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Planning or Vision?

The Guildford Vision Group has challenged the Council to provide a VISION for Guildford in its planning documents. We asked John Baylis to describe the background of the planning process and the dimension of the problem for the town

Jul 2012

The Guildford Vision Group has challenged the Council to provide a VISION for Guildford in its planning documents.   We asked John Baylis to describe the background of the planning process and the dimension of the problem for the town’s planning officers. 

The Local Plan
It is very difficult for local plans and planners that government policies keep changing.

Work began on what is still the current Local Plan in 1997. It took six years to produce:  through a public inquiry which took place in 2000 and the inspector’s report in 2001.  It was adopted on 9th January 2003.   It was intended to provide the planning framework for the period up to March 2006.

In 2004 the Labour government introduced a new system of spatial planning. Local Plans were replaced by Local Development Schemes and Frameworks (LDFs).   The LDF in Guildford would be a portfolio of documents: Development Plan Documents, notably a Core Strategy and Area Action Plans, and other documents such as a Statement of Community Involvement and Supplementary Planning Documents (SPDs). All of these have to be in accord with government policy. The multiplicity of documents did not make things any easier for Local Authorities.

A Statement of Community Involvement and a number of SPDs have been produced and an Annual Monitoring Report:  other documents were produced in draft and went through various stages of consultation: and in 2005 and 2006 Preferred Options for the Core Strategy – then there was a pause and then the South East Plan (SEP), another initiative of the new government to cause delays. 

Finally in April 2009 the Council published a consultation draft Core Strategy in accord with the SEP, to which the Society made a full response.

In 2010 the new Conservative government decided to abolish regional plans such as the SEP, and indeed to replace and to combine and simplify all previous planning policy statements into a single National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF); which was published this year.  The government also enacted its Localism Bill giving more power to local communities: which itself promises to undermine too closely drawn-up a set of plans.

So there have been further delays because the local documents must be in accord with these new policies.

If the multiplicity of local planning documents remains, the Core Strategy will revert to being known as the Local Plan. A consultation draft is expected in the autumn. This will be a major event.  The government has created very strong financial incentives to ensure that new Local Plans are in place by April 2014. It is intended that the Guildford new Plan should be valid until at least 2026.

Meanwhile the old 2003 Plan is still valid.

However, major local developments still take place and need to be approved by the Council.  Here there is a choice of two processes for any particular scheme: either the Council prepares an Area Action or Masterplan, or it prepares a development brief. These set the scene for developers to make proposals. They have been a mixed blessing. If well done, they safeguard the town while enabling desirable development. If badly done, the reverse applies. They usually end up as having the status of Supplementary Planning Documents (SPDs).

Notable major examples of the first process are

  • the Slyfield Area Regeneration Project, which was heading towards a Masterplan but has stumbled on financial problems amongst the stakeholders, and
  • the Town Centre Area Action Plan which dealt in a rather piecemeal manner with all the major sites in the town centre, many of which are owned by the Council. There was a consultation draft in 2007. Then in 2011 it was renamed as the Town Centre Masterplan. In response to criticism it has been renamed again as the Interim Town Centre Framework, and a draft is due in the autumn. It will probably provide for Solum’s controversial ideas for major development of the main line railway station and its car parks, and could also enable the highly unpopular proposal to remove the bus station from its present site.

There are several examples of development briefs for particular sites: the second process for local development.

- The Bellerby Theatre Site Development Brief of 2011 cleared the way for the proposed new Waitrose: the brief replaced a previous one which proposed residential development for the site.

- A draft North Street Design and Development Brief was issued very recently (on 2nd July) to replace a previous 2003 brief (written to clear the way for Westfield’s now defunct plans for extending the Friary shopping centre). The new brief seems to be aimed at enlarging the site sufficiently to encourage a major new department store albeit at the expense of the bus station.

- Several other documents have been published in recent years as planning guidance documents for the Bedford Road site, the University Manor Park site, Slyfield Industrial Estate, Tyting Farm and Woodbridge Meadows. (A complete list of GBC planning documents can be found at http://www.guildford.gov.uk/article/9613/Planning-documents-and-publications and they can all be down-loaded).

It is notable the development briefs are impermanent: they change with Council strategy. This can be very frustrating when The Guildford Society puts a lot of effort in to seeking change to a brief which is later superseded.

Herein lies the problem that Guildford Vision Group (GVG) have put their finger on.  None of these Masterplans or development briefs considers the incremental demands on Guildford’s general transport infrastructure as a whole. There should of course be an over-arching vision for Guildford which considers the cumulative infrastructure requirements and the inter-actions between all development proposals, and hence an integrated long term plan for infrastructure improvements.  This is being championed by the Guildford Vision Group (GVG), as described elsewhere in this Newsletter. The last time anything similar was done was when the present gyratory was planned, and times have changed a great deal since then.

Posted by: John Baylis