Solum wins appeal: A sad day for our town
Guildford, Monday 22 January 2018: Guildford Vision Group (GVG) wants to see an integrated transport hub at the station, with much better facilities for all travellers. The Solum development, now approved following the company’s appeal against GBC planning refusal, makes that goal all the more difficult.
The Solum win sets a retrograde tone, not just for the important station site, but for all future town centre development.
Opportunistic developers will seize on the Solum precedent, with its unremarkable and unappealing architecture, to bring forward more dominating 10 storey and higher developments in the middle of the town.
Solum predictably succeeded at this expensive council defeat because Guildford Borough Council failed to put in place adequate planning policies and controls to properly manage schemes of this scale.
The extremely costly new Local Plan, recently submitted for examination by a planning Inspector, still contains little to suggest that situation will change.
The Plan is virtually silent on the redevelopment of the town centre.
Fear for our town
“This is a sad day for Guildford”, said John Rigg, chairman of GVG. “I fear for our town. We don’t even get a state of the art station out of it. We welcome new homes, but the main result here is a 300 metre, ten storey wall that will block and spoil important cross-town views. It will add to congestion, pollution and accidents on the failing gyratory, arguably one of the worst black spots in Surrey. It will add additional load to the already failing Farnham Road Bridge.
The town centre needs a proper plan. It’s needed one for years. We’ve seen nothing so far that addresses the key issues. We’re left with piecemeal development, which is not the right way forward.
The question remains what do we get for the millions GBC’s planning activities cost?”
GVG launched its own masterplan for the town centre in February last year, winning much support from residents and others.
In the GVG plan the station becomes a proper transport hub and interchange, with much better access and facilities for all travellers.
Station land is developed on both East and West sides in a coordinated way.
This mirrors Network Rail’s Chairman Sir Peter Hendy’s declared aim to see station land used productively and sustainably in the wider interests of a town centre and stakeholders.
Sadly the Network Rail and Solum scheme takes operational land and uses it principally for commercial and residential development, perhaps reflecting Treasury pressure on Network Rail just to find cash.
The key to the GVG approach is the new East/West corridor across the railway and river. It relieves the ailing gyratory and enables a range of exciting options.
Not least it enables better, safer traffic-free corridors for pedestrians and cyclists across town but especially from the retail centre to the station.
The riverside can also be opened up for much more public enjoyment, along with allowing other new green public spaces as well as a modern, open covered market.
GVG also recognises that extra housing in the town centre is vital. In adopting a holistic rather than piecemeal approach in its masterplan, GVG claims its scheme will provide around 2,000 more homes in the centre to relieve the Green Belt than the submitted Local Plan. Crucially, the GVG plan does not involve heights greater than five storeys in places.
That is similar to the town centre plan, especially at the station, outlined in the Allies & Morrison study commissioned and approved by GBC but sadly, and crucially, not formally adopted as planning policy.