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Planning Group Annual Report 2019

Feb 2020

Planning Group Annual Report 2018-19

Membership

The members of the Group are John Baylis, Gordon Bridger, Peter Coleman, John Harrison, Ian Macpherson, Amanda Mullarkey, David Ogilvie, Martin Taplin, and John Wood. This year we welcomed Peter Coleman as a new member. Anthony Umney retired from the Group and we thank him for his nine years’ service. The Group has had no active Chairman since the 2011 AGM but Peter Coleman is now a member of the Society’s Executive. John Baylis acts as Secretary for the Group.

Outcomes

John Wood prepares summaries of the outcomes of the letters we have written to GBC about planning applications. Recent summaries have been placed on the Planning section of the G Soc website. They make very interesting reading.

Local Plan

GBC’s Local Plan, Strategies and Sites, was approved by the Council on 25th April 2019. Last June it was examined in public by Jonathan Bore, the appointed Inspector. Julian Lyon led for the Society at the examination. The Inspector acknowledged his contribution: throughout the Society has argued, as have many others, that the Plan is unsound. Our Group’s main issues were the need to revisit the housing numbers and the inadequacy of the new Town Centre Policy S3. We also had comments on the re-written design policy D1. A fuller account of the Society’s actions is given in our Chairman’s report.

The present process will be followed by regulation 18 consultation on the Local Plan Development Management Policies during June – July 2019 with anticipated adoption in September 2020. The document will replace many of the detailed policies in the old 2003 Plan and will be important to us with regard to our response to planning applications. In parallel with this process the Community Infrastructure Levy will be introduced: the indicative date for adoption of the charging schedule is May 2020.

Student Housing

This year has been notable for a succession of planning applications for blocks of student accommodation. Within the Guildford urban area they far outweigh applications for anything else. They are clearly very attractive to developers: the bed-sit units are small, the rents are high and no affordable housing need be provided. If they are all approved supply is likely to exceed demand, but these student blocks are not readily convertible to flats.

The most reliable source of publicly available data relating to University growth forecasts and the resultant demand for student housing seems to be the GBC Annual Monitoring Reports. The most recent one is for 2017/2018, published in November 2018. It has a section “Housing for students”. It quotes the West Surrey SHMA Guildford addendum (2017) which estimates a need for a maximum of 3,800 additional student bedspaces over the plan period to 2034. From this figure it is assumed that 2,090 students will live in halls on campus and there would be an additional maximum need for approximately 428 off campus C3 dwellings (23 dwellings per year) for 1,710 students over the plan period. This is based on the assumption that there are four students per household.

Our current ‘count’ of student accommodation planning applications is:

  • The completed multi-coloured block of 141 accommodation units for Scape at Kernel Court on Walnut Tree Close (WTC) (14/P/00253).
  • The application submitted by the developer (Kernel Court Limited & Scape Student Living Ltd) for a much larger eight storey scheme on an adjacent site with 403 student bedrooms and 85 ‘co-living’ studio rooms, (18/P/01155).
  • An application from Summix for a six storey development between the river and WTC for 482 student bedrooms and 2,504 sq m of ‘co-worker’ office space, (18/P/01450).
  • An application by ‘Mr Managing Director’ for the Quadrant site in the town centre for 300 student bedrooms and accommodation for a casino/night-club and other uses in a 15 storey block, (18/P/01668).
  • An application to build 527 student bedspaces on Guildford College land adjacent to Stoke Park refused a year ago, but recently taken to appeal, (17/P/00509, refused Nov 2017, appeal allowed Nov 2018).
  • An application for Unilife on the Just Tyres site on WTC to provide 80 to 90 student bedrooms (18/P/02100)
  • A recent application for 361 student accommodation units on the Bishops Nissan site on WTC, (18/P/02226, registered, expiry date 7th March).
  • A recent application for 88 student flats at 1 & 2 Ash Grove jammed up against the A3 near the Dennis roundabout, (18/P/02391, registered, expiry date 15th March).
  • A very recent application for 360 student accommodation units at the Guildford Business Park, (19/P/00407, registered, expiry data 12th June).

The total number of units in the above applications is about 2,750. This considerably exceeds the 1,710 GBC figure for the whole Plan period to 2034 mentioned above and rumour has it that there are more to come. Greg Melly, the University Senior Vice-President, Advancement and Partnerships, has agreed to meet with us on 29th April with Stephen Wells (Director of Estates, Facilities and Commercial Services) and James Newby (Director of Business Improvement).

