The approval allowing redevelopment of No1 Onslow Street highlights that Guildford Town Centre is changing in ways that need proper consideration and management.
M&G, who own the Friary Centre, has been successful, subject to finalising negotiations on the Section 106 agreement with the council, with their plans (21/P/00539) to add three storeys to No 1 Onslow Street (making 9 in total plus 1 Storey for Roof Terrace plus Heating and Ventilation). The plans include a roof terrace, a new main entrance on Woodbridge Road and alterations to the building elevations. The building has been vacant since Sanofi relocated to Reading. No1 Onslow Street is part of Local Plan 2019 Policy A5 at the northern end of the site, the east side of Policy A5 was the subject to the St Edwards North Street scheme, recently rejected by the Planning Committee.
Some may wonder why an application with this impact on the Townscape has not been considered by the Planning committee.
The Planning Committee only considers applications if:
The application has been approved under delegated powers by GBC officers. The Society did object to the application which you can access below.
Height Changes the Character of the Town
Since the approval of the Solum Scheme, at the Station, a number of tall buildings have been proposed for Guildford Town with heights going up to 8,9, and 13 Storeys from ground level.
The Society is not against tall buildings of quality design in certain settings. We believe Guildford Town needs a far more sophisticated height policy, building on the Town Centre Views SPD, that considers streetscape, and is potentially based on zoning, to guide development and also allow GBC to manage development more effectively.
A concern is that No1 Onslow Street sets a precedent for other developments in the area. If the intention is to allow a cluster of 9, and above, storey buildings in the town centre with consequent impact on the Streetscape and Landscape this needs to be made public.
The Society also notes that the proposed revision of Building Regulations (post Grenfell tower) may require a second staircase in new build blocks, over a certain height, impacting viability. Currently blocks of flats allocate about 20% of floor area to Staircases, Lifts and Corridors this will rise if the new Building regulations are approved. This may increase pressure to build high.
The Society been reviewing Built, Consented and Proposed developments along the ‘Wey Corridor’ from Millbrook to Slyfield. We plan to publish our summary shortly.
The character of the town will change, and we need a debate as to what the citizens of Guildford find acceptable.
Un-Balanced Development in the Town Centre?
Nearly all the town development is focused on residential development with the potential over the period 2015 to 2030 to add circa 5,000 plus dwellings into the Guildford Urban area mostly in the form of flats. Another 2000 student dwellings will be added over the same period. It has been argued that this quantum of student housing will result in Houses of Multiple Occupancy (HMO’s) reverting to normal housing.
The Society supports well designed quality housing for all categories of residents being available in the town. However, we believe the quality of many of the current schemes is poor with high densities, minimal affordable housing, and little provision for families.
There is little sign of supporting infrastructure development e.g. Surgeries, Drainage, Transport.
The draft Guildford’s Economic Strategy notes that:
“higher-value office-type occupiers are increasingly demanding high-quality and flexible space close to public transport nodes and vibrant town centres.
Our (Guildford’s) office stock does not align with this:
Only 5% of our office stock is classified as ‘high quality’ versus 47% in Reading, 35% in Crawley, 30% in Cambridge and 20% in Milton Keynes;
Nearly all of our major office clusters are located away from our main train station and town centre (e.g. Surrey Research Park, Guildford Business Park, London Square, Cathedral Hill and Guildway Office Park)”
No 1 Onslow Street does have a positive aspect, in that it provides a building, providing best-in-class office space in central Guildford, near the station, that modern tenants expect. In addition, White Lion Walk on the High Street/North Street is also currently being converted to provide multi-use offices on the High Street/North Street.
A mixed, vibrant local economy supports Guildford; the Guildford Economic Strategy highlights this is at risk. We would contend that Guildford in the town centre needs to take urgent action to provide a more balanced centre by addressing infrastructure deficiencies and encouraging quality commercial space. Should, for example, the Guildford Park Road site be used, in part, for commercial space?
The Local Plan was based in part on the development of strategic sites e.g. Wisley Airfield along the A3 Corridor. We appear to be in a scenario where the Town Centre is growing far faster, as a place to live, than expected or planned, but mainly for flat dwellers. The Local Plan 2019 enabled many developments in surrounding villages, it is unclear the Town Centre developments have reduced this pressure. Where families are able to obtain affordable accommodation is a mystery. Employment opportunities are outside the centre, as noted in the Guildford’s Economic Strategy report, with impact on transport and the cost of accessing employment opportunities.
We need a proper plan on what development is desirable where in the town. The policies in the Local Plan appear to have been overtaken by events. Guildford’s Urban area needs urgently to have robust policies on Height of Buildings, Density of Development, and better guidance on the use that sites should be used for (Spatial Policy).
Shaping Guildford’s Future – an opportunity?
The Shaping’s Guildford’s Future programme in addition to proposing detailed plans for four areas along the Wey, is also due to produce an Area Action Plan (AAP) that covers the Town Centre and an area of Woodbridge Meadows stretching up to Ladymead. The Area Action Plan (AAP) will be ‘dropped into’ the Local Plan 2019 and will change or replace relevant policies for the area. The AAP also needs to be considered against the review of the LPS2019 local plan which may impact housing targets.
This Area Action Plan should be an opportunity to implement robust policies, but there is risk it will be too little too late.
The local elections are almost upon us. It will be interesting to see how the various parties respond to the four questions:
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.
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.