Even before lockdown’s legacy, our town and its centre faces challenges. Among these are large developments that will shape the future of our town, either for good or bad. But do we know what they might look like? What mass, height and cladding choices are there, for example? How might residents better see what is going on?
Following its recent call for bold action on town centre transport, Guildford Vision Group (GVG) believes the imminent redevelopment of North Street should trigger a comprehensive review of Guildford’s bus services.
At the start of a new decade, and at a time when the climate crisis is centre stage, the Guildford Vision Group (GVG) believes the council should be looking at much bolder initiatives to deal with traffic in the town centre.
Planning starts for North Street – St Edward a joint venture of Berkley Homes and the site owners M&G have started a process, via a request for a ‘Scoping Opinion’, to obtain planning permission for North Street. Bill Stokoe has commented on this application
North Street – What is going on in Guildford Planning?
Today we learnt that Berkeley Homes has jump started the North Street planning process by requesting a ‘scoping opinion’ from the council relating to the future Environmental Impact Assessment that will be required when a full application is made.
To learn that North St is underway is great news. The site has lain fallow for far too long. GVG has discussed the site with Berkeley Homes on a regular basis over the past few years and is generally supportive of the latter’s consultation process.
But the scandal is that Guildford Borough Council Planning Department is yet to produce a design brief for the site. No proposals have yet been published so far.
Thus it is the developer who is making the running, asking for an opinion in relation to up to 850 homes. That almost certainly means well over 10 storeys, the unfortunate precedent set by the approved Solum development at the railway station. This is way beyond the expectations for the North Street site set out in the new, unloved Local Plan.
To compound the scandal, we have yet to hear of any real progress with a brief for a town centre masterplanner. The full council passed the motion in July for a town centre masterplan to be produced and a masterplanner to be engaged.
What is going on? Why the delay? Is the council, both key councillors and officers, hoping the masterplan initiative will somehow fade away?
It does point the finger at the Planning Department and those charged with the regeneration of our town. Are the officers getting the right direction from councillors? Are councillors adequately monitoring how officers prioritise their work when it comes to the vital needs of the town centre? Is the Planning Department adequately staffed?
Yesterday another application was lodged for the Casino site. This is a key site in the centre of town. Yet where is the guiding brief for this development as well?Both these developments should be assessed against an overarching town centre masterplan, supported by effective planning policies hanging off the Local Plan. In the latter respect the council is clearly playing catch-up; witness the recent rushed Views SPD. Unless the council gets its act together sadly we are going to remain on the back foot when it comes to making our town centre fit for purpose. This is especially so in respect of crucial infrastructure such as the road layout, buses and, not least, sewers. Together, Solum and North Street are looking at over 1200 homes. And this is before the impact of the 14,000 new homes in prospect around the fringes of our town.
Surely the time has come for determined leadership for the town centre?
It appears from Surrey Live press reports that the development of Guildford Station East side begins on the 28th October.
GVG is disappointed that this major development is going ahead, despite many objections. We believe the Station should be redeveloped; but in a properly planned manner. Apart from 400 plus flats, the Solum Development provides little of value to the town and its supporting infrastructure (Roads, Public Facilities etc).
The opportunity presented by the railway station site to create a new Transport Interchange and Vibrant Quarter for the town is being lost to short term commercial considerations.
Undaunted, GVG is re-appraising it’s proposals for the Town Centre to encompass Solum and other potential changes in the Town Centre. GVG and will be proposing updated ideas in the new year which we hope will provide a input to the Town Centre Plan that we urge the council to develop with vigour and in good time. We need to protect the Town Centre from another planning disaster.
Bill Stokoe Chairman of GVG has contributed an opinion piece to The Guildford Dragon reflecting on the lessons offered by the Heritage Weekend. See Bills thoughts here (Opens in a new link) GVG believes that a town centre masterplan should not just be improving access to the retail offering, but should enhance Guildford’s many and varied exciting venues, displaying our town as a much more attraction-rich destination, a better day out, than that offered by neighbouring towns.
Turn the negatives of gap town, river barrier and hilly setting into positives. Promote a day out along the riverside. Celebrate the wider pedestrianisation as improving access to our heritage and not just the retail centres and nightlife, important as they may be.
Last night, at a full meeting of Guildford Borough Council, a motion was passed to start work on a masterplan, with Development Plan status, for the town centre.
The motion was bipartisan, proposed by R4GV councillor John Rigg, founder and former chairman of Guildford Vision Group (GVG), and seconded by Tom Hunt, Liberal Democrat councillor for town centre Friary & St Nicolas ward. In a cross-party decision, the motion also carried the support of former Conservative party council leader, Cllr Paul Spooner.
