Fringe Box



North Street Project Could Take Guildford ‘Ahead of The Game’ Says Lead Councillor

Published on: 13 Dec, 2012
Updated on: 15 Dec, 2012
Cllr James Palmer

Cllr James Palmer

In the wake of the meeting between the sort-listed developers and invited ‘stakeholders from the town,  Cllr James Palmer (Con, Shalford), lead councillor for the town centre and traffic on the Guildford Borough Council Executive, a forthright interview with The Guildford Dragon NEWS. He talks about several aspects of the planning project for North Street and says Guildford are behind other towns at the moment but a successful scheme could take us ‘ahead of the game’…

How is the re-development project proceeding?

It is going well I think. We had the meeting between the short-listed developers and the 60 invited stakeholders on Monday evening. It was informative on both sides. The stakeholders heard what the developers thought might be possible and the developers heard from the stakeholders what they would like to see for Guildford town centre.

What were the main things that the stakeholders asked for?

From what I observed, because the meeting broke down into different groups, I think the stakeholders were keen to see what the development might look like, how transport issues would be addressed, would there be mixed used of retail and residential as well as perhaps cinema or some other sort of entertainment venues. In fact, many of the issues that we are quite familiar with.

What do you say to those who say to the traffic congestion should be tackled first?

Well we are starting to tackle the traffic issue. GBC [Guildford Borough Council] are commissioning their own study. We are working with Surrey County Council on it but we are in the lead. A lot of the work will be done by summer next year. This will inform any development process going forward in the town centre and all of the issues will have to be taken into account. It is a crucial piece of the jigsaw.

So it will be a fundamental part of the project before any plans are approved?

Yes, before any proposal can go forward it has to demonstrate that the traffic issue has been addressed. As a council we are putting in resources to make sure that work is done and that the data is collected and studies are made and taken into account before any major project comes forward.


The area to be redeveloped - the north side of North Street on the left in the photo

The area to be redeveloped – the north side of North Street on the left in the photo

So it seems you are envisaging quite a long time line and we won’t see construction starting in the next one or two years?

Well I think you have to look at the longer term here, yes. We are certainly not going to see any construction work happening in the next year. It will take quite a time and it will depend upon development partners, local landowners, and so on, all coming together. It will also depend upon whether things can all be done by agreement or whether we need to use compulsory purchase orders. These are all factors that could elongate the process.

So how long to you see the whole time line to be?

It does depend on what the future shape of that development might be but personally I don’t think you would see anything opening up there for at least five years. It is a long-term process, which we have to start now if we are going to make some progress in a considered way. We don’t wish to rush into things but we have to initiate the process or we will continue to be at a standstill, just reacting to the initiatives of developers. We can’t afford to stand still in that way.

The project seems to be based financially on increasing the provision of retail floor-space but how much more retail space can Guildford support?

All three potential developers have made it clear that the money will need, in the end, to come from from retail. The studies that we have commissioned have shown that the town can accommodate another 60,000 additional sq metres, including the extension of the Friary Centre. But that is only a guideline and it is up to the development partner and us, the council, to determine what would be a realistic scenario. It will have to be viable and deliverable or nothing will happen.

Yes, it is a moving target isn’t it because it depends on what is happening to the retail sector generally and the economy?

Sure. You have to keep taking into account trends and current conditions. This is just another factor that developers are well used to dealing with. Regarding the trends I often here the phrase ‘clicks and bricks’ in other words that shops will become more and more the showroom at which customers can view goods before ordering on line. Some town centres will no doubt suffer which is another reason why we want to move quickly enough in Guildford to maintain our retail sector.

So could it be an opportunity to get ahead of the game?

Well I think we are slightly behind the curve at the moment, if we are honest, but if we make some progress we can be up there or ahead of it and that is why it is important to make a start.

How will the public be able to influence the style of architecture utilised?

There will be consultation with residents and the customary planning processes. An important question will be – does the development fit in with the rest of the town? The three short-listed developers were clear on that but that does not mean to say we will get a Surrey market town pastiche everywhere. One way we might be able to prevent that is by employing different architects for different bits of the scheme so that you don’t just end up with a monolithic block. But it will have to be practical and these days that means the provision of a large space. At the meeting on Monday the developers were able to show examples of successful redevelopments in Exeter and Bath.

How should Guildford citizens get involved?

They have already started to get involved through the stakeholder forum. There will be plenty of further opportunities for Guildford citizens to be involved and influence decisions once a development partner has been selected, in March next year, but before any firm proposals are drawn up.

See also: Vision Group’s Leader Endorses Council Approach Of Tackling The Traffic First

Share This Post

Responses to North Street Project Could Take Guildford ‘Ahead of The Game’ Says Lead Councillor

  1. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    December 14, 2012 at 7:15 am

    Sounds very promising. Traffic issues have to be addressed holistically though, existing problems and the effect of other developments, outside of North Street, will influence what solutions work best for the town as a whole. Needless to say, the relocation of the bus station, consequential changes to bus routes, connection with the railway station and provision of comfortable new waiting areas would have to be carefully considered. They must be well planned to fit in with the rest of the traffic system.

  2. Nils Christiansen Reply

    April 6, 2013 at 11:17 pm

    This is one of the most important initiatives for Guildford’s future, and it is critical that we get it right if we are going to secure the continued prosperity of the town and it’s desirability as a place to live and work.

    The keys to success will be mobilising support among the community; the borough and county councils working closely together; thinking in an integrated way across the town (not only the North Street development, but also the river, station, central gyratory & university), and; insisting on a diverse and exciting architecture.

    Unfortunately Guildford’s recent past has not inspired confidence that this can be achieved, but it is up to the residents of the town to elect representatives who are capable of enabling the development of this kind of vision.

  3. Ngaire Wadman Reply

    April 8, 2013 at 11:47 am

    I don’t think this development will be successful unless the council is willing to allow decent parking provision at a low cost.

    I’m very discouraged from shopping in Guildford at present because of the astonishing level of parking charges, and the distance one is expected to walk to get to the shops. Horribly uneven pavements, making walking difficult, and snarling traffic add to the mix. And when you do get to the shops, what are they? High-end boutiques (irrelevant to me), a few surviving decent shops like Robert Dyas and practical outlets, and the horror that is the noisy, badly designed Friary Centre – no, I prefer to do my shopping online or in outlying centres, where I can park free and not feel pushed, shoved, tripped, and at the end emerge having bought nothing, because I can’t carry much several blocks to the car park.

    Moving the bus station is probably necessary, but they’ll have to figure out how to get many more pedestrians from there to the shops – perhaps look at the underpasses in the Whitgift Centre in Croydon? The current pedestrian crossing is already intensively used and completely inadequate for further retail expansion, especially if the public transport hub is going to be relocated to the riverside.

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy. All comments are moderated and may take time to appear.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *