The Town Centre ia at risk of inappropriate development due to the the failure to consider filling in many of the gaps in the Local Plan adopted in 2019 with strong and effective additional policies. Although we have been promised a Town Centre Master Plan progress appears to be slow and several major sites are having development proposed outside any Masterplan and/or effective policies.
Policy S3 - Delivery of development and regeneration within Guildford Town Centre, was included in the local plan, at a very late stage, at the request of the inspector during his examination of the plan. The Society views the policy to be incomplete, and together with the Guildford Vision Group wrote to the inspector requesting several improvements.
The improvements suggested, which were not adopted, included:
This lack of policy, despite representations from The Society and others, has not been rectified in the Development Management Policies (Local Plan Part 2) submitted by the council for approval recently.
The inspector at the Local Plan examination in 2018/2019 commented that significant issues of urban decay exist once you leave the historic core of Guildford. The Society agrees with this and is happy to see appropriate development.
We now have several significant sites, including Debenhams and North Street, coming forward for determination without adequate understanding how they relate to the rest of the town, impact on the infrastructure, provision of public realm and facilities, etc.
Height and mass of the buildings is a particular concern. Local Press is reporting that the owner of the Casino site is awaiting determination of the Debenhams site before using this to resubmit proposals for the site. No1 Onslow Street (ex-Sanofi House) has a planning application in place to add three extra stories to the building increasing its height to 10 stories. No doubt other site owners will, in the absence of a robust height policy, try to add extra floors to buildings/developments, as it adds value to development.
It is notable that no model exists of the Town Centre in the public realm showing Stag Hill, Guildford Park Road, Guildford Station-Solum, North Street (St Edward are to be commended for producing a useful model for this site), and Debenhams, this is despite the council investing in computer modelling software.
The Town Centre Area (Which excludes most of Walnut Tree Close) is now scheduled, if planned developments are consented, to have circa 2300 Dwelling Units mostly 1 or 2 bedroom flats in the period to the end of the Local Plan. This is Policies in the Local Plan applied for or consented, or Windfall/PDR. This compares to the 1335 proposed in the plan.
Undoubtably this will bring life to the centre of the town, but it is noted that no commitment is made to improving infrastructure (Sewage, Water, Electricity, Health Care, Education etc.) Are plans in place to ensure the Town can cope with the needs of circa 4000 extra inhabitants over the next decade? The developments are largely 1-2 bedroom flats with little consideration of family sized units.
Unlocking schemes large schemes can be complex with for example major foundation work required e.g. Guildford Park Road foundation work. There is little public discussion of options for sites where a smaller scheme might have still have a profit margin and be less risky due to the shorter development timescales. As the provision of dwellings in the town centre is in excess of the Local Plan proposed numbers; having less dense development may be an option. As GBC never publish a brief for a site beyond Local Plan policies it is very difficult to judge the basis on which developers bring forward plans.
The society accepts that viability is a major issue for developers, with a very difficult economic outlook HSBC have in the past few days forecast a 20% reduction in housing demand due to economic factors. Building costs are also affected by rising costs e.g. energy is a large component in the production of Cement. We need to guard against developers on consented schemes coming back for more e.g. add extra stories, to make a scheme viable; or only partial completion.
Design of buildings is a subjective matter. The Society is concerned that we are seeing too many major Town Centre developments designed in a very similar style using lots of brick, deep-set portrait windows and flat facades. Guildford has a proud tradition of good, interesting architecture. We believe that the schemes coming forward should show more character and innovation; and will be commenting on individual applications.
The Council Leader has described the Debenhams Site, in particular, as a unique site, he is correct, as a town we should be demanding a more interesting and sympathetic treatment of this site.
Help us make Guildford better
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.
Getting involved allows the society to continue its work. We welcome new members, from every age and background. Membership provides an opportunity for you to contribute to the continued health of the town and surrounding area, and to meet other people who care about Guildford.