“This is a momentous event,” says Bill Stokoe, chair of GVG. “For the past eight years, GVG, under the tenacious leadership of John, has lobbied strongly for a masterplan for the town centre. The support for the motion was overwhelming. Allied to other successful motions passed last night on climate change and single- use plastics, there is now a real chance that the town centre, as well as other areas of the borough, can look forward to a much more sustainable future.”
GVG will be seeking to be involved in the drafting of the brief for the masterplanning consultancy involvement also approved by the motion.
Speaking at the council meeting in support of the motion, Bill Stokoe reiterated GVG’s objectives for the plan. The plan should be people-centric and deliver:
• Much wider pedestrianisation
• Exciting new public space, including a market square and a reinvigorated riverside
• Redirection of traffic away from the centre, reducing pollution and improving safety
• An integrated transport hub around the rail station
• More town centre housing, including affordable and social
• A new crossing, for a better East-West link
The commitment to tackling climate change and plastic usage, passed in two other motions at last night’s meeting, adds urgency and emphasis to the masterplan process. A regenerative, comprehensive masterplan can bring direction and consistency to all new development and associated infrastructure, particularly around sustainability issues. GVG remains committed to new infrastructure that unlocks key areas of the centre. It must make the environment even more attractive to residents, businesses and visitors, while respecting the heritage and green setting of the town.
Network Rail has replied to our concerned expressed in a letter to Chris Grayling Secretary of State. The letter is not very satisfactory as it fails to address
- The short timescale for planning up to 2043 for rail services, compared with a design life of 100 years for the Solum scheme
- Why the station is being compromised for the sake of 2 metres of land is not explained.
We can only conclude Network Rail are development led rather than rail services led.
We will be raising this issue with the council as they do need to robustly question Network Rail and Solum on this matter.
Guildford Society also have an item on this correspondence including a link to the Network Rail Reply.
John Rigg the GVG chairman, participated as a Residents for Guildford & Villages candidate at the Local Elections, in a debate hosted by The Guildford Dragon on developments in North Street. Councillors Geoff (Davis), Caroline Reeves (Lib Dem) and John debated future aspirations for the site. Councillor Geoff Davis is the Lead Councillor for the North Street Site and gave a update on developments. The full debate can be found by Clicking Here – the video opens in a new tab.
In a report commissioned by Guildford Vision Group (GVG), experts at local transport consultancy Motion have concluded that the town centre traffic layout proposed by GVG would have significant benefits.
Thanks to the new East/West traffic corridor over the river and railway put forward by GVG, the aggregate number of junctions encountered by vehicle movements routeing across the town centre falls by 40% to 93 from the 156 encountered involving the current gyratory.
The report also concludes that the new corridor and associated routeing ‘can deliver major environmental, safety and transport benefits as well as adding considerable resilience to the system’.
As the latest public consultation on the Local Plan comes to an end, Motion also points out that the creation of a Sustainable Movement Corridor (SMC) is a key part of the spatial vision for the borough, as set out in the submission Local Plan, and that the GVG masterplan assists in its delivery.
The GVG plan significantly aids the delivery of key SMC elements by substantially improving the town centre for pedestrians, cyclists and buses, whilst making car journeys easier and separating modes to greatly facilitate modal shift.
“We’re delighted to receive this confirmation of the validity of our proposals for town centre traffic, especially in relation to our proposed crossing,‘ says John Rigg, chairman of GVG. ‘The crossing is the great enabler. It frees up riverside and other space for pedestrianisation. Bridge Street becomes a car-free route and remains the natural desire line for pedestrians to and from the station into town. Cyclists get dedicated paths. It enables creation of great public realm, making Guildford an even more attractive place to visit, to relax in, and to live and work in. Our plan is a win-win all round.”
GVG has included the Motion report as part of its submission under the latest Local Plan consultation which ended at noon on Tuesday 23 October.
The Local Plan Is Not Yet Sound
Notwithstanding the evident displeasure of the council leadership, we have declared that we believe the Local Plan unsound in its present form. The public consultation has just concluded, and the local plan still has no proper plan for the town centre. It still builds mostly on greenbelt and still does not address brownfield adequately. It continues to lack infrastructure solutions for the town, one of our worst problems after shortage of homes.
Our stance on the Local Plan became clear at our recent public meeting attended by around 150 people. It was held on Tuesday 16 October to help our supporters and others respond to the consultation which closed at noon on Tuesday 23 October. We handed out a guidance note at the end of the meeting as to what to, and how to, submit by way of responses to the consultation. Following a show of hands we also undertook to offer additional guidance to those who wanted to add their voice to GVG’s in declaring the Plan ‘unsound’. The support for such action was overwhelming, with only two objections.
