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Casino Site Planning Appeal Withdrawn For Second Time

Published on: 6 Feb, 2021
Updated on: 6 Feb, 2021

By Hugh Coakley

Guildford entrepreneur Michel Harper has withdrawn a planning appeal for the controversial development of The Quadrant on Bridge Street and the Casino Nightclub on Onslow Street.

It is the second time in 18 months a planning appeal for these sites has been pulled.

Artist’s impression of the proposed 10 storey Casino site building. “It would have shone like a lighthouse at night,” said Guildford Residents Association.

A letter dated February 4 from the Planning Inspectorate simply said: “We have received a letter confirming the withdrawal of the above appeal. The inquiry is therefore closed.”

The 10-storey development included two basement levels, shops, offices, student accommodation, a public house, a nightclub and casino and leisure areas including a cinema, concert hall, and bingo hall.

The site has a long planning history. A proposal for an eight-storey “leisure and entertainment complex” including a casino was allowed on appeal in 2004 and is still in place. A 14-storey proposal was withdrawn at appeal in 2019.

Aerial view of the site (image from The Surrey).

Reaction to the proposals were critical.

Chair of Guildford Residents Association (GRA) Amanda Mullarkey said: “GRA was so troubled by this application that we gave evidence asking the planning inspector to satisfy himself that there wasn’t a risk of a serious disaster.  We drew attention to major flood safety issues worried there was a serious risk to life.  Low floor levels meant the building would have flooded.

“People would have been unable to escape safely from the night club in a two-storey basement or the leisure complex on the top floors.  We called on the inspector to look very closely at the details to make sure the building would be safe and workable.

“We are so relieved that the inspector picked up on our concerns.  He went on to find so many flaws, including student rooms without safe access to a fire exit, that the application was withdrawn.  The inspector made it clear that the scheme would need so many changes to make it acceptable that it would have to start again as a new application.

Artists impression of the proposed 10 storey development in Bridge Street and Onslow Street.

“We also expressed concern about the impact of an enormous 10-storey building, with a glass leisure block on the top two floors, on the character of Guildford.  It would have shone like a lighthouse at night.  GBC’s expert witness gave very strong evidence against the appearance of the design.  We will not find out what the inspector thought about the size and appearance of the scheme because there will [now] be no inspector’s report.

“We’d welcome an above-ground night club with safe evacuation.”

Chair of The Guildford Vision Group Bill Stokoe said: “It’s worrying that its future remains so uncertain, and here again we have yet another unresolved planning episode.

“Leaving aside use and design issues, flooding risk and its mitigation in the town centre has to be tackled. Otherwise, along with traffic treatments, we will have a stalemate for any meaningful, coordinated town-centre regeneration.”

Chair of The Guildford Society Alistair Smith said they were surprised at the appeal being withdrawn. He said: “It appears to have been prompted by serious issues being raised by the inspector.

“It is to be hoped that finally a plan for the site can now be agreed and developed, in consultation with GBC, that is integrated with the emerging Town Centre Master Plan.”

Lead councillor for Housing and Development Control Caroline Reeves (Lib Dem, Friary and St Nicolas) said: “The appeal was withdrawn at the request of the appellant during the third day of the scheduled nine-day inquiry. The withdrawal followed concerns raised by the inspector that would require fundamental changes to the scheme plus consultation to avoid prejudice to third parties.

“We are considering submitting a costs application but the final decision on that sits with the inspector.”

Mr Harper and his agent, Andy Ryley of PRC Architecture & Planning Ltd have been invited to comment.

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