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Design & Heritage Annual Report 2014.

29th April 2014

Design & Heritage  -Annual Report 2014 

The Local Plan – a double edged sword

As I write my first annual report, Guildford’s heritage and landscape are under threat from a combination of a new Local Plan and proposed new development at locations including the cathedral on Stag Hill, on the northern flank of the Hogs Back and areas such as Godsden Farm. Indeed, the local plan, combined with the economic recovery, Guildford’s position as a regional economic centre and continued inward migration to South East England are increasing pressures for development not all of which are consistent with our D&H agenda.

Unlike some other local organisations, within D&H we recognise that Guildford cannot stand still and that development and regeneration are essential if Guildford is to remain an attractive and desirable place to live. However, this should not be at the expense of valuable heritage and we will continue to be alert to its future loss. This includes working with the Planning team, as was the case when objecting recently to the proposed demolition of the Norman Shaw designed Hitherbury House. Importantly, where development does take place, we will seek to encourage the creation of high quality heritage for tomorrow - more on this later.

While the Local Plan is a threat, it also provides an opportunity. After a long campaign by the Guildford Vision Group, GBC has finally appointed Allies & Morrison to develop a master plan for the town centre. I hope like me, you were able to drop into their consultation in Swan Lane in April and make your views known. I recently attended a follow-up consultation at Allies’ offices in London where it was clear that many of our requests have at least been listened to. These include the need to reclaim the historic riverside area, to retain the character of the High Street and the existing grain of the town, to better connect the Castle and ensure that skylines and views are preserved.

However the challenges of Guildford are significant and I will be interested to see whether Allies & Morrison are able to convert what they have heard into a solution capable of creating a resilient and attractive Guildford of the future with due regard to its heritage and that addresses the major problem of transport and infrastructure. With a draft of the local plan due to be issued in June/July, this summer is likely to be a busy period.

Taking an activist stance

It has always been my intention that the D&H team should be more activist in approach to raise the profile of the heritage agenda to a wider and younger audience. People that get involved should see a clear link between their actions and the impact on the town. While we have taken our first steps this year towards achieving this objective, it will take time and new blood to work on specific projects if this is to be achieved.

By way of example, we have become aware of pressure growing on trees, a situation exacerbated by the extremely wet winter we have just endured. A pop-up group to investigate and take any action deemed necessary has just been established by D&H under the leadership of Auriol Earle. In a similar vein, in my most recent newsletter column I requested information on collapsed or unstable Bargate Stone walls. I’ve received no responses so far so the walls may be in better condition than initially feared, however we will continue to monitor the town’s walls and a further pop-up group may be required to respond to this emerging issue.

Many members of the team were involved during the year in drafting papers setting out the Society’s position on a range of heritage matters including the riverside, approaches to Guildford, skylines and residential development. The papers will be published on the Society’s new website and seek to document publicly the Society’s policy towards a range of heritage and development issues. These papers are being used as part of the Society’s response to the Local Plan and have been provided to Allies & Morrison in connection with their development of a town centre master plan.

One matter to emerge from our work on the position papers was the need for Guildford to have a more rigorous approach to validating the quality of design of new developments.
Panels of architects to peer review submissions – so-called Design Panels - have been promoted by RIBA and become a relatively common approach in the UK, but one that until now has been rejected in Guildford.

The Society and GVG have joined forces to promote design panels in Guildford. I am pleased to report the leader of GBC, Cllr Stephen Mansbridge and chief executive, Sue Sturgeon, recently confirmed GBC has decided to instigate a design panel. The next step now for Michael Jeffery, who is leading this initiative on behalf of both GVG and the Society, is to provide practical proposals to GBC on how such a panel should be implemented in Guildford to ensure we benefit from an effective control.

Doug Scott has continued to champion the setts in the High Street. He is representing the Society on the steering group for the project to ensure there is an effective design and that problems with existing services are resolved before the setts are re-laid. Guildford town centre is also due to receive new signposts and Doug has been working with Surrey County Council to ensure that the design is appropriate to Guildford and that the signs are suitably sited, notably around the Guildhall and on the High Street.

I was recently provided with a development brochure from the owner of the Wisley Airfield site, a location being considered for new housing under the Local Plan process. The brochure made mention of links to Brooklands which I investigated with their heritage leader. Wisley Airfield played an important role in the development of bouncing bombs and the UK’s post war civil and military aviation programs. However, with the exception of runways and aprons, little remains of heritage value following the site being bulldozed in 1979. With almost no heritage of value remaining to be destroyed by the site’s development, Wisley serves as a reminder to all of us on the need for proper diligence when proposals are made to develop the few remaining major brownfield sites in the Borough. We are watching!

Bringing heritage to the people of Guildford

We are making progress on planning the next architecture lecture in conjunction with the University of Surrey’s arts programme. In 2013, Alan Powers spoke on Threads in the Urban Fabric, Guildford in the 20th Century and Beyond. I am sad to report that attendance was on the disappointing side, particularly from younger members of the community, and if the architecture lecture is to continue as a cornerstone of the Society’s calendar, it must have a broad appeal. So we are moving it to the autumn, outside of the exam season, and at a time when students will be on campus. Joan Butler and her team are actively working on a speaker and other innovations and we should be in a position to reveal details by the time this report goes to press. Joan is also leading for the Society on development of a Guildford pub trail in

conjunction with RIBA. I look forward to reporting on this in future reports and of course trying out the trail for myself!

2014 is a year in which the Society is due to hold its architecture awards. For me, awards are all about celebrating excellence. Rewarding those developers willing to go the extra mile to create buildings of the highest architectural merit and providing a reminder to others who have been less creative.

During the two year cycle to 2014 – the period for which the Society is next due to make awards - there has been a paucity of development work in Guildford, reflecting the current depressed stage of the economic cycle. Against this background, my initial assessment is that there has been insufficient high quality development in the last two years to merit holding an architecture awards event in 2014. However it is not too late to change this and if you believe that there have been sufficient buildings of merit to warrant an awards ceremony, then you need to do two things:

  1. Send me your nomination including a photograph and preliminary supporting evidence.

  2. Volunteer to get involved in organising the awards. Even if we identify sufficient high

    calibre nominees, there are currently no volunteers to organise the event!

Finally I am challenging developers to bring forward new buildings worthy of the Society’s recognition over the next two years.

Heritage Open Days in Guildford will celebrate its 20th year in 2014. In recent years Gillian Cameron has been a driving force behind this event which continues to go from strength to strength. There is more on this event elsewhere in this newsletter, but I should like to put on record my thanks for the tireless effort that Gillian puts in to make this celebration of our town’s heritage a reality.

A hard working team that needs new blood

Against this busy agenda I must say a few words of thanks to my team. Two long standing members of the D&H team have stood down during the year – Pauline Surrey and Roy Hogben. I should like to thank them for their work and given their interest in heritage and the arts I am sure they will continue to make an active contribution to the heritage of our town.

I have been pleased to welcome two former chairs of the Society in Merilyn Spier and Michael Jeffery to our regular meetings whose knowledge of Guildford and the Society’s own heritage have strengthened my team.

However, I am always in need of fresh blood to join the team to bolster knowledge of our town’s heritage and architectural/artistic expertise. However it is vital that new enthusiasts come forward if that knowledge is to be passed on to the next generation and used to continue our objective of conserving Guildford’s heritage. Further, without new volunteers coming forward, we will be unable to maintain current levels of activity and knowledge, or take on new activities to conserve and celebrate Guildford’s Heritage. So please do contact me to discuss how you can get involved in your society.


Posted by: Nick Brown