Guildford’s Character is Changing

23 May 2023

Reviewing Key Sites in Guildford

As we have reviewed many of the larger sites in Guildford Town, along the Wey corridor in preparation for the extension of our website to cover Key Sites, we have become increasing concerned at how the Town will evolve over the next decade.

What will we see?

Broadly if all the developments, including those in ‘Shaping Guildford’s Future’, are approved, we can expect to experience:

  • Lack of Design Variety we will have a series of Buildings which have little design variety or interest.  For example, we have three major sites designed by one firm, another development designed by an architect reusing designs used on a variety of city sites in London whilst claiming to respect the Guildford townscape.
  • Public Space It will be limited, and mainly hard surfaced. Ironically the Allies and Morrison Plan back in 2015 provided for far more generous green spaces.
  • Height and Mass of the buildings will be inappropriate in the context of a gap town, our Heritage Area, and relationship with an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
  • Lack of Housing Variety in new housing with mainly one and two bedroom apartments built to minimal standards.  Sustainable family accommodation is lacking.
  • Student housing is supporting Guildford’s important education sector.  It is claimed that should remove Housing of Multiple Occupancy (HMO’s) and that they will revert to family accommodation.  Is this being realized in practice?
  • Commercial space (Offices, Manufacturing space etc) will be limited and provided late in the period.  The recent GBC Economic Strategy identified the lack of high-quality commercial space as a factor impacting Guildford’s economic health.
  • Public attractions e.g. Arts Centre, revamped Museum, North Downs Visitor Centre, Skateboard/Climbing Wall Centre only appearing, if at all, in the 2030’s.
  • Public Facilities It is not clear if the provision of public facilities e.g. Schools, Medical Facilities, effective public transport interchanges will keep pace with development.
  • Lack of the Fundamentals Basic infrastructure is a major concern. Guildford is dangerously liable to floods from the river and run off from rain, and there is no confidence the drainage and sewers can cope. Supplies of Drinking Water and Electricity also have their issues.

See further details on developments by using the button below.

Has Guildford lost its nerve?

Guildford has a good tradition of building well from medieval times to the Arts and Crafts era, and latterly buildings by Norman Foster etc.  Since the 1960’s, with a few exceptions,  development in the town centre, has lost its nerve.  We now appear to be in the process of replacing unloved 1960’s buildings with unsustainable developments of equally mediocre quality.

We should be demanding quality, flexible, sustainable development adopting the latest techniques as appropriate.

Developing a better town.

We should be looking at other towns and how they are tackling issues with growth, heritage and environment. 

Examples include:

Delft – Where the station was put in a tunnel and a large area for development was opened up, the old station is now an arts centre. 

Lewes - A planning application has been submitted to develop a multiuse area beside the River Ouse with a multiplicity of architects working on the scheme and all buildings designed to be of the highest environmental standards including a large use of wood. 

Gloucester - Where the large Debenhams Store is being repurposed for use by the university. 

Freiburg (our twin town) - Which has been developed using green principles supported by good public transport.

Get Policies in Place

The Shaping Guildford’s Future programme has been criticised on cost grounds.  Part of the cost of the cost of Shaping Guildford’s Future will be in the production of information e.g. Flood Plans, Traffic Surveys that can also inform a review of the Local Plan due in the next 18 months.

It is important that Shaping Guildford’s Future is concluded, especially as the proposed Area Action Plan and associated policies that are due to cover the town centre as well as the new sites identified by the study. Good local policies have never been more important, particularly as national planning policy appears to be in so much flux.

The Local Plan review and Area Action Plan etc. needs to increase focus on the provision affordable housing and also potentially larger housing units – the town centre in has a large number of 1-2 bed units being proposed does this make sense? 

The Local Plan Review or the Area Action Plan mist provide updated policies to manage mass and height more effectively in the Town Centre.  Note height needs to be considered in relation to density of development; a high building can be the correct solution in certain circumstances.

Time to discuss a Real Vision

Shaping Guildford’s Future is a start on this process.  The Society is concerned that Shaping Guildford’s Future is based on the art of the possible; concentrating on sites where the council either owns or has major influence on the site.

There needs to be consideration of more visionary and wider ranging options e.g. how might the whole station area be revised e.g. Replacing Farnham Road Bridge, exploiting the space to the west side of the station having a realistic plan for space occupied at present by the signal box.

Guildford should not be shy at promoting longer term aspirations for its Town Centre to unlock and transform the centre of the Town; but shouldn't accept short term low quality development.

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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.

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