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Planning Group Annual Report

Mar 2013

Waitrose

The most significant planning application during the year has been that by Waitrose to build a supermarket on the Bellerby Theatre site.

Planning Group members had a preliminary meeting with the Waitrose Project Team on 13th April 2012. Subsequently we wrote to express our concerns about location, design and proposed materials and issued a press release that was headlined in the Surrey Ad. on 4th May.

At Waitrose invitation, we met again with them on 10th May. We vigorously pressed our objections to the monolithic bulk, the white ‘asbestos-cement,’ the black stone panel materials and other aspects of the design. We also objected to the unsuitable location. Previously the site had been zoned for housing. We emailed Carol Humphrey, Head of GBC Planning Services, to let GBC Planning know of our objections, copied back to Waitrose.

Waitrose submitted their planning application on 14th June, number 12/P/01020. The only change Waitrose made to their original proposals was to amend slightly the position of the proposed at-grade crossing of York Road. Waitrose had ignored every one of our representations. Martin, on behalf of the Group, prepared a substantial letter of objection which went to Carol Humphrey under the Chairman’s signature on 20th July. The main sub-headings in the letter were traffic, design and prematurity. We assisted the Chairman to write again in support of Gerald Bland’s contention that the application should not be determined prior to the availability of a draft new Local Plan.

The planning application went to the GBC Planning Committee on 6th November. Amanda spoke on behalf of both The Society and about 15 RAs. Her speech urging refusal was applauded by the many members of the public present. However there was no motion to refuse the application and no Councillor spoke against it. The application was approved by 18 votes to 1.

The Planning Group wrote to DCLG on 23rd November to argue that the application should be called in, based on wording provided by Amanda. DCLG wrote to Carol Humphrey on 20th December to say that the Secretary of State had decided not to call the application in. The application was approved by GBC on that day.

GVG is pressing for a Judicial Review of the approval.

North Street

This will be the largest town centre development for very many years.

GBC’s consultants organised workshops on 23rd May where we had a strong voice. It became evident that the Council’s purpose was to revise the very satisfactory 2003 brief for the Friary Extension, as it then was, so as to enable a 180,000 sq ft department store and the associated 360,000 sq ft of shops needed to make it financially viable. The revision suggested expansion of the site to the east along and behind North Street and inclusion of Dominion House to the north.

We stated the need for a town centre Masterplan and drew attention to David Ogilvie’s proposals. We strongly questioned whether Guildford can absorb 540,000 sq ft (over 50,000 sq m) of new retail space, and we asked for a bus station on the site, even if some buses are accommodated elsewhere. We asked for a better pedestrian route from the railway station to the town centre, not along Bridge Street, and that there be pedestrian routes through the site open 24/7.

GBC published a draft Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) for development of the site on 2nd July. We submitted comments along the above lines. The SPD was an agenda item at the GBC Executive meeting on 6th September.  The item also included a report of the many comments received and the officers’ responses. These responses were highly negative but no changes of any substance were suggested by the officers. In the light of GVG’s legal challenge to the SPD it was withdrawn.

On 8th November the GBC Executive approved a new “Outline Brief” for the site and an “Expressions of Interest” statement.  Land Securities, Lend Lease and Queensberry had been shortlisted as potential developers. It was notable that Hermes, who own the present Friary Centre and 28% of the site, were not on the short list. A new department store remained the key objective as a means of ensuring the future commercial strength of the town.

On 10th December there was a Stakeholders meeting at which teams from Land Securities, Lend Lease and Queensberry gave presentations and were available to answer questions. Our Chairman attended, together with Maurice Barham and three members from the Planning Group. Subsequently GVG arranged follow-up meetings with each of the three developers.  The developers submitted their outline proposals on 1st Feb and we asked GBC (Chris Mansfield) that they should be put on display so that the public can see them. He promises to do so. The GBC Executive is due to announce its choice of developer on 18th April.

Interim Town Centre Framework (ITCF)

This document was also was an agenda item at the GBC Executive meeting on 6th September. It was made available on 18th August. It replaced the previous draft Town Centre Masterplan, which had been withdrawn in the light of criticism from G Soc, GVG and others. The ITCF had taken note of many of the comments made during previous consultations but was still seriously lacking in that it had no overall vision. It was full of good intentions but proposed little delivery of them. It was not put out for consultation but the Group prepared preliminary comments which, amongst others, were covered in the GBC Executive item. The officers’ responses to our comments were less negative than in the North Street Brief.

