Local Plan – We’re on the Brink
Guildford town centre is on the brink. What do we want? Planned, sensible, infrastructure-sensitive and mixed development? Or a piecemeal, disjointed, over-built, infrastructure-insensitive and 41,000 sq m retail-led car crash? We could be heading for the latter – the signs are not good.
New Town Centre Policy Consultation
Does the Local plan now represent sound planning for the next 30 years? This is the last chance to influence the planning future of our town. The latest statutory consultation is now underway. We will be holding a public meeting to discuss the latest local plan modifications and, in particular, the new town centre policy.
GVG Public Meeting re Consultation
Our public meeting will be at the Baptist Centre, Millmead on Tuesday 16 October, starting at 7.30pm. Please do come.
The local plan public consultation closes on Monday, 23 October so you will have time to make your response to the council after our meeting. Here’s the link to submit your views to the council online.
GVG Town Centre Policy Win
Our July Update told the story of the Local Plan public hearings and GVG’s hoped-for ‘win’ when the inspector called for a new policy for the town centre – now called Policy S3. There’s a lot to like about the proposed policy; we could have written much of it ourselves.
Local Plan Still Sound?
But at its heart, the Local Plan still remains unsound in our view. It doesn’t, for instance, provide any commitment to masterplan the centre or to deliver major betterment, including significant infrastructure improvements. It doesn’t provide adequate protection of the Wey Navigation and its Corridor – one of the real and much under-utilised assets of our town.
On new housing, the Plan speaks of a hierarchy of development, starting at the (brownfield) centre and only moving to the green belt when all other options have been exhausted. Yet, on the ground (and in the Plan) we see evidence of a green belt-first approach, with developments at Blackwell Farm, Wisley, Gosden Hill Farm and others. There are only 900 homes proposed for the town centre. We think that number could be 3500 (irrespective of new ONS figures). Our masterplan demonstrates that it’s possible, with most building not going above five storeys.
A Lot Going On
There’s a lot of important strands to track at the moment:
- The latest consultation on the new Local Plan, including a new policy for the town centre
- Revised ONS figures now show lower population growth than envisaged in Local Plan. Will we still build 672 new homes a year?
- GBC reviewing and updating its 2017 Town Centre Regeneration Strategy
- GBC hiring consultants to advise on protecting key views into and out of the town, somewhat late after current policies failed to protect against the Solum Development and others!
- GBC hiring consultants to advise on how new major strategic developments, are masterplanned to connect to and from the town centre. Again, rather late in the day to think about Town Centre transport infrastructure? Why cannot the Town itself be masterplanned?
- Four separate student accommodation planning applications – 1100 units – in a cluster in Walnut Tree Close and now another 300 on the Casino site.
We Still Need a Masterplan
In response to all these events, GVG simply points out the pressing need for an adopted masterplan, something it has been calling for repeatedly since 2012. GVG’s suggested masterplan can be found on our website here.
When challenged, the council always points to its Allies & Morrison masterplan – but never adopted – and its 2017 Town Centre Regeneration Strategy – again never adopted but now to be revised just one year later. Neither of these documents can stop developers submitting non-compliant applications that take advantage of the mistakes and precedent of the Solum application at the station.
GBC Relying On Non-Adopted Documents
As things stand at the moment, all the council’s town centre documents have no planning policy status. The new Policy S3 is thus based on the evidence of non-adopted plans and strategies. The competence of the GBC to manage the planning process must be questioned. The current town centre policies didn’t stop Solum (the 10 storeys, Great Wall of Guildford). And now we have the Casino application coming in at 14 storeys and developers outlining ideas for Walnut Tree Close at 12 storeys. We wait in dread of what the North Street development might try for.
No Brake on Undesirable Development
The Local Plan contains fine words about the town and development generally, including improving the riverside. Yet, in reality, there is no real brake on undesirable development. So do the council really care?
Take Walnut Tree Close for example. Here the Allies & Morrison masterplan, much referred to by the council, envisages a riverside park stretching along to Ladymead. We in GVG support that. Our Plan shows how that whole area, including Woodbridge Meadows, could accommodate considerable housing but set back from the river to leave even more green space for public enjoyment.
Impact of Student Housing in Town
In practice, right now, there are planning applications or outlines for four separate student schemes, all clustered around the eastern end of Yorkie’s Bridge far too close to the towpath – a total of 1100 units, a veritable student quarter (with another 300 on the Casino site). Surely we need robust policies that promote a mix of residential units, including affordable homes for lower income residents? We do need to provide for long term residents in the town centre. The university has space for more student units on its campus.
Where is the guiding hand of the council? Where is the design oversight? Where are the planning policies to promote housing that supports residents, key and low income workers, as well as sensible provision for student?
Your Voice Matters
There’s a lot going on, and it is a vital time to voice your opinions on the future of Guildford via the public consultation. The May 2019 local elections are not far away. We need to get the future of the town centre well up the agenda of political debate, including pressing for effective use of brownfield sites before we touch the green belt.
Love Guildford and Be a Winner
Please make the time to come to our public meeting on Tuesday 16 October at 7.30pm. We need your support and value your opinions. We will also be announcing the winners of our ‘I Love Guildford because..’ competition at The Baptist Centre meeting. See our Web, Facebook and Twitter sites for information.