New Development: Height must be managed.

17 April 2024

Guildford at Risk

Recent approved schemes in the centre of Guildford have shown that large developments are not well controlled by the Local Plan Strategic Sites (LPSS) 2019 and its accompanying Development Management Policies (DMP).  There is a lack of effective policies on Building Heights, and Density.  The Council have produced the Town Centre Views SPD that provides a measure of protection on views across the town. 

Recently developers have had a series of buildings consented up to 10 storeys high and often filling sites completely with little public space. 

Developments such as Solum (at the Station), North Street, St Mary’s Wharf (Debenhams) and potentially new developments at Guildford Park Road and in Walnut Tree Close all exhibit issues with Height and Mass. See links Below.

Guildford as a town to enjoy at street level is disappearing with views of the Downs restricted and pedestrian areas being overwhelmed by massive buildings.

Guildford needs to protect:

  • It’s urban character, townscape, skyline, and public spaces from development that is excessive in scale and especially height.
  • It's heritage and sensitive historic areas, especially Guildford’s town centre from inappropriate developments.
  • It's unique gap town setting with views to and from surrounding hills and countryside
  • other centres in the Borough e.g. Villages from development that excessive in height, which can also impact surrounding country areas.
  • Street environments where high buildings built without due consideration can make for pedestrian ‘unfriendly spaces’

Other Towns and Cities have Height Policies.

The Society has reviewed a large number of Height Policies, and selected 6-7 for detailed review implemented across a number of Cities and Town.  This demonstrates Height Policies can be successfully developed and implemented.  Note that Height Policies are often sophisticated taking into account the existing built environment, density, and protection of views of Heritage Assets and Countryside.

The paper shows how heights policies have been successfully developed for a variety of locations, we have not produced conclusions on what height policies are appropriate for Guildford, as this depends on the approach taken to policy development. Any height policy needs to be robust in that it can be defended during the planning process.

You can see our review (authored by Nic Allen RIBA) of these policies at the foot of this article.  

Advantages of a Height Policy.

A Height policy would:

  1. Protect the Town Centre
  2. Provide Clarity for Developers, on what is allowed, and what are sensible land values.
  3. Save the Council Money as the policy would allow clear determination on application.

We need to Act Now.

Although a Local Plan update has been agreed it will take up to 3 years to develop.  SPD’s can be developed now and used to protect the Town, even if only in draft form.  Draft policies carry weight in planning applications.  SPD’s can be ‘written in’ or referred to by the updated Local Plan.

The Rest of the Borough

Although the Town Centre is at immediate risk the rest of the borough should not be ignored.  There may be a case to develop clear height limits on areas.  The Strategic Sites SPD although discussing heights doesn’t propose any limits on the four sites covered.  Height may be published in Design Guides for sites but these are for guidance only and may be difficult to enforce. 


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