St Mary's/ Debenhams Scheme a Poor Scheme Approved

23 November 2022

Approved by one vote in Planning committee

The council planning committee passed the planning application for the redevelopment of the Debenhams site in the Town centre by Six votes to Five last night with two abstentions.  Voting was along party lines, Residents for Guildford and Villages (R4GV) and GGG being for the development, and the Liberal Democrats and Labour against.  One Liberal Democrat and the sole Conservative abstained. 

A Brilliant Site

The Society is not against appropriate, well designed, and sustainable redevelopment of the site.  Changing the use of the site to be for mixed-use, including housing, and providing better access to the riverside are supported.

The site is probably one of the best locations in the Southeast of the country, although it has its challenges.  We have consistently argued against the now consented development as the site should have been an opportunity to provide a new focus for Guildford containing attractions and facilities for residents, workers, and visitors. 

A revised approach with a wider mix of uses: for example, there seems to be a demand for modern high quality Office Space within walking distance of the station which  would support the town better in the future.   

Housing should not have been seen as the driving issue for this unique site. The Town Centre will comfortably exceed its Local Plan 2019 proposed allocation, with more to come, potentially, via the Shaping Guildford’s Future plans.

The consented scheme is an indifferent development in a key location providing limited public benefit and causes significant harm to Townscape, Heritage, and the Sense of Place of Guildford. 

As an example of innovative thinking almost on the same night there was a determination meeting in London that resulted in a timber framed block of flats being approved for Bayswater See link below

Lessons for Town Development

The application process has shown the lack of a strategy for the Town Centre development supported by clear and effective policies.  Like the Solum scheme a major site has been approached on a site basis with few overarching principles applied.  Many sites adopt the principle of, the Developer offers a scheme at which point consultation tries to shape it as regards scale and use.   We now have North Street, Guildford Park Road going through a similar process. Although Local Plan policies cover some of these sites, although not Debenhams, they seem to be indicative with no process to manage change or consult on changes..

This process is not efficient or effective and also encourages inflated land values in the town as landowners are naturally looking at precedent on other sites to justify valuations.

Our Best Hope ?

The Shaping Guildford’s Future exercise may be the best chance to get control of planning in the Town. If proceeded with, there must be a danger of delay/cancellation with budgetary constraints and possibly a new administration with different objectives taking power after the elections next year; there is a chance of getting a properly formulated Area Action Plan.

Finally the planning situation is getting more difficult due to central government issues See Link Below

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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.

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