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Planning Group Update November 2018

Nov 2018

Planning Group Update - John Baylis  1st November 2018

Local Plan

This was examined in public by the Inspector in June this year. The Inspector requested a long list of Major Modifications. In September the Council published its proposals for these Modifications and launched a public consultation on them which closed on 23rd October.

Our Chairman, Julian Lyon, submitted a powerful response for the Society - see link. He requested that the Inspector should reopen his examination of the Plan on eight counts, the main ones being deficiencies in planning for the town centre (no Masterplan) and overestimates of housing needs.  We largely agree with the Guildford Residents Association (GRA), who have also requested a reopening, that the housing target of 654 dwellings per year in the Plan is unjustified. The Council’s website anticipates that the Plan will be adopted in March next year, but this must now be very doubtful. In the absence of a new Plan the Borough has only the ageing 2003 Plan and the NPPF to resist unwelcome development.

What happens after the plan.

After adoption of the Local Plan Strategy and Sites the Council will set about producing its junior companion the Local Plan Development Management Policies. This will contain a lot of the detailed policies, which are vital, that we refer to in comments on planning applications.

In particular, the group fully supports our Chairman's plea that the Council should urgently be bringing forward a Roofscapes, Heights and Views Supplementary Planning Document, and in the meantime restricting new developments to similar heights to the immediately surrounding street scene

Public consultation on a draft is timetabled for June-July next year with adoption anticipated in December 2020. Another mighty new document will be the Charging Schedule for the new Community Infrastructure Levy, a substantial tax on new development to fund infrastructure. Consultation on a draft Schedule is due in February/March next year with adoption in May 2020. One might expect a flood of applications before then to escape the levy. The Council is presumably keen to put it in place.

Planning Status

In 2016/17 only 294 dwellings were completed in the Borough, and I would be surprised if the number is any higher this year. Planning approvals did rather better in 2016/17 at 577, but this year it will certainly be less. There is a hiatus pending adoption of the Plan. Amongst the large ‘strategic’ sites the only planning application has been for Wisley Airfield, which was refused and taken to appeal. The appeal Inspector published his decision during the examination of the Plan: he did not allow the appeal, partly because the Plan, which at present includes it, has not yet been adopted. If the inspection is reopened and the housing target is reduced, one or more of the strategic sites may not be needed. Justification for using Green Belt will be further reduced if more town centre sites are identified.

In January of this year we had the bad news that the Inspector of Solum’s appeal had allowed it. Construction could start next year. Also in January 2018 the Council’s Planning Committee approved the Pegasus scheme for assisted living accommodation on the Plaza site on the Portsmouth Road. We had vigorously opposed it and Pegasus had revised their designs four times in response to criticism that they were attempting to put too much on the site. 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.

Whilst there have been no more large applications for assisted living accommodation, attractive because developers have argued that they need provide no affordable housing, there has been a spate of applications for student accommodation, which also let the developer off the hook regarding provision of affordable housing.

The Vogue for Student Housing

There is the recent completion of the multi-coloured block at Kernel Court on Walnut Tree Close, which some like and some don’t (I do). In June the developer (Kernel Court Limited & Scape Student Living Ltd) submitted an application for a much larger eight storey scheme on an adjacent site with 403 student bedrooms and 85 ‘co-living’ studio rooms. The  ‘co-living’ accommodation  is  targeted towards  persons  of  20- 35  years  of  age  and graduates / young  professionals  who  wish  to  continue  communal  living. The developer says that it is the first development of its type in Guildford.

This was followed in July by an application from Summix (pictured in the heading) for a six storey development between the river and WTC in four blocks for 482 student bedrooms and 2,504 sq m of ‘co-worker’ office space. We objected to both applications on grounds of design, bulk and height.

Finally, in August ‘Mr Managing Director’ submitted an application for the Quadrant site for 300 student bedrooms and accommodation for a casino/night-club and other uses in a 15 storey block. Again, we have objected strongly.

In addition to all of this, an application to build 527 student bed spaces on Guildford College land adjacent to Stoke Park was refused a year ago but has been taken to appeal. The hearing was on 11th October and the outcome is awaited.

These four applications for 1,712 student bedrooms in total considerably exceed the applications this year for residential dwellings in the urban area of Guildford. By way of comparison 1,153 student bedrooms, all on the University’s Manor Park site, were approved in 2016/17. The West Surrey SHMA Guildford addendum (2017) estimates a need for a maximum of 3,800 additional student bed spaces over the plan period to 2034 [Source: GBC Monitoring Report 2016/17 dated Nov 2017. This year’s presumably due out shortly.] To this must be added the needs of the Academy of Contemporary Music and the University of Law, but the sum of the applications appears to be running ahead of need.

If so, they are unnecessarily displacing much needed residential development, and circumventing the need to supply affordable housing.

Walnut Tree Bridge

The Council have pushed through a clumsy and unattractive design for a wider pedestrian/cycle bridge over the Wey to replace the existing one near the Odeon cinema. We opposed it unsuccessfully but apparently the money was there and the go-ahead was fairly urgent. It is an example of piecemeal development resulting from the absence of a town centre Masterplan.

Residential Housing

There have been a few applications to demolish a house in the leafier residential areas of the town and to replace it with a pair or more of largish houses. These are commonly 2 ½ stories tall, close together, without garage space and very expensive (£1.8M in Hillier Road for example). Proposals for large houses with only forecourt parking are a new phenomenon.

Woking – Manhattan in Surrey

If you climb the North Downs ridge at Merrow Downs or Guildown you can see the skyscrapers of Woking reaching for the sky. Two schemes for 34 storey tower blocks with ancillary 20 to 30 storey blocks are approved, and there are a further two applications for 35 storey blocks. Woking Council has encouraged such development but there are plenty of local objectors to the current applications.