The Chairman sent our comments on the North Street Brief and the ITCF under a covering letter to all Councillors on 27th August. The Chairman and I were due to speak at the Executive on 6th September but in the light of GVG’s legal challenge the item was also withdrawn. The GBC Lead Councillor, Tony Rooth, subsequently resigned, although there may have been no connection with the above events.

Housing Densities and the Local Plan

We wrote to Carol Humphrey about the housing densities in recent major planning applications. Densities are falling and the letter expressed a view that the upper limit for suburban development should be below 40 dwellings per hectare in order to ensure a pleasant and sustainable environment. We went on to remark that a couple of years ago a considerably higher density was proposed for the 20 hectares of the Slyfield Area Regeneration Project. We argued that the area should not accommodate more than 750 dwellings. We did however acknowledged the urgent need for more housing in the Borough. Carol Humphrey sent a thoughtful reply and commented that “You are right in that the location and density of future development will be a key part of this consultation and the development of the new plan.”

The Sustainability Scoping Report

Consultation on the new Local Plan has commenced. On 11th December GBC issued a Sustainability Appraisal Scoping Report, deadline for comments 22nd January. The report addresses a set of high level topics and teases out their issues. It then gives a few indicators for each topic and the direction in which the indicators are expected to move, e.g. for the topic of population an indicator is housing delivery, which is expected to increase. The Report states that “Key sustainability issues are identified for each sustainability topic, including indicators which establish the sustainability framework against which the emerging plan will be judged.” Martin provided a response on behalf of the Group. There were two issues of concern.

Firstly, we questioned the justification for estimates from the Office of National Statistics that the population of the Borough will rise from 139,000 in 2010 to 162,000 by 2035 – an increase of 23,000 (16.5%) over 25 years. With increasing levels of divorce; with more people choosing to live on their own; and increasing longevity we question the justification for this prediction. We expressed the worry that to achieve the increase of 23,000 this will require a substantial increase in the housing stock potentially with the loss of Green Belt land which would be to the detriment of the character of the town. We also expressed concern that if the justification for the projected growth is not challenged, we may find that the projected increase will be established as a target and any slippage in achieving year-on-year growth to achieve that ‘target’ will then be used as justification for allocating ever more land for housing.

Secondly, we expressed concern over the intention to further restrict parking requirements for new housing as a means of encouraging more people to use public transport (and thus reduce carbon emissions and reduce traffic congestion). We consider it is unrealistic to think that restricting car parking space on new residential developments will result in lower car ownership. If parking standards are reduced on new developments the new residents will simply park their cars on the streets either within the development or often on adjoining residential roads thus cluttering up the environment all to the inconvenience and detriment of both the new and existing residents.

Shop Fronts and Signs

We sent Carol Humphrey an email raising three issues regarding recent town centre planning applications: hanging signs in the High Street, extensive use of plate glass in new High Street shop fronts and use of large illuminated flat panel displays in the town centre. Tim Dawes, Development Control Manager, sent a most helpful and co-operative reply.

Advertising by Virgin on telecommunication boxes

Much concern has been expressed within the town over the advertising campaign by Virgin by sticking large advertisements on telecommunication boxes. Ian drafted a letter from the Planning Group to Tim Dawes, senior planner at GBC, questioning the Council’s view that such advertising does not require planning permission. We take the view that these advertisements representcommercial advertising requiring planning consent and not functional advertising which benefits from deemed consent. Daniel Ledger, Principal Planning Enforcement Officer, replied to our letter and explained his decision not to take formal enforcement action against Virgin. He said that he has agreed with Virgin that all of the offending advertisements will eventually be removed. Any resident is free to email Neal Walshe of Virgin with regard to any still remaining at Neal.walshe@virginmedia.co.uk 

Other Schemes and Planning Applications

The Group continues to meet every three weeks at the Council offices. During the year April 2012 to March 2013 the Group wrote over 50 letters to the Head of Planning Services on a wide range of individual planning applications, mostly in the town’s urban area. As far as we know from informal feedback these letters are well received by Planning Officers even if they do not always agree with our views. These letters also help maintain The Society’s profile with the general public. Brief details of our submissions are given on The Society’s Website.

Membership

The members of the Group are John Baylis, Gordon Bridger, Ian Macpherson, Amanda Mullarkey, David Ogilvie, Martin Taplin, Anthony Umney and John Wood. For a short time Michael Loates-Taylor joined the Group but had to resign because of the pressure of other commitments: we hope that he is able to return in due course. The Group is represented on The Society’s Executive by Martin Taplin. John Baylis acts as Secretary for the Group. The Group has had no Chairman since the 2011 AGM.

Posted by: John Baylis