WeyBetterWeybridge – An Update
An update from Dave Arnold Chairman Weybridge Society
It is now nearly two years since I last updated members on the status of the WeyBetterWeybridge project in the December ’21 issue of the Society’s magazine. Then it had been announced “……. that Weybridge’s medical centre will be re-provisioned on the existing hospital site, with visible work promised in 2022. A second phase will see the demolition of the library building and the creation of a community hub, together with a public space, which could be used for farmer’s markets and other community events”.
This public statement followed the abandonment in the Spring of ’21 of a consultancy project led by Well North Enterprises, renowned experts on community hubs, which proposed a campus approach comprising a medical centre on the hospital site and a community hub on the site of the Library/Churchfields car park.
Now nearly 2 years on, there is no visible construction work on the Medical Centre but there is a funded proposal by Surrey County Council (SCC) to refurbish the library building and add a small extension with apparently Elmbridge Borough Council (EBC) considering whether to re-locate the current day centre facilities into the refurbished library. However, there are now no plans to provide a public space, improve the connection between Church Street and the recreation ground, improve the views of St James Church, or enhance the conservation area by developing a more sympathetic building on the library site.
The apparent lack of progress on the medical facility is disappointing to residents and no doubt highly frustrating for our local GP’s and their colleagues who since the 2017 fire are still operating in temporary portacabins. Work has started on the medical facility design, but progress has been hampered by delays in obtaining the necessary capital funding from NHS Property Services. Hopefully, there will be positive news this autumn.
It is welcome news that SCC, perhaps with EBC, is working on the provision of a community hub, a facility, which the Society has campaigned for since 2018. There is no standard specification for a community hub, either in the facilities that it offers or the building and open spaces in which it operates, so getting it right will require extensive consultation. Well-designed community hubs, as well as delivering services such as a library, play a crucial role in nurturing social connections, fostering community well-being, and promoting active citizen engagement. They act as vibrant social spaces where people of all ages come together, share resources, exchange knowledge, hire meeting and function rooms and collaborate for the betterment of themselves and their community, all increasing a sense of community and well-being. Successful community hubs have an inviting and welcoming entrance, are open plan, have a coffee shop and ideally an associated outside area. Critically, they have a buzz!
In June this year, the Weybridge Society presented an alternative approach which offered more of the features described above. We suggested to SCC and EBC that this be explored, and a comparison made with that of just refurbishing and extending the existing library building. This alternative approach was like that scoped by Well North Enterprises in 2021 comprising a modern flexible purpose-built community hub with a piazza, opening the views of St James Church, improved linkage between Church Street and Churchfields Recreation Ground and an increase in car parking spaces. The Society felt that this option was worthy of detailed consideration as it offered a different approach and afforded the last opportunity to make a significant and desirable difference to the town centre for many generations to come.
Subsequently in two meetings the Society held with SCC and EBC concern was expressed that the allocated funding could be lost due to the significant time it would take to work up an alternative business case which would involve EBC agreeing to development on the Churchfields car park etc. In such circumstances, SCC did not want to delay its current programme and therefore would not take forward detailed consideration of the option presented by the Weybridge Society. The Society is disappointed with this decision but notes the SCC concern. It has now agreed to work with SCC and EBC with the objective of trying to ensure the refurbished library building is configured and designed to achieve the best possible solution in delivering the all-important community hub.
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