Town Centre First for Housing
A central thrust of our argument is that the council has not been diligent enough in exploring more housing in the town centre. This is at the expense of the green belt. It also fails planning requirements to put brownfield development first and green belt development last. At the moment GVG has identified scope for 3,500 homes in the town centre; the council plans 900 homes in the centre versus 6,000 on greenfield sites.
Housing Needn’t be High
We believe that, with the essential masterplanning required, around 3500 new homes could be included in the town centre and its immediate environs, eg along Woodbridge Meadows. This saves one or more identified green belt housing sites. For those worried about the impact on the town, we believe building heights need not exceed four storeys in the main. Interestingly, for certain locations, the meeting exit poll found 80% of the respondees would accept a seven storey height limit. We say that must only be with new town squares, open riverside, proper amenity space and, of course, new infrastructure solutions.
Green Belt Housing A3 Dependent
And the ‘unsoundness’ argument is further supported by the fact that the identified Green Belt housing sites are all very much dependent on major A3 road improvements and associated road interventions. None of these vital works is as yet scheduled and there is no clear indication from Highways and the County Council as to when such works might be scheduled. This uncertainty, stretching into the late 2020s and beyond, with no immediate likelihood of a cure, means that the prospects for the 6,000 Green Belt houses are bleak.
Not So Much New Housing Needed
While many would welcome less housing, central government would decidedly not. The country needs more new housing, though the number for Guildford should be reviewed in the light of revised ONS figures. They show a marked demographic reduction in the need for new homes. However the council’s growth arguments in its plan may now be the justification for retaining the higher housing number.
An Unsound Plan is Costly
There’s a financial cost to a council of getting a plan wrong, including the years taken over the process. The more a ‘sound’ plan is delayed because of its shortcomings and thus the delivery of much needed new housing, the greater delay to the council’s receipt of the new homes bonus (a building incentive plan). In addition, it delays receipts from the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), a more elaborate and remunerative successor to section 106 payments from developers that are supposed to pay for additional improvements in the community.
It’s the Inspector’s Turn
Attention will now switch back to the next moves of the planning inspector, Jonathan Bore, who has been examining the council’s Local Plan and whose role it is to declare the Plan sound or otherwise. At the conclusion of the public hearings back in the summer, he declared that he was minded to find the Plan ‘sound’. But this was subject the council introducing changes to the Plan, known as ‘main modifications’ (MMs), with policies to address the town centre.
Focus on the Town Centre
As we have repeatedly pleaded over the past six years, we pointed out the complete lack of attention in the plan to the future of the town centre, as well as the hierarchy argument for housing on brownfield, rather than raiding the green belt. The inspector recognised the force of our arguments. He added some personal observations about the ‘appalling’ quality of previous (1950/60s) development immediately beyond the High Street and historic core of the town. So he called on the council to produce a new policy (S3) for the town centre. This was a notable ‘win’ for GVG at the hearings.
New Town Centre Infrastructure Needed
This new S3 policy has been part of the modifications (MMs) put forward for the consultation just ended. We believe the council draft S3, while an improvement on the blank space before, is still inadequate for a town of the size and regional importance of Guildford. There is no commitment to essential infrastructure improvements, for example. Everyone recognises that the town centre suffers from record congestion, pollution and accidents. Flooding needs better planning to offset its impact. There is no resilience. Look at the mayhem recent roadworks have caused. The ageing and failing Farnham Road Bridge will shortly be repaired and strengthened which, if closed or restricted, will only further test resilience. It will continue to remain a major bottleneck for decades ahead. Something must be done.
Safeguard a Crossing Route
Which brings matters round to our key infrastructure demand – a new crossing of the railway and river just north of the station. Since our inception we have called for a new crossing. One solution is incorporated in our masterplan for the town centre, launched to much acclaim and support last February. At the meeting on the 16th there was again overwhelming support for the crossing, with 93% agreeing a route for it should be safeguarded in the Local Plan, with no other solution available. Yet there is no such commitment in the MMs and Policy S3.
A Better Town Centre Helps Everyone
The next few weeks will see the Local Plan drama play out. We are hoping other resident and action groups will join us in declaring the Plan ‘unsound’. We have been challenged in the past about focusing exclusively on the town centre. While not apologising for that, we hope our submissions around housing, where we call for more in a properly masterplanned town centre, can be seen as complementary to equally focused campaigns on Green Belt development.
Green Belt development just creates more car movements and congestion. Over 20,000 more people living outside the town will in no way help our roads or the centre. By contrast, 10,000 more people living in the town centre, able to access public transport and sustainable movement options, should make an impressive reduction in the demand for Green Belt development as well as sustaining the town centre economy.
