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Planning Group Annual Report 2017-18

Aug 2018

Membership

The members of the Group are John Baylis, Gordon Bridger, John Harrison, Ian Macpherson, Amanda Mullarkey, David Ogilvie, Martin Taplin, Anthony Umney and John Wood. Julian Lyon kindly acts as nominal Chairman of the Group so as to achieve representation on the Society’s Executive. This year we welcomed John Harrison as a new member. John Baylis acts as Secretary for the Group. (The Group has had no active Chairman since the 2011 AGM.)

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 proposed Submission Local Plan, Strategies and Sites, as approved by GBC Committees, became available on 9th June 2017: a period of public consultation closed on July 24th. Our Chairman responded and included comments made by the Group. In December the Plan was submitted for examination to the Secretary of State. Jonathan Bore has been appointed as Inspector and the examination will start on 5th June this year. He examined the Waverley Plan and recently approved it after a number of Major Modifications (MMs). He has already written to GBC requiring some MMs, most importantly on the trajectory of the proposed stepped annual housing provision.

The present process will be followed by regulation 18 consultation on Local Plan Development Management Policies during June – July 2019.

Solum’s proposals for the mainline station

The Solum application 14/P/02168 went to the GBC Planning Committee on June 2016 with a recommendation for refusal. The recommendation was unanimously agreed by the Councillors. In December 2016 Solum launched an appeal, which was heard before an Inspector, David Morgan, in the Council Chamber in November 2017. Our Chairman led the Society’s representations. Before the hearing we contacted the Case Officer and sent him commentaries on Solum’s Proofs of Evidence. We took part in a rota of Society attendance at the hearing and provided feedback notes. In January David Morgan published his decision to allow the appeal: a sad day for Guildford.

Pegasus (the Plaza site on the Portsmouth road)

In May of 2016 Pegasus submitted plans to redevelop the Plaza site on the Portsmouth Road, plans to which we very strongly objected (16/P/00923). Their proposal frequently referenced the two blocks of flats, Mount Court and Bishops Court on the Mount, which are universally abhorred in Guildford and are regarded as very unfortunate examples of the architecture popular at the time when they were built: a mistake never to be repeated.

On 24th April 2017 Pegasus submitted a new application, 17/P/00920. They also arranged to meet with us to discuss it. The new application had slightly larger bulk than the previous one but was two stories lower, eight instead of ten, and it had buildings arranged about a central courtyard. We considered that Pegasus were still trying to squeeze too much on to this small and sensitive site, and wrote again to object strongly, including some excellent additions from D&H Group.

In September Pegasus submitted a further set of plans with minor changes. We sustained our objection and reiterate our view that the bulk and height of the proposed buildings were too large. We lobbied Councillors. The application went to the GBC Planning Committee on 1st November with the officers recommending approval. Several Councillors spoke against it and none spoke for it. The meeting decided to defer its decision pending further action by the Officers to persuade Pegasus to reduce the visual impact of the scheme.

The application went back to Committee on 3rd January and was approved nem con. Pegasus had submitted revised plans with a further one floor reduction in Block A on the Portsmouth Road. This was the fourth revision of their original plans, so objectors can claim some modest success. 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. (Back in 2016 we had written to Barry Fagg on this issue.)

North Street

This time last year M&G believed they could submit a planning application between June and September 2017. None has appeared. M&G held a series of workshops during 2017, some of which a member of the Group attended (the Society was allowed only one representative). M&G continued to propose around 47,000 sq m retail, over 44,000 sq m housing and over 5,000 sq m of food and drink, which implies very intensive development. There is a likelihood of ten storey blocks with up to six stories on North Street. The Local Plan inspector has queried the retail/housing balance and once more the whole scheme may be back in the melting pot.

Consultations with Developers

Last year’s report included proposals to add two floors to Connaught House, the office building situated between Alexandra Terrace and ‘G Live’ with a frontage onto the Epsom Road/London Road mini roundabout. We objected and the developer resubmitted, 16/P/02557. We met with him on in January 2017 and acknowledged the improvements made. However, that reinforced a general concern we have that permitting high buildings can result in the ’raising of the (height) benchmark’ thus making it difficult to refuse subsequent unacceptably high developments. We therefore continued to object. The revised application was however approved.

