus network is focussed on Woking Town Centre. Most bus routes tend to run at 30-minute intervals during the day with limited evening and weekend services.

Public transport accessibility to Woking Town Centre is generally acceptable, however, accessibility to key facilities such as St Peters Hospital and further and higher education colleges is less good, and some parts of the Borough are beyond the Government's guideline travel time by public transport to these facilities. The Council is already working in partnership with the County Council and other stakeholders as part of Transport for Woking and with promoters of the Gateway project to ensure the development of an integrated interchange facility in the vicinity of the Rail Station. Woking has been designated a Cycle Town.

The M25 motorway passes through the Borough but there is no junction. The nearest junctions (10 and 11) are both more than four miles from Woking Town Centre and more than three miles from the nearest major employment area at Byfleet. The A320 runs through the Borough and provides a good link with the M25, Guildford and Chertsey. There is peak hour traffic congestion, particularly in Woking Town Centre and in the Monument Road area.

Woking Town Centre is well served by car parks. There are around 9,000 non-residential parking spaces, around 5,000 of which are public pay car parks, the rest are private business spaces. Currently, all-day parking in Woking Town Centre costs £8, and short stay parking £2.20 for two hours. These rates are broadly comparable to other similar town centres in the area. Small car parks serve the local centres and employment areas. These are generally free of charge apart from in West Byfleet where a modest charge is made.

Car ownership in Woking is very high. Only 15% of households do not have a car, compared with 27% nationally. Only the ward of Maybury and Sheerwater has above the national average of households without a car, at 28%. In total, there are 1.4 cars for every household in Woking, compared with 1.1 nationally. Not surprisingly, the private car is the dominant means of transport in Woking. In 2001, almost 70% of people working in Woking drove to work.

Cross-cutting issues

The following issues cut across may topic areas.

Climate change

The Council has long been committed to protecting the environment and is committed to tackling the adverse impacts of climate change. The Borough has one of the most extensive decentralised renewable and low carbon energy infrastructures in the UK. Its work on this is nationally recognised. Over the last two decades, the Council has been at the forefront of a radical programme of investment in LZC (low or zero carbon) energy for which it has received national and international acclaim including the Queens Award for Enterprise (2001) and Beacon authority awards for Sustainable Energy (2005/06) and Tackling Climate Change (2008/09). In 2009, the Council received Carbon Trust Standard certification for its carbon reduction programmes, and has also been the subject of numerous case studies and best practice examples, including the Carbon Trust, Audit Commission and environmental organisations.

The Council intends to build upon this success and continue its position as a leading authority on climate change. However, introducing some of these environmentally sustainable measures into development schemes could be expensive. The challenge is setting a framework that encourages renewable and low carbon energy generation and the delivery of high standards of sustainable construction of buildings, without compromising the viability of schemes. The Council has a network of Combined Heat and Power (CHP) stations in which the waste heat generated from the production of electricity is used for heating and cooling rather than wasted. The Council has set up Thameswey Limited, which is an independent company to help deliver its climate change objectives.

The security of water as an important resource is a key issue. Balancing demand and supply in the longterm, to meet the community's need, would require management of the competing pressures of economic growth, risk of pollution, climate change and environmental protection. There is presently a high per capita daily consumption of water in the Borough that needs to be managed.

To avoid development in an area at risk of flooding is an important consideration of the Core Strategy. There are some areas of the Borough that are liable to flooding. This situation should not be exacerbated by further growth identified in the Core Strategy.

Key issues and challenges

  • Woking is recognised for its work to tackle the adverse impacts of climate change. Setting a framework that encourages renewable and low carbon energy generation and the delivery of high standards of sustainable construction of building without compromising the viability of schemes will be a significant challenge.
  • The security of water supply as an important resource against a background of growth.
  • There are some areas liable to flooding. Planning to avoid development in a flood zone and/or ensuring that further growth does not exacerbate the existing situation is an important issue for consideration.

Infrastructure and services

The Core Strategy demonstrates how development will be supported by appropriate and adequate infrastructure. The definition of infrastructure is wide ranging in this regard and it includes transport, education, health care, social and community facilities, parks and open spaces, green infrastructure, public services and utilities. An Infrastructure Delivery Plan has been prepared to set out how and when the necessary infrastructure will be provided to support the growth identified in the Core Strategy. The mechanism for securing funding to deliver the infrastructure is a key issue. The Council will continue to consider appropriate delivery mechanisms taking into account the latest Government advice.

Key issues and challenges

  • How to ensure that the delivery of infrastructure and services keep pace with development.

Cross boundary issues

Woking Borough Council will proactively work with its neighbouring authorities and other stakeholders to discuss and address common issues of cross boundary significance. It is difficult to predict all cross boundary issues that may emerge during the life of the Core Strategy. However, Woking Borough Council offers an in-principle support to work with its partners if any issues emerge. There are existing examples of partnership groups such as Planning Working Group and Surrey Planning Officer's Society to facilitate partnership working. At this stage two key cross boundary issues are relevant to the implementation of the Core Strategy. These are as follows.

  • The strategic protection of the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area (SPA) - The SPA in Woking Borough covers part of Horsell Common, Brookwood Heath and Sheets Heath. Together with the nearby Wealden Heaths SPA and the Ashdown Forest SPA, the Thames Basin Heaths form part of a complex of heathlands in Southern England that support important breeding bird populations. The need for the strategic protection of the SPA to conserve its integrity is an objective the Council shares. It proactively works with the other Surrey local authorities and Natural England to strategically monitor and mitigate any adverse impacts on the SPA. A Joint Strategic Partnership Board, of which Woking Borough Council is a member, exists to coordinate actions to deal with SPA matters.
  • Mitigation of traffic movement - At the moment, there are no major transport schemes of cross boundary significance to Woking Borough. However, the Council will work with others to ensure that the transport impacts of development with cross boundary implications are fully assessed and mitigated. Transport for Woking and Transport for Surrey partnership groups have been established to coordinate transport matters across Woking and Surrey respectively.

Analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the Borough

Based on a review of the available evidence, including the spatial portrait and the key challenges facing the Borough, an analysis, known as a SWOT analysis, has been used to define the strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) that exist within the Borough. This is set out in Table 1 overleaf, and has been used to inform the objectives of the Core Strategy.