We will Press On
We will continue to press our case in the coming weeks. Given the importance of having a sound Local Plan, we are also hoping the council will set aside its reluctance of some years now to engage with us so a meaningful and progressive dialogue can be established. Sadly only three councillors were present to hear our reasoning and to see the overwhelming support of the community, with important questions posed during Q&A.
As the support for GVG at our meeting demonstrated and evidenced in the exit poll, our arguments around masterplanning the town centre are logical, aspirational and what residents and businesses want to see happen.
We Love Guildford because..
Two worthy winners of ‘I Love Guildford because…’ competition were announced at the public meeting. Both received £100 vouchers to spend at the Cosy Club in the new Tunsgate. Heather Mantle used a photo of building detail of the Trinity Centre to remind us to stop and really study our fine heritage, ‘to look again when we think we’ve ‘seen’ but have only really glanced.’ Ian Blyth, in a written submission, said ’Guildford has the wonderful amenities associated with a town but retains an almost village-like feel ‘. His ‘people’ focus struck a chord with the judges. Our best wishes to them and thanks to all who took part.
Guildford, Wednesday 31 October 2018: The Guildford Society (GSoc) and Guildford Vision Group (GVG) want the reopened public hearing into the Local Plan to consider the council’s proposed new town centre policy wording, not just the housing numbers. Both resident groups fully support the reopening of the Local Plan hearing to consider new housing numbers in the light of revised, lower ONS projections. Examining inspector Jonathan Bore has asked the council to propose dates for another hearing session.
GSoc AND GVG are both keen, however, to see any new hearing encompass a discussion on Policy S3, following their submissions under the public consultation just closed. This Local Plan is about land use allocation – where development should take place. The policy, covering the town centre, is therefore inextricably linked to both the housing number and housing location issues.
Both groups are unhappy with the wording and scope of Policy S3. They suggest S3 and related policies are currently inadequate and need meaningful commitments to provide an effective framework for development. Both groups have lobbied for the town centre to accommodate much more housing, thus freeing up one or more Green Belt sites currently in the frame for housing development. Town centre homes represent more sustainable development than congestion-creating homes in the Green Belt dependent on major A3 improvements as yet to be scheduled, and acknowledged by GBC to be outside its control. Town centre homes would be good for the town’s economy but would again focus attention on the centre’s inadequate infrastructure.
GVG and GSoc say regeneration of the town centre must be masterplanned in a holistic way to address failings in the infrastructure (transport, flood prevention, public realm/facilities etc). A high quality, functioning town centre with a proper balance of housing, commercial and retail space, is not achievable otherwise. Policy S3 should designate the whole of the town centre as a strategic site – or at least the regeneration area identified in the Town Centre Regeneration Strategy – delivering homes, retail and commercial space. Such development could then come with the same obligations the council wishes to impose on private developers of the strategic green belt sites.
Policy S3, as currently written, allows for a piecemeal ad-hoc approach which will never deliver the infrastructure upgrade the town needs. The emerging impact of ad-hoc planning can already be seen, with opportunistic developments of nine storeys or more – up to fourteen – either approved or under application.
Both groups have also complained at the poor response from the council regarding consultation with key stakeholders on the important issue of the town centre. As an example, GVG and GSOC submitted a Draft Statement of Common Ground to the council as part of the hearing process. It was never acknowledged by the council.
GVG has responded to the most recent consultation regarding Guildford Borough Council’s modifications to its Local Plan, which will determine how Guildford’s town centre is developed until 2034.
These modifications were made following the Local Plan hearings this summer, when the inspector examining the initial plan said it was fit for purpose but subject to some changes. Following this consultation, the inspector will decide whether the modified Local Plan can be formally adopted.
GVG’s response to Main Modifications to the Submission Local Plan: Strategy and Sites
ADDITIONAL RESPONSE TO THE CONSULTATION – DECLARE THE PLAN UNSOUND
This advice follows the conclusion reached at the Public Meeting on Tuesday.
WHEN: Immediately, and certainly before the deadline of 12 noon on Wednesday 23 October 2018.
HOW: The easiest method is by email to: email@example.com
Ensure you include your name and address as the Council will not accept anonymous responses. You can respond online if you choose – see *note at the bottom of this page.
