Guildford Society Aims and Objectives

09 April 2024

Update on - Areas of Concern

Although the aims and objectives of the Guildford Society have not changed, it is appropriate periodically to highlight areas the Society is concentrating on.

Reminder of our Aims and Objectives

We are the Guildford Civic Society. We are a member of Civic Voice, the national charity for the civic movement in England.

Everyone who shares an interest in:

  • Conserving the best of Guildford town, urban area, villages and countryside
  • Promoting high standards of planning and architecture
  • Influencing the pace and type of development
  • Responding to increasing challenges relating to the environment (including risks to the AONB and Greenbelt) and local economy.
  • Identifying, integrating and considering matters that impact across the borough, such as transport flows, and the balance between development in the Town and Countryside. 
  • Raising public awareness on these issues and promoting informed debate.

is welcome to join us.

We are non-political organisation aspiring to speak for those who share our interests.

Historically our focus has been on the Guildford Town Centre and Urban Area.  However broader borough considerations, notably the impact of large developments, also need attention, and we have, as necessary, commented on developments across the borough.

Areas of Concern.

A) Local Plan

The Society strongly objected to the Local Plan 2019 at its examination, together with other local groups.  We didn’t press for a judicial review, in 2019, as our professional advice was an appeal had very little chance of success, which sadly turned out to be the case. 

We continue to maintain the Local Plan and associated Development Management Policies are badly developed, which are harming the borough.  We continue to try and mitigate the worst effects of the Local Plan.

B) Local Plan Update

The society supports a local plan update, as it a element in correcting the issues with the local plan.  It is likely to be a lengthy process (3 Years?) and has its risks.

Housing numbers/targets are a risk related to the local plan update particularly as the Planning System is in turmoil at present.  We are well aware of the excellent arguments, on housing numbers presented by Neil McDonald, for the Guildford Residents’ Association at the review of the 2019 local plan. 

The existing local plan is deficient in managing potential windfall sites, as well as identified sites, due to incomplete and weak policies. On balance we believe it best to manage the debate on housing numbers through a robust plan update based on an updated full evidence base.

A fully updated evidence base is critical in having the information to argue with central government on housing targets.  The Society believes that the borough is approaching the limit of major new development, if the character of the borough is to be preserved, but we need the evidence to support this.  

The emerging issues in Cambridge, where lack of investment in infrastructure, particularly water supplies, is impacting plans for the area, is a warning to Guildford that it cannot just continue to build housing in a badly planned and unconstrained manner. 

C) Good Policies Required NOW

We shouldn't wait for a Local Plan Update.

The production of Supplementary Planning Documents, and associated Design Guides, for larger sites which carry weight, even if not formally signed off, can start NOW.  Guildford cannot afford to wait for the long-winded Local Plan Update Process. Draft policies would provide a measure of control to stop overbidding on sites,  with the result that affordable and social housing disappearing due to viability arguments. 

The current local site policies provide, in practice, guidance only; with developers realising that with sufficient legal firepower they can achieve more on a site. (A recent example is a LPSS site allocated for 160 Dwellings, we are now aware that a proposal for 350 Dwellings has come forward)  It would also help avoid use of prime sites for Student Housing that might best be used for Guildford long term residents – with students located elsewhere. 

A critical SPD for the Town Centre is one to manage Height of new buildings which would ensure new buildings have some relationship as far as height and mass is concerned with their surroundings.  The current Town Centre Views SPD has limitations, particularly in not managing how developments appear at a street level.  Sadly, the current Guildford station development shows what we can expect on several other consented sites in the future.  See Link Below 

We also contend that well construct SPD's would help enable provision of affordable housing and social housing.  Affordable housing is really a misnomer as it is still expensive and social housing is subject to the ‘hollowing out of council finances’ and the problems posed by ‘right to buy’ receipts that don’t cover the costs for providing equivalent replacement dwellings.   In practice social housing is almost exclusively provisioned by the council who have major financial issues, and viability arguments restrict affordable housing to minimal numbers.