In October Sladen Estates invited us to attend an exhibition of their proposals for 191 new flats on Walnut Tree Close. David Ogilvie attended for the Group. Their proposal included a twelve story block on the river opposite Dapdune Wharf. The proposal was for a ‘Build to Rent’ scheme, to be managed by M&G, and the developer indicated there would be no affordable housing. We objected strongly to the application, 17/P/02469, as did the National Trust. The application has been withdrawn.

In March Summix invited us to an exhibition which several of us attended on their proposal for 450-500 student units and 1,900 sq. m. of co-worker space on a site between Walnut Tree Close and the river, very close to the footbridge over the railway giving access to the university campus. It rises to about seven stories high. A planning application is expected.

Robert Cotton consulted with us in November on proposals for a new porch for St Mary’s church to provide better toilet and other facilities. We had responded in detail to the original proposals (see last year’s report). The revised submission was approved by GBC, see 17/P/01753.

Letters from the Group

The Group continues to meet every three weeks at the Council offices. During the year April 2017 to March 2018 the Group wrote about 65 letters to GBC on a wide range of individual planning applications, mostly in the town’s urban area. Items of note included:

17/P/00509: Land at Guildford College Campus, Stoke Road. This was a commercial development by Guildford College to exploit part of their site. The proposal was for 553 units of student accommodation. We objected, principally because of the height. At 7 stories high and combined with its considerable bulk, it was considered to be too high such that it would have a detrimental ‘urbanising’ impact on the adjacent Stoke Park. The developer came back with modified proposals to which we continued to object. The application was refused by the GBC Planning Committee, counter to the Officer’s recommendation.

2. 17/P/00801:  Treetops Kennels, Treetops, Old Portsmouth Road. This application proposes 39 residential dwellings on a site within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, an Area of Great Landscape Value and the Green Belt. It therefore is subject to the highest levels of protection. We therefore objected (we had also objected to a previous application). The officer recommended refusal, but the developer has gone to appeal on grounds of non-determination.

3. 17/P/01389: Chapel, Guildford Crematorium, New Pond Road, Peasmarsh.                              

We welcomed this proposal to provide a new Chapel Crematorium but raised a number of points concerning the interior design. We received a full and helpful response from GBC. We objected to a secondary proposal for unsightly, costly, substandard and unnecessary temporary buildings (17/P/01391).

4. 17/P/02280:  4 Guildford Business Park, Guildford Business Park Road. This was an outline application to consider scale, access and layout for the erection of a much enlarged office building to replace the existing one. We had comments on visual impact and on the need for better footpath links to the main line station. Another large new office block is in progress of construction on the business park.

5. 17/P/02605: H A Fox Jaguar and Hunters Land Rover, Ladymead. We objected strongly to the previous approved scheme 16/P/01687 for a new showroom. The proposals sit on an extremely prominent corner site on a very important ‘gateway’ into Guildford. We welcomed the reduced height and mass of the new proposals, but objected to the gloomy impression which the proposals would make, with their oppressively black facades.

6. 17/P/02190: Racks Court, Quarry Street. It is proposed to pull down 23 sheltered housing units built in 1979 and to replace them with 17 luxury flats but no affordable housing. The developer, Clarion Group is the country’s largest housing association and is a major house builder.  We objected to the size and design of the proposed buildings and to the loss of specialist housing units. Gordon has taken this up with Cllr. Dennis Paul. 

7. Tunsgate Square: we have responded to some applications for signage for the new shops, and are happy that the Square is now open. We remain of the opinion that the pluses of the scheme overcome its minuses.

Viability and Affordability

Developers increasingly seem to be favouring schemes which enable them to escape from the requirement to provide 30% affordable housing. They use straightforward financial viability arguments (Solum, Clarion), sui generis or assisted living legislation (McCarthy and Stone, and Pegasus), student accommodation (Guildford College and Summix) or Build to Rent (Sladen). We have discussed this within the Group and wrote to Tim Dawes, GBC Planning Development Manager. He agrees that it is an important subject area and we will continue to pursue it.

SANGS

Gordon Bridger has vigorously argued that the SANG tariffs are far too high and are a scandalous imposition on the cost of new housing. He has taken this up with Cllrs, our MP and has achieved some ministerial attention. However there are no policy changes yet.

Changes to the modus operandi of the GBC Planning Committee

As signalled last year, the Council have reduced the size of the Planning Committee and has increased the number of letters required to get a hearing. Gordon objected forcefully.

John Baylis

2nd April 2018