WHAT TO SAY:
The Local Plan is unsound because:
- The council has not properly observed its hierarchy of development. Brownfield opportunities, especially in the town centre, have not been fully exploited
- There is too much reliance on A3 improvements and they are beyond the council’s control
- The town centre policy, S3, is thus inadequate and also does not address the infrastructure deficit
- Housing numbers should reflect the latest ONS figures and projections. The public hearings should be re-opened on this subject to allow re-examination
- The grounds for green belt development are inadequate because of 1 and 3 and do not represent ‘exceptional circumstances’
Don’t worry if you have made comments already. There is no restriction on the number of responses you return so long as you include your name and address and meet the deadline.
CONTACT YOUR LOCAL COUNCILLORS
You will find the names and contact details of the councillors for your ward on the GBC website here: http://bit.ly/GBCCouncillors
Ask them how they will ensure we don’t end up with an unsound Local Plan. What they are going to do to ensure Guildford has a proper, adopted Masterplan which integrates GVG’s proposals.
CONTACT THE CANDIDATES FOR THE 2019 MAY LOCAL ELECTIONS TO GBC
Ask them how they will implement what the town needs for a sound Local Plan through GVG’s proposals.
*SEE THE LOCAL PLAN MODIFICATIONS: To download the modified Local Plan, and to respond online if you choose, go to: http://bit.ly/GBCRespond
You don’t have to respond to every modification. GVG is very keen that you respond to Policy S3 which is about the Town Centre. Go to MM3 to make your comments about the Plan being unsound.
For more information visit our website: www.guildfordvisiongroup.com See the ‘flythrough’ of our proposals at: http://bit.ly/GVG_Flythrough or email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org with any queries or suggestions. Tuesday’s public meeting can be viewed here
1. RESPOND TO THE MODIFIED LOCAL PLAN
WHEN: Immediately, and certainly before the deadline of 12 noon on Wednesday 23 October 2018.
HOW: The easiest method is by email to: email@example.com
Ensure you include your name and address as the Council will not accept anonymous responses. You can respond online if you choose – see *note at the bottom of this page.
WHAT TO SAY: The key points to make about the Main Modifications (eg MM3) are:
- MM3 – POLICY S3. Guildford Borough Council must deliver real and coordinated results. The Town Centre must be designated a strategic site or sites
- MM3 – POLICY S3. Guildford must have an effective local plan. Development rules must ensure quality of development across the Town Centre
- MM3 – POLICY S3. Guildford Borough Council should adopt Guildford Vision Group’s proposals, including the new crossing or equivalent effective alternative, to deliver a safer, pedestrianised town centre with transport resilience and opened riverside
- MM23 – POLICY D1. Guildford Borough Council, as a major landowner in the centre, must accept the same obligations as imposed on the other strategic site owners by the council as planning authority
You may have other points to make about your own neighbourhood, for example, using response notes from your local action group or residents’ association. You can make these separately as there is no restriction on the number of responses you return so long as you include your name and address and meet the deadline.
2. CONTACT YOUR LOCAL COUNCILLORS
You will find the names and contact details of the councillors for your ward on the GBC website here: http://bit.ly/GBCCouncillors
Ask them why we are in the current situation, how will they ensure we don’t go over the brink into piecemeal development and what they are going to do to ensure Guildford has a proper, adopted Masterplan which integrates GVG’s proposals.
3. CONTACT THE CANDIDATES FOR THE 2019 MAY LOCAL ELECTIONS TO GBC
Ask them what they will do for Guildford and your area, and what how they will implement what the town needs through GVG’s proposals.
*SEEING THE LOCAL PLAN’S MODIFICATIONS: To download the modified Local Plan, and to respond online if you choose, go to: http://bit.ly/GBCRespond
You don’t have to respond to every modification. GVG is very keen that you respond to Policy S3 which is about the Town Centre. Go to MM3 & MM23 to make your comments
For more information visit our website: www.guildfordvisiongroup.com See the ‘flythrough’ of our proposals at: http://bit.ly/GVG_Flythrough or email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org with any queries or suggestions.
Guildford Vision Group has launched its ‘I love Guildford because…’ campaign, a survey and competition to find out exactly what Guildford’s residents, workers and visitors think of the town centre. We need you to share your views on what you love best about the town; we’ll announce the results at our next public meeting on Tuesday 16th October.
Answers are welcome in a variety of ways, whether you wish to provide a written list of all your favourite things, you just have a preferred shop on the high street and you want to let us know, or you want to share your pictures and videos. Simply start your response with ‘I love Guildford because…’ and get in touch.
You can take part by leaving your comments here on our website, or by emailing us directly. You can also find us on Facebook (@guildfordvisiongroup), Twitter (@guildfordvision) and Instagram (@iloveguildford) if you’d like to share your videos and photos. Please submit your responses by Monday 1st October.
In addition, we’ll be handing out prizes; a £100 gift voucher for Cosy Club will be awarded to two winners, one recognising the most unusual reason to love Guildford town centre, and the other rewarding GVG’s favourite photograph of the town centre.
