Building Heights in Guildford Town Centre

13 September 2022

Major Developments are happening in the Town

Schemes are being proposed for North Street, Stag Hill, Debenhams and Guildford Park Road together with Station (Solum) and Portsmouth Rd (Old electricity Board Offices) being built at present. 

The Council Executive is also scheduled to review the Shaping Guildford Master Plan in the next few weeks, this will be proposing how the town develops in areas such as Millmead, Millbrook Car Park, Police Station, North End of Walnut Tree close, and in the centre of the town Portsmouth Road Car Park/Friary Street area.  

Guildford is going to be subject to a major change in its urban landscape, equivalent to the rapid changes experienced in the Victorian era.

The Society notes the inspector at the Local Plan examination in 2018/2019 commented that significant issues of urban decay exist once you leave the historic core of Guildford.   The Society agrees with this and is happy to see appropriate development. Other Towns and Cities are redeveloping areas in an appropriate manner using a variety of modern building styles.  Guildford should be able to enhance the town and embrace the future.

The Guildford Dragon has had a debate recently on the issue of heights in the Town Centre The Society reponded to their questions as follows

A) Heights?

The Society believes we need a Height Policy for three reasons.

  • The Society believes we need to preserve Guildford as a unique location in the South East with its views out of the town to surrounding Hills and we should be preserving the ambience and feel of the Town.  This also makes economic sense as many come to Guildford as it is an attractive environment for shopping and entertainment.  We hope this can be extended via the proposed pedestrianisation of North Street.
  • To manage Developers expectations on the value of the land.  The developers of Debenhams will have had an indication on size (but not in Public Domain) that could be considered acceptable for the Debenhams before investing £20M buying the site for example.
  • Would simplify the planning process, developers would know what was acceptable and work within the parameters rather having the position where height is proposed and then argued back at various meetings and enquiries.

B) What would a Policy Look Like? 

We believe an SPD can be produced zoning the town into various desired heights, the height policy also needs to be accompanied by some view on density.  This would also take into account the Town Centre views SPD which is also a valuable component to manage development of the town.  Many towns and cities have a zoning system also taking in views across and within the town – Oxford and Brighton for example.  Many towns have produced detailed SPD’s to guide development on selected areas of the town. 

Why the opportunity to develop this as part of the recently submitted Development Management polices/ Local Plan Part 2. is a mystery.

C) Public Views?

The public are rightly concerned about lack of housing etc in the town and many see the advantages of the blocks of 200 to 400 sized blocks of flats as a way to solve our housing needs. The decades long saga of North Street with a large block of land left empty has not improved the town.  There is also the issue of providing for families, which seems to be overlooked, with the housing stock being proposed in the main being 1 or 2 bedroom flats.

It is very difficult for people to understand the impact of development on the town and GBC need to do more to improve how developers engage with the public.  St Edward at North Street are to be commended,  as being the only major developer, to show a model of the proposed scheme.  GBC now have an electronic model of the Town Centre and this should be used to provide a clear view of how the various development relate to each other and provide a view on how the town will look from both afar and as a pedestrian in the street.  The impacts have also to be shown properly e.g. the visibility of the Woking Towers from A3, Guildford Station, Wisley Airfield Site was not widely appreciated or the view of the Station (Solum) block from Madrid Road.

D) Is Public Opinion Important?

It is important that planning needs to be an open process in which the public feel involved.  We need a need a debate on the subject of height and mass with options. We have a unique opportunity to shape Guildford for the rest of the 21st century and this must involve the public. Currently we have no real understanding as to how the town will look and function in 10 years’ time. Will it be a Historic Core surrounded by a ring of 14 Storey Buildings, or a historic core complemented by a properly open riverside with buildings respecting the river space, or maybe a totally new area with a 20-30 storey Tower of high quality to act as a marker for Guildford and also keep open space.  A discussion is needed?

E) Quality of Public Engagement?

Guildford citizens lead busy lives and, in many cases, have work commitments and economic issues that prevent effective engagement with Guildford developments. Developer questionnaires can be very simplistic, and Webinars can be limited depending on how they are conducted (Some are more a PR exercise). Groups such as The Society do provide a mechanism for engagement, but we are very conscious we only represent a small section of the population.

Political parties have a role as well in that they need to state clearly their commitment and aspirations for Guildford.  Councillors Joss Bigmore and John Rigg are to be admired for talking about development, over the past 12 months, and their views.  Note The Society has major issues with some of their views but let’s have the debate!!. It is now good that the many of the other political groups have contributed views to the Dragon.

The Society's Conclusion

The Society believes that GBC should facilitate holding a ‘Shaping Guildford’ week where the various plans and models for sites in the Town Centre can be displayed in one venue for the public to look at how the town might evolve over the next 10 years.    

Share this article

Related Articles

Help us make Guildford better

We want our town to be vibrant, attractive and liveable. We support development that brings a sense of place and enhances the best aspects of our town. If such aims can be embraced, we believe Guildford has the chance to lead the way in enabling sensitive and sustainable development.

Pressures for development are increasing. Planning rules are being eased. The Society’s commitment to standing up for Guildford is needed more than ever.

Support Us

Getting involved allows the society to continue its work.   We welcome new members, from every age and background.  Membership provides an opportunity for you to contribute to the continued health of the town and surrounding area, and to meet other people who care about Guildford.