Guildford Society Responds to St Marys Wharf Consultation 3

13 August 2021

Mass and Scale are inappropriate

The Society welcomes moves redevelop the Debenhams site.  However, we consider the scheme, as presented during this 3rd Consultation, is fundamentally flawed. 

The Society has discussed the St Mary’s Wharf proposals with the developers Native Land.  

Until we see the full detail of the scheme in the planning application, we can only make general comments at this stage.

Key issues with the scheme include

  1. Mass and Scale

Being twice the height of the existing Debenham’s building the proposed development will dominate and interact with a significant area of Guildford town centre. The majority of the buildings in the surrounding areas are 2-4 floors so buildings of 8 to 9 stories are inappropriate.

The proposed development because of its scale, height, and overdevelopment of its site, will damage the historic Town Centre. The impact of two such large buildings will by no means be compensated for, by a relatively small area of new public realm. 

If this inappropriate scale of buildings is permitted here, this will set a precedent for excess height buildings elsewhere in the town centre and on the riverside.

  1. Views and Streetscape.

Due to the excessive scale and height of the buildings, they will have serious detrimental impact on Guildford as it will impact many of the views over the Town Centre.  As a gap town we should seek to preserve character of Guildford in its valley setting when viewed from the surrounding hillsides and mitigate blocking the valley when viewed from North or South. Sadly, we do have buildings that block the parts of the gap already, but we should seek to remedy this over time.

We must not forget street level ambience and views as well.  These need to be properly evaluated.  We are concerned at your attitude to the use of VU.CITY as this will enable proper understanding of visual impact at street level including shadowing and illumination.  We hope you can work constructively with GBC to place your finalised scheme into the model so it can be evaluated.

  1. Heritage Impact

Guildford in the surrounding area is unique as a Town Centre in the variety and importance of heritage buildings.  Despite bad developments in the past, we have managed to preserve a historic core.

The proposed buildings will impact the heritage of the Town Centre and adversely affect the setting of some 35 adjoining listed buildings and the Town Centre Conservation Area.

Listed buildings adjacent/closely related to site include:

  • St Mary’s Church,
  • St Nicolas Church,
  • Town Mill,
  • Yvonne Arnaud Theatre,
  • 5 and 6 Millmead,
  • 23, 25, 27 and 29 High Street.

St Marys church has been important with planning considerations along Millbrook where English Heritage have placed considerable importance of this historic setting and adjacent buildings. St Mary’s is a grade 1 listed building and is the oldest church in Guildford with a rare Saxon tower. St Mary’s will be dwarfed and overshadowed by this proposed development.

In addition to St Mary’s Church, Quarry Street has 34 other listed buildings. It is one of the oldest and most historic streets in Guildford. A high proportion of the listed buildings in the northern section of Quarry Street will be impacted and those on the West of Quarry Street will have their setting damaged and views across Guildford lost because of the 8/9 storey height of the proposed buildings. 

The passage, through the development between blocks A and B, is promoted as creating a new view of St Mary’s Church but this will only be visible from a very small area on the river’s opposite bank which is mainly road.

The proposed development will also destroy the visual linkage between Heritage Sites e.g. St Mary’s and St Nicholas won’t be visible together in some of the views across the town.

  1. Riverside

The River Wey is an underutilised asset in the Town Centre. The proposed development shows no sensitivity to its riverside surroundings and may need to have even higher wharf walls built to meet flood prevention requirements.  The opportunity to provide stepping of the banks or even green borders appear to be lost.  The height and mass of the buildings will form a cliff on the riverside and dwarf all the buildings and the much used riverside in Millmead opposite. The visual intrusion on walks on the Wey also needs consideration particularly as one approaches from the south.

  1. Public Realm

Much is made of the additional public realm being provided by the project. Firstly, it is worth pointing out that in a sense most of Debenhams was Public Realm being open seven days a week.

Whilst welcoming the opening up of the Riverside Frontage this appears to be identical to the current area, with an extra pocket park provided on the south side.

The passage through the middle of the development is narrow Circa 10M and will be mainly in shadow because of the buildings 8 and 9 storeys.  This street will be a quite uncomfortable environment which like much of the development may be subject to wind deflection, wind tunnel or down-draughts caused by the height of the buildings. There appears to be no positive relationship to Millbrook or the urban layout of the area and the passage joins a relatively narrow pavement. This highlights that this is not planned as a public thoroughfare but as a necessary gap between two apartment buildings.

For a development of such importance the release of Public Realm is poor, and any development brief should establish “due to the importance of the location” a more considered release to the benefit of the public.

  1. Other Matters

We have other concerns on the proposals related to:

  1. Flooding
  2. Pollution
  3. Site Layout and Connectivity
  4. Placemaking and Planning including integration with emerging Town Centre Masterplan
  5. Design
  6. Sustainability

Letter to Native Land see below.



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