John Rigg, chairman of GVG, said: “We know that Guildford is a brilliant place for all sorts of reasons, however we want to know exactly what people love best about living and working here. Your views will allow GVG to create the first, definitive list of Guildford’s best bits, according to the people who are here every day.”
Competition Terms & Conditions
- The promoter is: Guildford Vision Group
- The prizes are: A £100 gift voucher for Cosy Club awarded to two winners
- The competition is open to the public of the United Kingdom aged 18 years or over
- There is no entry fee and no purchase necessary to enter this competition
- By entering this competition, an entrant is indicating his/her agreement to be bound by these terms and conditions
- Only one entry will be accepted per person. Multiple entries from the same person will be disqualified
- Closing date for entry will be 1st October 2018. After this date no further entries to the competition will be permitted
- The rules of the competition and how to enter are as follows: provide written content, pictures or videos illustrating your favourite elements of Guildford town centre, starting the response with ‘I love Guildford because….’ Submissions will be accepted via email, comments on the website Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
- Any changes to the competition will be notified to entrants as soon as possible by the promoter
- The promoter is not responsible for inaccurate prize details supplied to any entrant by any third party connected with this competition
- The prize is as stated and no cash or other alternatives will be offered. The prizes are not transferable
- Winners will be selected at random by assessing all entries.
- The winners will be announced on 16th October at GVG’s next public meeting and also personally notified by direct message on social media platforms, email or on the website dependent upon method of entry. If the winner cannot be contacted or does not claim the prize within 14 days of notification, we reserve the right to withdraw the prize from the winner and pick a replacement winner. The promoter will notify the winner when and where the prize will be available to pick up
- GVG accepts no responsibility for the warranty of the prize
- This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook, Twitter or any other social network
Lobbying Result – A New Town Centre Policy!
The Council must produce a new Policy for the Town Centre in the new Local Plan. This is the important demand from the Inspector examining the new Local Plan. He made his decision after hearing from GVG at the formal Local Plan hearings held over the past month.
It’s a Real Result!
For GVG that’s a real result. It’s a result for all our lobbying and the input from the professionals advising us. It’s a vindication of all our lines of argument over the past six years. The Inspector clearly believes the Town Centre deserves better and more specific treatment. It’s a challenge the Council now has to pick up.
Our Comments are Official!
The Inspector called on us to comment on the first draft of the new Policy, produced overnight by the Council, at the hearing. This we have done and he has declared our initial comments an ‘Examination Document’, ie part of the official record.
The new Local Plan, costing ratepayers millions, is meant to map out the town’s future until 2034. It defines what is wrong with the town, how to address the issues and where to build new homes.
Housing – We Say Brownfield First
During the hearings we highlighted where we thought there were serious omissions and errors of commission in the Council’s Local Plan.
We made the case for more housing in the Town Centre, stating that the Council should concentrate more on brownfield sites, thus relieving pressure on the Green Belt. Other groups supported this line of argument, most notably The Guildford Society.
Our Masterplan Shows The Way
As a follower of GVG, you will be aware of how we would like the centre to look and why there’s a pressing need for change. Our masterplan is on our website at www.guildfordvisiongroup.com.
We have pursued a constant line about the need for a Town Centre masterplan in the years leading up to the hearings, making comprehensive submissions to all the formal consultations launched by the Council.
The Centre Will Be Busier
Residents, businesses and commuters need a secure future here. Over the plan period an extra 30,000 residents will arrive. Increased pressure will also arise from adjoining boroughs that are expanding as well, where their residents pass through or use Guildford town centre.
GVG Calls Must Be Heeded
As well as calling for much needed housing in the centre, we have repeatedly called for new infrastructure. But repeatedly our calls on the latter and the other important town centre issues have been rejected by the Council leadership.
The Inspector Agreed With Us
But they weren’t rejected by the Inspector. Indeed he used powerful and graphic language to describe issues in the town centre, including what he saw as the appalling experience for pedestrians in the town centre, and the lack of any cohesion and design standards across the areas of the town centre away from the High Street and historic core.
We all know the eyesores and disconnected parts of the town centre he’s referring to. He asked some pithy questions on the North St development site and the long delays in any progress.
New Policy Just For Town Centre
So there needs to be a plan for the centre, and the policy underpinning it (now labelled S3) must be in the new Local Plan. You can’t deliver quality with an ad hoc approach to town planning. Policy S3 should concentrate solely on the town centre. The Council’s initial S3 draft included policy on the other urban areas of the Borough. We say the latter should be incorporated in a new policy, Policy S4. Take a look at our proposals for S3 & S4, and additional info.
