What future for Guildford now the tower blocks are arriving?

What future for Guildford now the tower blocks are arriving?

What future for Guildford now the tower blocks are arriving? 1155 453 admin

2018 is the Chinese Year of the Dog and we’ve started with a dog of a development.

Who Let The Dog Out?

The Solum development appeal by Guildford Borough Council (GBC) was lost and planning permission for the ten storey, 300 metre monster development approved by the Appeal Inspector. The Solum scheme potentially blocks one of the very few transport solutions for the town, our region, and the local economy and raises health & safety concerns.

You will have hopefully seen the letter GVG wrote to The Guildford Dragon in which we analysed how we believe the appeal was lost and what lessons there are to be learnt for the future. If not, please do read it. Go to http://www.guildford-dragon.com/2018/01/29/opinion-planning-disaster-occur/#comment-168422

GVG is all for new housing and development in the town centre. We’ve been advocating it for the past six years. But let’s have it managed via a comprehensive adopted masterplan. We’ve drawn our own up, as you know.

Indeed, the Inspector offered us words of encouragement: ‘There is much to commend the GVG approach, both in exploring legitimate aspirational objectives for the town centre and as a vehicle for engaging local people in the strategic planning process.’

But he could not help us further as our masterplan, in particular the GVG crossing linking York Road to Guildford Park Road/Madrid Road, does not have the backing of GBC (nor, as a result, SCC, Network Rail and our LEP which offers infrastructure grants).

GBC Should Take The Lead
We do believe it’s time for GBC to sit down again with us and engage in meaningful discussions. Our masterplan has moved on since meetings ended.

At the Appeal hearing we had said the Solum development was ‘premature’. We said it should await any decisions that emerge from the upcoming Local Plan examination in April/May. We intend to present our masterplan there to give our town a sustainable chance in the decades ahead.

If our new crossing was included in the emerging Local Plan, ie had the support of GBC, then the Inspector acknowledged that the prematurity argument was an option that might have had some weight. Thus one argument for turning down the appeal was lost unnecessarily.

Who Will Be Sniffing Around Now?
Solum is now a precedent, especially in terms of new building height. Don’t be surprised to see opportunistic tower block planning applications popping up from now on. There’s one application already in for twelve storeys in Walnut Tree Close for 190 new homes – see the featured picture with this blog.

The Plaza site, off the Old Portsmouth Road and now approved, will be nine storeys.

But we have to keep on saying it. GVG is not against new homes in the town centre. Indeed our masterplan provides 2,000 more new homes in the centre, on brownfield sites, than the number GBC have in the draft Local Plan.

We don’t support twelve storeys; we don’t support ten storeys. We do support four or five storeys in the town centre, rising to seven or eight around the Ladymead area, as our plan shows.

It’s All Fresh Air
GBC is launching its new Air Quality Strategy. All good stuff you’d no doubt agree, including encouraging electric car use, for instance, and modal shift. But the Strategy also includes, as a key initiative, ‘developing a framework with partners to monitor roadside air quality in the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area’.

What seems to be missing is any monitoring of roadside air quality in the town centre. The four bird nests in the SPA look to benefit, but the fledgling adults to be found at the bottom of Bridge Street lose out. Whose future is more precious and valuable?

Common sense would suggest any monitoring of air quality should be at the most likely areas of high pollution concentration. Which would you pick? Whitmoor Common or Walnut Tree Close? Brookwood Heath or Bridge Street? Ockham Common or outside Debenhams?

A recent University of Surrey study suggested that Guildford Town Centre was one of the most polluted areas in the county, if not the country.

The emerging Local Plan has nothing on this subject yet it is probably among the most critical health & safety issues facing us in the town. Indeed the Local Plan is quite silent on the centre. GVG has advocated modal shift right from the start, but in a stance balanced with realities.

We’ve Got Our Nose Down
The upcoming Local Plan examination is taking up a lot of our time. We plan to raise the lack of any real, coordinated plan for the town centre. The lack of real infrastructure initiatives is disturbing.

There are some plans just now under consultation where SCC will jiggle with some junctions on the approaches to Guildford, eg at this end of the Blackwater Valley route. There are going to be some pavement-level tables inset in the road at the Bridge St/Onslow Rd junctions. A right turn out of Millbrook car park has just started being constructed.

While collectively quite probably useful, none solve the problem of how do you – for safety’s sake – separate people and cars in the town centre? That is one of the principal objects of the GVG corridor, routeing traffic to the west side of the station and river. It allows wide pedestrianisation of the bottom of the High St, along to North St. and reconnects people with the river on both sides by Town Wharf. It also enables very useful cycle paths in the centre.

Our new north/south corridor – including the famous GVG crossing – would shift vehicles to the edge of the town centre, directing cars away from people:

This leaves the bottom of the High Street and North Street down to the riverside free and healthier for pedestrians and cyclists. Our new routeing should also reduce the high levels of accidents and congestion. The latter costs motorists and employers £44million per annum (2017 Inrix survey).

The new corridor is the great enabler, opening up valuable development land for residential and commercial uses, as well public green space. It can mostly be built without disturbing existing roads, which is a great benefit.

We’re Trying To Lick Social Media
We’ve worked at building quite a following via Twitter and Facebook over the past six months.

We recognise that there’s a big potential audience out there that we must reach out to; those who want to make Guildford work better for them, for example; especially busy people with young families, and young professionals. Do tweet us!

We Wouldn’t Mind A Treat Or Two
The Solum Appeal and the upcoming Local Plan Examination are costly exercises. We employ experts for advice and advocacy. The Local Plan Examination is likely to cost £50,000, if not more. With the generosity of a few over the past six years we’ve coped so far. If you are a supporter and feeling generous, we’d love to hear from you. Please email action@guildfordvisiongroup.com

See us at: www.guildfordvisiongroup.com