D) Sustainability

The Society supports efforts to make the existing built environment more sustainable and believes new development should adopt the highest possible standards. In addition to better and upgraded buildings; we believe modal shift is required for transport enabled by good, simple to use, public transport and Active Travel links. Basic infrastructure (Water, Sewage, Power) also needs to be upgraded to the comply with latest environmental concerns. 

E) Quality Design

New development should be of quality design, built to high environmental standards using ideally reused and/or sustainable materials and have access to facilities for relaxation, retail, education and medical resources. Too many local developments are still using vast quantities of concrete, often using gas heating etc. 

An example of better development that Guildford could aspire too, is the recently consented Phoenix Project in Lewes (See Link Below).  The scheme is being developed by an organisation which is not one of the big developers.   

F) Town Centre

It has been claimed that the Society would prefer building to take place away from the Town Centre.  This is not correct, but we do want Town development to be of good quality and appropriate.

The Town Centre and Urban Area can accept new housing, which is why the Society has supported the ‘Shaping Guildford’s Future (SGF)’  exercise as it provides a way to define sites in the Town centre that can be developed in a balanced way to provide housing, commercial space and the infrastructure needed to support this  (notably Flood Schemes, which appears stuck in an endless Environment Agency exercise to produce a solution, which unlocks many sites). 

The draft SGF plan, which we believe needs proper completion, shows that the Town Centre could provide 2500 to 3000 dwellings (Mainly Flats) equivalent to one of the Local Plan Strategic sites, in town locations, provided infrastructure is upgraded e.g. Sewage, Medical Facilities.

There are probably a further 2 -3 large sites in the town that can contribute housing, but these may be prohibitively expensive to implement.

Current proposed, and on-going Town Centre development, part of which is unplanned windfall, is not of good quality, with several sites having been overdeveloped and providing limited housing types.  

The Town Centre through windfall development is currently ahead of the allocation proposed for it in the Local Plan, but with minimal Infrastructure investment which is an increasing issue.  

G) The Surrounding Borough

The Town Centre and Urban area is unlikely to deliver all the extra dwellings required in the borough; providing family housing is a particular challenge.  In principle developments that extend the town such as the one proposed at Gosden Hill could have fewer downsides, as in part they can use existing Town facilities, provided good sustainable transport links and other infrastructure (Schools, Medical Facilities, rail stations etc) are provided, and they are built to good modern design to the highest environmental standards. A real concern is that Weyside Urban Village fails to address providing proper transport links, failing to set a standard for the future.

Regarding development along the A3, we objected to the proposals at Wisley particularly on sustainability grounds, being a car-based development despite protestations to the contrary. We also objected to the poor quality of development in Ash and at Garlicks Arch.  Garlicks Arch exhibits the issues with poor planning being dependent on car use, has poor design and provides little or no affordable/social housing.  Although the A3 is being ‘improved’ at Junction 10 other improvements appear to have been delayed or quietly cancelled. 

We continue to object to what we believe is overdevelopment and poor quality on some of the smaller infill sites.

H) Green Belt

The Local Plan removed land from the Greenbelt and its protections. Re-inserting land into the green belt is possible; in practice this very seldom happens. Reinstating green belt status on land that that has been allocated in an approved Local Plan as a strategic site for several thousand homes would be challenged at the highest level. 

A concern is the debate being started by the Party who are considering the use of the Greybelt which refers to disused land within the Greenbelt. It includes areas such as wasteland and unused car parks.  This could provide a contentious policy and lead to creeping erosion of the Greenbelt land.  

I) Heritage

The origins of the Society are in protecting heritage buildings.  We are concerned at the damage to heritage buildings due to inappropriate development on nearby and/or adjoining sites.  In addition, we are looking at locally listed buildings to see if any might merit consideration for improved protection.


National Elections almost upon us, the national parties appear only to want to consider housing at a very high level, vaguely wanting 300,000 p.a. new dwellings, whilst blaming the planning system, for causing lack of housing and slow economic growth, ignoring lack of national infrastructure investment, land banking etc.  Across the country, several studies have concluded, we have enough housing – but they are not in places people want to live.  This is in part due to lack of employment opportunities; nationally we must consider re-invigorating local economies outside London and the Southeast. We await substantive policy proposals with interest.


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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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