Another Autumn Consultation Looms
At the end of the hearings, in an informal summing up, the Inspector has declared that he sees the Council’s Plan as substantially sound, which must be a great relief to the officers and lead councillors. However, the Inspector’s view is subject to a number of ‘Main Modifications’ he has asked to be made to the Plan by the Council, not least the new Policy S3.
The Council has said it will respond to his call for these modifications by 23 July. They will then go out for public consultation, probably in September. At the end of that exercise the Inspector will give his formal advice to the Council as to whether the Local Plan is sound for formal adoption.
Town Centre Must Be Fit For Purpose
So the autumn consultation will be an important step for all of us who love Guildford and want its town centre to be great and to have a real future. We will want to see that Policy S3 incorporates all that is necessary to allow our Town Centre to develop in a sustainable manner and to make it fit for the21st Century. Our businesses and young people deserve no less.
GVG Plans Public Meeting In September
As the consultation starts, we plan to hold a public meeting. We would hope to be able to explain the impact and importance of Policy S3 in particular, and to gauge your support for it. Of course there are many other issues bound up with the Local Plan, not least incursion into the Green Belt for new housing and the associated infrastructure burden and demands.
Guildford’s Got To Be Go To Town
We want our Town Centre to be the ‘go to’ place in the region. It should be the place where pedestrian space is safe, pollution free and inviting, drawing people to the riverside, public squares, green boulevards and accessible leisure and pleasure facilities. Town centre housing will intermingle with retail attractions in a mix far removed from the shopping malls of yesteryear.
Cyclists will enjoy joined up routes and buses will deliver comprehensive coverage and linkages across the town and beyond. Cars will be directed away from the core of the town and greater use of Park & Ride will be encouraged by supportive pricing policies.
New Infrastructure Needed
New infrastructure for all modes of transport is essential. The plan must also deliver a comprehensive and co-ordinated transport interchange centred on the railway station, where extra platforms allow new and better connections to eg Heathrow and Crossrail.
The current version of the Local Plan does next to nothing to address the obvious traffic failings of the town. Business and residents must be able to travel and operate without too much hindrance. For an effective 21st Century plan we must masterplan the whole town centre. Our proposals include a new East/West crossing that helps route traffic around the centre.
We Need Your Support – Please Help
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Our council leadership has taken two great gambles with the Local Plan.
The Local Plan – Two Great Council Gambles
The failure of its strategy may well lead to even more housing coming our way, and in ways and places we haven’t bargained for.
Gamble 1 – New Housing & Infrastructure
The Council has sought to contain the new housing number by making any development dependent on provision of adequate infrastructure. There is no certainty this will work as a strategy. Specifically in so doing, it has not met, among other things, the Government’s requirement for a five year housing supply to be identified and achievable from the start of the Plan period.
Gamble 2 – Green Belt vs Brownfield
And in not looking hard enough at brownfield sites, especially in the town centre, something GVG has been urging it to do, the Council has taken the easier route and looked to Green Belt sites to provide land for new housing. This too is a gamble, as planning legislation, regulations and guidance combine to make it quite clear that there must be exceptional circumstances to reverse any Green Belt designation.
The Inspector Calls
The Inspector appointed to examine the Local Plan is already on the Green Belt case. He asks:
‘Please can the Council provide me with a single paper setting out (a) a clear explanation of what it considers to be the strategic level exceptional circumstances justifying the release of the amount of Green Belt land indicated in the plan and its broad spatial distribution; (b) an explanation of what it considers to be the local level exceptional circumstances relating to each specific site from the Green Belt; and (c) an explanation of why it considers that there are exceptional circumstances that require the addition to the Green Belt between Ash Green Village and Ash and Tongham.’
The Inspector is also questioning the Council’s proposal for widespread ‘insetting’ of Green Belt villages and settlements, where hitherto the Green belt has ‘washed over’ them. The consequence of ‘insetting’ is to modify local planning guidance to make new house building more achievable in these formerly well-protected and often historic areas much loved by their electorates.
Insufficient New Housing
The main shortcoming of the Council’s Plan is that it has also almost certainly provided insufficient new housing numbers across the entire Plan period to 2034, partly by choice but, as we may well discover at the Public Examination starting in June, by an inaccurate interpretation of the calculation formula, despite many warnings from resident groups and others.
In his first comments and demands, the Planning Inspector appointed to examine the Council’s Plan has made it clear that he is questioning the whole basis of the Council’s approach when it comes to the provision of new housing. He says:
‘I am very concerned about the proposed stepped housing trajectory which indicates that the plan will deliver much lower numbers of homes in its early years than are actually needed. This appears to be an unacceptable aspect of the plan and the Council needs to consider the steps that should be taken to improve housing delivery in the earlier years of the plan.’