We are well aware that there are other education establishments in the town with need for student accommodation including the ACM and the University of Law.  

North Street

As far as the Planning Group is concerned there is nothing to report this year on the North Street Redevelopment site. In the new Plan it is still allocated for 41,000 square metres of additional retail and 6,000 square metres of food and drink. It does now include 400 new homes. All this is subject to review, but the outcome it is likely to be a high development.

Pegasus (the Plaza site on the Portsmouth Road)

Last year’s report gave a full account of our sustained objections over many months to the Pegasus plans to redevelop the Plaza site on the Portsmouth Road We achieved a succession of reductions in bulk and visual impact but we considered that it was still too tall and too massive. It was finally approved by the GBC Planning Committee in January 2018. The main remaining concern of Cllrs was the lack of any contribution to affordable housing on the grounds that the scheme was for assisted living apartments. Shortly afterwards Pegasus said they were withdrawing from the project: perhaps they had found a more attractive investment opportunity elsewhere. The door is now open for another developer to bring forward proposals of similar bulk for the site, and there are rumours of student housing. 

Burchatts Farm

Gordon raised an alert that the Council was proposing to let Burchatts Farm on Stoke Park to a chiropractor. A chiropractor would be use class D1 (non residential including clinics and health centres), and therefore not in the list of permitted changes of use for Burchatts Farm. We established that Planning permission would be needed. Gordon followed this up and agitated very energetically with Councillors. Planning applications for the change of use and for internal modifications to the listed building were then submitted. John Harrison wrote a very substantial letter of objection on behalf of the Group. The applications went to the GBC Planning Committee in March with recommendations to approve. John Harrison spoke at the meeting. The Committee refused the applications.

Tunsgate

Tunsgate is still rather bare and in principal we welcomed the new street cafés but they are disregarding their planning permissions as regards use of the pavement. The existing SPG on Street Cafés is insufficient. Becky Souter of GBC Planning joined us for a useful discussion of street cafés in Tunsgate and the SPG.

Telephone Kiosks

Five applications were made for so-called telephone kiosks in the town centre. They exploit a current weakness in the planning rules in that they are really just large advertising plaques with highly objectionable electronic displays. They have become a national plague. We alerted Tim Dawes and sent him information on action being taken by London Boroughs. The applications were considered at the Planning Group meeting in February and John Harrison generated a very substantial letter of objection. The telephone kiosk applications were refused and it is fair to say that the Society had a hand in this.

Treetops

In February 2018 an application 17/P/00801 for 39 houses on this site on the Old Portsmouth Road was allowed on appeal. One factor was the preservation of the listed house Treetops. GBC drew to our attention that the applicant has now requested of Heritage England that Treetops be delisted. Martin and John Harrison have very recently prepared letters of objection.

Letters from the Group

The Group continues to meet every three weeks at the Council offices. During the year April 2018 to March 2019 the Group wrote about 70 letters to GBC on a wide range of individual planning applications, mostly in the town’s urban area. Four of us, John Harrison, David Ogilvie, Martin Taplin and myself take it in turn to draft these letters, which are sent round the Group for comment before being sent. Before each meeting John Wood checks all the recent planning applications to the Borough and makes a short list which functions as the agenda for our meeting. Ian Macpherson does not attend meetings but sends us comprehensive comments on the agenda applications. Our letters are summarised in the Group’s reports to the Society’s Executive. As remarked above, the most significant ones have been for student housing:

18/P/01155: Kernel Court, Walnut Tree Close (see above list of student applications)

The design of the proposed student building for Scape, with its uniform vertical elements, is utterly mundane and lacking in interest. Furthermore at eight storeys, it is much too high. It will be much taller than its neighbours including the adjacent five storey multi-coloured Kernel Court student block. It towers well above the railway embankment and is as objectionable as the similar eight storey blocks along the railway proposed by Solum: it will continue the ‘wall’. Despite our objections it was approved in Nov 2018.

18/P/01213: Walnut Tree Close Footbridge

We objected to this application for a replacement bridge on the grounds that it is a great opportunity missed. Bridges can be very attractive features of towns. This proposal is functional but brings no pleasure to the eye. The bridge is just an unattractive white concrete plank. The present bridge has a much more pleasing treatment of the balustrades and is not white. The proposal is a backward step in these respects. Despite our objections the bridge was approved. It has generated much criticism as a waste of money and premature with regard to the redevelopment of Bedford Square.

