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Canadian Intervention on Cathedral Housing ‘Embarrassing’ Say Campaigners

Published on: 7 Feb, 2023
Updated on: 7 Feb, 2023

By Chris Caulfield local democracy reporter 

and Hugh Coakley

Plans to build 124 homes on undeveloped woodland next to Guildford Cathedral will threaten a memorial to Canada’s First World War military sacrifice, a Canadian preservation society has warned.

Vimy Foundation letter (25 January 2023) says 66,000 Canadian soldiers lost their lives and “their memory must continue to be honoured”. (Click on image to enlarge)

Friends of Stag Hill, who have campaigned against the development, said the intervention by The Vimy Foundation is “embarrassing” for the cathedral and “could be one of the most compelling and strongest documents to support refusal”.

Guildford Cathedral needs to carry out an estimated £3.2 million in repairs, but unlike other cathedrals in the UK, it says, has “never possessed endowments of any significance and has always struggled to fund repairs to the Grade II* listed building”.

To solve the issue, the cathedral is seeking to have houses built on some of the land surrounding the building built. This it says, would “enable the endowment to be secured for the cathedral which is vital for its survival” and secure its long-term maintenance.

But The Vimy Foundation, named after a First World War battle, which oversees the public historical resources and modern perspectives on Canada’s participation in the First World War, says the land is a memorial to the 650,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders who fought in Europe during the First World War, 66,000 of whom lost their lives.

Revised masterplan for the proposed 124 homes on the cathedral slopes.

Writing to Guildford Borough Council’s Planning Committee, the foundation said: “This undeveloped wooded area was created on the initiative of R B Bennet, prime minister of Canada from 1930 to 1935, who lived near Guildford, to provide a place for reflection and remembrance of Canada’s contribution during the conflicts that shook the first half of the 20th century.”

See: Viscount Bennett of Calgary And His Gift To Guildford Cathedral

“While understanding the needs of the Guildford community, The Vimy Foundation wishes to reaffirm its commitment to the preservation of memorial sites honouring Canada’s fallen soldiers.

They continued: “In recognition of the bravery and sacrifice of these men and women, their memory must continue to be honoured.

“The Vimy Foundation calls on decision-makers, Guildford Cathedral, Guildford Borough Council and developers, to preserve the commemorative and memorial dimension of this site and will support initiatives in this direction.”

The housing development by the cathedral is mainly proposed on the eastern slopes of Stag Hill seen here.

There are currently seven homes on the site, used by staff cathedral staff. It is designated as open space as part of the Cathedral land but earmarked for 100 homes within the council’s local plan.

A previous planning application to build 134 homes on the slopes of the cathedral was turned down in 2017, despite officer recommendations, by Guildford’s Planning Committee. Background papers to the application said it was due to the plans being “poor quality and out of character with the surrounding area”.

This led to the cathedral working with developers Vivid to carry out what it described as a “comprehensive review” that included “extensive work to address the reasons for refusal in the 2015 scheme”.

The new plans would demolish the existing staff buildings to create 124 homes, 44 of which would be affordable. Cathedral staff would have use of 13 dwellings, with the remaining 111 consisting of 19 one-bed units, 61 two-beds, 28 three-beds and three four-bed homes.

Dean of Guildford Cathedral, The Very Reverend Dianna Gwilliams.

The letter to GBC from the Vimy Foundation, dated January 25, accused Dean Gwilliam and the Diocese of not responding to them regarding the preservation of the memorial to the First World War Canadian soldiers.

But Matt O’Grady, chief operating officer at Guildford Cathedral, denied this saying: “Dean Gwilliams has responded to The Vimy Foundation’s letter regarding this matter.”

He added: “The Charity Commission, the regulatory body responsible for these matters, was given the full details of the gift of land, including all associated historical correspondence.

“After a thorough assessment, the commission approved schemes allowing the cathedral to sell the relevant land – allocated in Guildford’s Local Plan – for development.

“R Bennet will always be acknowledged as the generous donor who enabled land to be purchased from the Earl of Onslow.

“His contribution is commemorated in a ledger stone on the south elevation of the Cathedral and the protection of this is encapsulated in the Cathedral’s Grade II* listing and in the Care of Cathedrals Measure 2011.

The ledger stone at Guildford Cathedral commemorates the association between Canada and Guildford in two world wars. Many Canadian servicemen were encamped in the surrounding area in both wars.

“The Grade II* listed Guildford Cathedral doesn’t benefit from a large income in the same way as many English cathedrals; because it is relatively new, it doesn’t have any historic endowments.

“The sale of land to Vivid for new homes will safeguard the long-term future of the building.

“The income generated will be used to create an annual endowment that will provide for the long-term repair, maintenance, and improvement of the cathedral.

“The cathedral is proud of its community links and believes very strongly that it should play a part in contributing to new homes in Guildford.”

The Dragon’s request to the cathedral for a response to the Vimy Foundation letter had initially been diverted to the developer, Vivid. Only when it was pointed out that the decision to sell the land for housing was the cathedral’s choice and that the foundation had specifically accused Dean Gwilliams of not responding to their letter, did the cathedral change its mind and provide a response.

The latest neighbourhood consultation expired in January.  A date has yet to be set for the matter to appear before the GBC Planning Committee.

See also:

Controversial Housing Development Needed for Cathedral ‘To Survive’ Says Dean

‘Emotional Blackmail’ Again Being Used to Force GBC’s Hand on Cathedral Plan

‘Stag Hill Is A Memorial Site and Should Not Be Sold For Development’ Says Alderman

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Responses to Canadian Intervention on Cathedral Housing ‘Embarrassing’ Say Campaigners

  1. David Smith Reply

    February 8, 2023 at 6:50 am

    I am not sure this is a planning matter, GBC are able to grant permission. It’s up to the applicant to sort any possible restrictive covenants out.

  2. Harry Elson Reply

    February 10, 2023 at 4:12 pm

    I visited the wonderful monument at Vimy Ridge. It had been fully restored for the 100 years anniversary of World War One and stands proud above the countryside.

    It was erected in memory of the thousands of Canadians who lost their lives fighting there and their undying support for this country. Guildford Cathedral stands proud over Stag Hill. Please let this piece of land stay unsullied from developers and remember the gesture it was gifted for.

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