If the Plan is about anything, it is about the provision of new housing. If the Council’s great gambles fail, the consequences for all of us will likely be very disturbing.
Where’s The Evidence?
What the Inspector seems to be suggesting is that, where the Council claims an infrastructure shortfall, its evidence base for such a claim is unsound. If the Inspector is right, then the Council’s rationale for the under provision of new housing at the start of the Plan period is completely undermined. He also suggests that the infrastructure needs are inadequately set out as well.
Study Your Profile
The evidence, or rather lack of it, is to be found in the ’Settlement Profiles Report’. The Guildford Society pointed out the deficiencies of the Profiles Report very early on in the Plan process but its advice went unheeded. The Settlement Profile should help positive planning at settlement level by looking at the micro economy of defined areas across the Borough. It measures their issues, threats, opportunities, concerns, micro-economies, relative deprivation, infrastructure, connectivity and characteristics. The level of study is supported by statistics recognised and used by central government.
Most settlement profiles had at least some input from their Parish Councils. Guildford Urban Area has none and the report, written by the Council itself, is a very poor reflection of this key area.
Urban Guildford Loses Out
One glaring aspect of the Profiles Report is that Guildford town is seen as just one settlement, among 30 others across the borough. Each, of whatever size, merits a three page analysis. With a population of 74,000 the Guildford Urban Area dwarfs the other ‘settlements’ in the borough, such as Ash Green (pop: 593), Chilworth (pop: 1852) and Send (pop: 2314). Thus in the town, the three-page Profile provides poor guidance and does not distinguish between, for example, the micro-economies of Burpham and Stoughton. It does not distinguish between infrastructure needs of, say, Merrow and Park Barn. Thus the three-page Report on the urban area of Guildford leaves it with a very superficial conclusion:
Guildford is designated as an urban area and contains a high level of services. As such it could support a level of development which exceeds that of any of the borough’s other settlements. If suitable sites are found, there is the option to extend the urban area to enable more development however this may lead to development away from key services. The sustainability of any extension should be assessed in more detail through other evidence base studies. This will include further work to assess the level of infrastructure needed to support the level of growth.’
This is the quality of the evidence base against which planning policies are formed to judge future developments of a size such as Solum’s at the station.
Our Masterplan May Yet Have Its Day
GVG has long called for a masterplan for the town centre. GVG draws most encouragement from these words from the Inspector. In a series of questions, he asks:
- ‘How many years has the redevelopment in North Street, Guildford been under consideration, how long has it had planning permission and has that permission been renewed? Against a background of changing retailing patterns with continued strong growth in internet retailing, what consideration has the Council given to re-evaluating the balance of uses in this location having regard to the need to accommodate additional homes?
- There is nothing about the masterplanning of large sites, how the public can engage in the overall masterplanning process, or how overall masterplans and the different components of the larger schemes are to be subject to design review – essential parts of the urban design process. These considerations need to go into a new policy ….. and the wording needs to be designed with advice from a masterplanner / urban This is essential given the number of
major housing and mixed use allocations in the plan.”
- Please can the Council produce a paper setting out what steps should be taken and policy revisions made to accommodate a greater amount of the housing growth in the town centre and on other eligible brownfield land including suitable employment land and ’
We share the Inspector’s concerns over developments in the retail market. We have engaged with the North Street developer over the past year or more. We are proposing a much more mixed use scheme, with a substantial housing element, which now the Council may at last recognise. We want a professionally masterplanned scheme. We want an attractive centre extension of mixed uses, with appropriate massing for the County Town. We do not want a ‘mega mall’ with a housing estate on top.
You Have Contributed To Our Plan
GVG has asked to be allowed to present its masterplan for the town centre to the Inspector. The plan has evolved through interaction and consultation with residents, businesses and visitors alike over the past six years. We have been very heartened by the level of support for our plan shown at the two public meetings we held last year when over 500 people attended.
Guildford Residents Should Have Their Say
With the new crossing we propose, the centre of Guildford and the riverside is given back to pedestrians. Our plan delivers over 2,000 more homes in the town centre than the number planned by the Council. Our plan delivers this number while respecting and enhancing Guildford’s heritage and lovely setting. If only the same could be said for the Solum scheme – the Network rail planning application which GBC should have managed so much better before losing the planning appeal, courtesy of inadequate or absent planning policies. This is why it is so important that we all speak out. Guildford is our town and we should all have a meaningful say in its future.
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 email@example.com
See us at: www.guildfordvisiongroup.com
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.