18/P/01450: The Riverside Business Centre, Walnut Tree Close (see above list of student applications)

This major application primarily comprised 482 student rooms contained in four blocks of development of five or six storeys raised above an under-croft (to accommodate flood water from the adjacent River Wey). We strongly objected to the application and strongly disagreed with the views of the Design South East Review Panel Members. We consider the ‘ends’ of the four blocks facing the River Wey are far too close to the river. It makes the proposals overbearing and unacceptably dominant in the attractive context of the natural feature of the River Wey and the amenity of its much-used towpath. The overall height of this development is out-of-scale with the general pattern of the existing buildings in this area of Walnut Tree Close. Specifically, we are firmly of the view that buildings on or close to the river frontage should be lower in height, perhaps by way of being stepped down towards the river. On January 25th 2019 the application was withdrawn.

18/P/01668: 1-5 The Quadrant and The Casino Nightclub, Onslow Street (see above list of student applications)

We objected to this application for a 14 story building in the strongest possible terms. It proposes a development which is grossly excessive and completely out-of-character with Guildford both in terms of its enormous height and the way in which it overhangs the boundaries of the site. Even in comparison with the massive Solum development, this proposal is far too high and it will have a serious adverse impact on views from both within and across the town centre and from viewpoints outside the town including the Surrey Hills AONB.

In addition to other uses the development proposes 10 floors of student housing. We considered these student units will be provided with inadequate communal facilities and will only receive natural light from a totally inadequate light well. A further deeply troubling concern is the juxtaposition of a considerable amount of student accommodation in such close proximity to a casino and nightclub.

The application went to the GBC Planning Committee on 30th January to enable Councillors to vote on it, though without effect because it had already been taken to appeal on grounds of non-determination. It was refused unanimously. Star Oyster in their Statement of Case had issued a rebuttal of the objections raised in our letter to GBC. We responded to the Inspectorate rejecting each sentence in the rebuttal and appending our speech to the Planning Committee. The date of the appeal hearing is awaited.

18/P/02100: Just Tyres, Walnut Tree Close (see above list of student applications)

We wrote a strong letter of objection to this proposal for 80to 90 student bedrooms and associated facilities. In our view, if the flooding issues can be overcome these riverside sites would be better used for conventional homes. Rents in nearby Scape seem to be £13,260-£16,065pa for the type of self-contained units proposed, well above the means of the typical UK student. We do not believe they are relevant to market requirements and will not result in any reduction in demand for conventional house shares which typically end up at around £5000 per head.

18/P/02226:  Bishops Nissan of Guildford, Walnut Tree Close (see above list of student applications)

We strongly objected to this application to provide student accommodation in four blocks (5 and 6 storeys high) including communal facilities. The application site occupies an extensive area of land with a long frontage to the River Wey. The overall height of this proposed development is out-of-scale with the general pattern of the existing buildings in this area of Walnut Tree Close. The ‘Artists Impressions’ which form part of the submissions indicate well our concerns about the oppressive nature of what is proposed which is situated directly across the river from the National Trust land at Dapdune Wharf.

Whilst the Society’s principal objections relate to the height and design of what is proposed, the Society feels that more land along the river frontage should be set aside for public access to help form part of an improved riverside landscaped strip.

18/P/02391: 1 & 2 Ash Grove (see above list of student applications)

We strongly objected to this application which seeks consent for an over-intensive development of 88 student accommodation units on an unsuitability located site at the far end of a residential cul-de-sac of conventional detached houses. We object to the horrendous design and layout.  What is proposed is a large, angular development which is both out of scale and out of character with the neighbouring dwellings and is located very close (and well below) the level of the busy A3 Trunk Road and immediately adjacent to the Guildford to Reading railway line.

19/P/00407: Plot 5, Guildford Business Park, Guildford Business Park Road (see above list of student applications)

We strongly objected to the scale and bulk of this application for a seven storey block to accommodate 360 students. It is significantly higher than the approved office development for the site (four storeys with pent house and plant room). We also objected relate to the adverse impact which the proposals will have on viewpoints from both the south (e.g. locations such as Pewley Downs, Bright Hill, and Guildford Castle) and certain closer views from the north. From various viewpoints we are concerned that the excessive height of the proposed development is such that it will seriously intrude on the profile of the Cathedral.

John Baylis, 28th April 2019