Town Centre Masterplan - Will it be overtaken by events?

08 October 2020

We need to get going?

Masterplan Development Agreed

Guildford Borough council agreed in July to proceed with the development of a Guildford Economic Regeneration Programme Masterplan Strategy / Town Centre Masterplan.  As well as Council Officers this Strategy will utilise consultancy organisation or organisations to supply skills and experience.  The Guildford Society would like the Town Centre Masterplan developed quickly.  There are a number of sites, in the town centre, which are outside the Local Plan site allocations likely to come forward for development. As both the remit and budget have now been approved by the council we look forward to progress.

The Risk

There are already large areas of the Town Centre that are potentially subject to redevelopment:

  • North Street - St Edwards may bring forward a proposal
  • Debenhams - closing in early 2021 and the site is on the market.
  • House of Fraser-  talk of a smaller shop with upper floors redeveloped.
  • Sanofi House in Onslow Street is empty - potential changes to come forward?
  • Many retail sites vacant - with potential to convert to Office or Housing
  • The Plaza site remains empty after many years.
  • Casino Site
  • The changes to Permited Development Rights could allow some buildings in the centre to have floors added.

Impact on the Masterplan

There is a real danger that developments will come forward that fix aspects of the Town Centre Masterplan before it is even finished.

Various ideas for the town centre have been presented over the years notably the Allies and Morrison Plan developed for the council and the plan developed by the Guildford Vison Group. 

The Allies and Morrison (A&M) plan produced in 2015 was never subject to the process for adoption by the council.

The Society believes the A&M had much to commend it and it should be considered as part of the evidence base for the new Masterplan, but it failed to address Town Centre infrastructure issues.

Guildford Vision Group presented a series of objectives for the town centre, many of these are shared with the Allies and Morrison Plan.  

  • Preserve the Historic Town Core
  • More pedestrian-only space in the town centre
  • New public space, including squares and green space
  • Reinvigorated riverside
  • More town-centre housing for all
  • Redirection of traffic away from the town centre
  • An integrated transport hub for rail and road
  • A new, improved east-west link across the river

It is worth looking at the GVG Flythrough of how the Town Centre Could look.

Minimal Protection

The town centre policy (S3) included, at a very late stage in the Local Plan adopted in 2019, didn’t reference the A&M plan. The society argued, unsuccessfully, that the policy S3 was unambitious in scope and weak on detail. This policy leaves the town centre open to undesirable development.

Covid a threat and an opportunity

There is little doubt that even if we emerge from the current pandemic quickly, as we all hope, that the social and economic landscape will be changed. Home Working or Working in Shared Offices may become more prevalent. Retail will continue its move to online.

Guildford will need to be adaptable to what is required and also ensure it remains a distinct town with local economic activity not just a dormitory of Home Workers!!

Objectives needed now?

As the Guildford Economic Regeneration Programme Masterplan Strategy / Town Centre Masterplan process will take two years. The Town Centre policy S3 embodied in the Local Plan is not a strong or visionary policy. An option could be  to develop quickly a set of 'working objectives' for the Town Centre which can then be used to guide the debate with potential developers.  Hopefully, this would allow effective discussions with developers to ensure options that are under development for the masterplan are not blocked. There a number of fast techniques to engage purposefully with the public in this objective development exercise that could be utilised.


There has been a number of political points made on the Towncentre Masterplan and its timescales.  We thank Bill Stokoe chair of Guildford Vison Group for responding very effectively to criticism of the past chair of Guildford Society Julian Lyon.  See Here

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