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5 Things We Learned from Guildford Road Closure Meeting

Published on: 6 Jan, 2023
Updated on: 8 Jan, 2023

The largest Guildford public meeting in years reflected the level of concern about SCC’s London Road scheme.

By Emily Coady-Stemp

local democracy reporter

A postponed road closure in Guildford which raised levels of anger “not seen in 30 years” in the town was the subject of a packed meeting this week.

Changes to cycle lanes, crossings and more were supposed to start in London Road, Burpham this month (January 9) but works were postponed before Christmas after public outcry about the lack of consultation on the plans.

Residents, businesses, councillors and schools raised concerns about the planned northbound closure of the road for five months, and at a meeting on Thursday (January 5) the county council’s leader apologised for a lack of engagement.

Council Leader Tim Oliver addresses the meeting

Along with officers from Surrey County Council, Councillor Tim Oliver (Con, Weybridge) answered public questions on the plans for the A3100 at a meeting attended by well over 300 people. Some were even reported to have been turned away.

The meeting, which regularly broke into applause but also saw the chair threaten more than once to have people removed if they continued to shout out and interrupt.

Martin Giles of The Guildford Dragon NEWS asked the council leader if anyone would be held accountable for the mistakes that had been made. Cllr Oliver admitted that mistakes had obviously been made and the process would be reviewed but it was not a time to point fingers at individuals.

One local Conservative speculated later whether there would be a reshuffle of the SCC cabinet in the spring.

Read on for five things we learned at the meeting about the plans:

The cost of the scheme

The London Road works were confirmed by officers to be the first of three phases of works in the area, costing a total of £4.2 million.

This is funding that was secured from the Department for Transport (DfT) in 2020 – and concerns were raised in the meeting that it may have to be given back if the timeframes weren’t met.

Officers confirmed there was a time factor on the funding but said the conversation was ongoing with the DfT to explain the need for more time, given the postponement.

The number of cyclists and injuries on the road

The meeting heard there were around 260 cyclists using London Road per day on average, a number which went up to more than 300 per day during school term time.

Officers also confirmed there had been 89 cyclists injured on London Road since 2017, but could not say at the meeting how many of those incidents involved cars.

The meeting was told it was hoped improvements to the road would increase the number of cyclists by 50 per cent on average.

Cllr Matt Furniss

Cllr Matt Furniss (Con, Shalford), the county council’s cabinet member for transport, infrastructure and growth, remained largely anonymous during the meeting sitting with the audience father than on the panel of speakers but he spoke to the local democracy reporter after the meeting.

He said the council funded cycling training in schools but said there also needed to be the infrastructure in place and that part of the consultation process would include talking to schools.

He added: “People aren’t against improving routes for cyclists and pedestrians, it’s just how we go about it.

“It’s the same with every infrastructure project. It’s the ‘how’, not the principle of it.”

People are angry about the lack of consultation

This scheme was described by Cllr Fiona Davidson (Residents for Guildford and Villages, Guildford South East) in December as galvanising “a level of anger not witnessed in 30 years in Guildford”.

This anger was evident in the hall at George Abbot School, There were frequent interruptions from the more irate members of the public while questioners raised concerns about the impact on schools, businesses, disabled people and more.

With more than 320 people in the hall, plus those outside listening through opened doors, the meeting had been set up by Cllr Davidson with the support of the London Road Action Group as a way of council representatives hearing, directly, the views of residents.”

G-Bug member Doug Claire was one of the minority to speak in support of the scheme.

The works are part of a bigger aim to get people out of their cars

Surrey County Council officers said the scheme was part of wider measures in the county to reach its net zero aims by 2050, though Cllr Oliver said more than 40 per cent of emissions in Surrey were from vehicles.

He said: “Addressing transport is absolutely essential if we are going to get anywhere near to hitting that target.”

Cllr Oliver outlined that the two parts of getting people out of their cars were improving public transport in the county and providing safer walking and cycle routes.

One member of the public said a regular bus service into the town would “really help” if people were to be encouraged out of their cars.

She said she had been a cyclist for many years and found London Road going past the park “the easiest road in Guildford to cycle along”, questioning the improvements being made there.

Saying she would like to see the final proposed cycle route through the town, the speaker added: “Once you get to York Road traffic lights you have to vaporise into a parked car to go past the Mandolay [Hotel].”

A representative of Guildford Bicycle User Group said the group had been consulted on the London Road scheme and supported it.

The next steps

Katie Stewart answering a question at the meeting which, at times, required firm handling from chair Anne Milton, sitting next to her. Cllr George Potter can be seen sitting on the far side.

Katie Stewart, the executive director for Environment, Transport and Infrastructure at the county council, said next stages would include writing to residents and running drop-in sessions about plans for the road.

She also said officers were looking at some kind of stakeholder group, to be made up of residents’ associations and other groups to inform the options for the scheme.

Officers also confirmed that traffic appraisals and modelling carried out to inform the works would be made public within two weeks.

With one request at the meeting to carry out works through the school holidays to minimise disruption, it is not clear when this scheme may now begin, with the council’s leader admitting it would be “madness” to carry on with it if there were “huge opposition” to the plans from the public.

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr George Potter (Lib Dem, Guildford East) told the LDRS if the county council followed up on working with the community to engage locals he would feel confident by the end that the council would have listened to all the relevant people.

He added: “It really comes down to what the next phase of consultation will look like and what it will involve?

“Fiona and I, and the other councillors, will be working hard to make sure that the engagement is really meaningful.”

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Responses to 5 Things We Learned from Guildford Road Closure Meeting

  1. Fiona Davidson Reply

    January 6, 2023 at 6:15 pm

    Along with the London Road Action Group, I would like to thank George Abbot School, and – in particular – Headteacher Kate Carriett and Premises Manager Sally Cave, for making the hall and the sound system available for the public meeting.

    I would also like to thank them for being so flexible and helpful both before the event and on the evening itself – when audience numbers turned out to be even greater than we had anticipated.

    It was a great venue and a perfect location as it’s right at the heart of the community.

    Fiona Davidson is the R4GV county councillor for Guildford South East.

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