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Cathedral Can Develop Land for Homes Says Charity Commission

Published on: 28 Feb, 2022
Updated on: 2 Mar, 2022

Concerned residents who live near Guildford Cathedral alarmed at ongoing proposal for planned housing to be built on Stag Hill. Photo Grahame Larter.

By Emily Coady-Stemp

local democracy reporter

The Charity Commission has confirmed land around Guildford Cathedral can be sold for redevelopment, as residents voiced concerns about the newest plans for Stag Hill. Planning permission from GBC has still to be obtained.

Residents say the latest plans for 124 homes on the land behind the cathedral are “worse” than plans previously rejected on the site, with higher-rise blocks lower down the hill towards Ridgemount which will “tower over” the existing houses.

Richard Vary, part of the Friends of Stag Hill group, said that though there are fewer properties in the current plans, they are denser and higher rise with some blocks reaching four stories, with space nearer the top of the hill reserved for the homes for cathedral staff.

He said: “What they’ve done this time, instead of spreading the development all the way up the hill, they’ve piled very high-density developments just down opposite us.

“And then the very top piece of the hill, which previously the houses would have gone up to, is a nice big open space with some nice houses for the cathedral staff.”

He added: There’ll be these four-story blocks of flats, which are set above us on the hill as well. So actually, they really do tower over us.”

He also said the view of the cathedral from the town would be “pretty ugly”, ending up looking like the view from the north and surrounded by “high-density development”.

Artist impression of houses on the new 124 home proposal on Stag Hill by Vivid and Guildford Cathedral.

Development of the site around the cathedral was included as part of Guildford Borough Council’s local plan in 2019. A previous application for homes on the site, put in by Linden Homes, was refused in 2017.

Residents are also concerned about the agreement for the site reached between Richard Bedford Bennett, a former prime minister of Canada and later Viscount Bennett of Mickleham and of Calgary and Hopewell, and the then Bishop of Guildford in 1943 when funds were being secured for the cathedral.

Residents point to letters between the Bishop and the Viscount in which the Bishop outlines the buying of extra land to act “as a permanent memorial of Canada’s many associations with us during these war years”.

The cathedral has previously said that while there is a commemorative stone to mark the association, the land itself is not designated as a war memorial.

Plan of the proposed 124 dwelling development south and east of Guildford Cathedral.

Matt O’Grady, chief operating officer at Guildford Cathedral, said the sale of the land to developer Vivid for new homes was needed to “safeguard the long-term future of the building” because as a relatively new cathedral Guildford did not have a large income from historic endowments as many others do.

He added that the Charity Commission, as the regulatory body, was given the full details and correspondence relating to the land around the cathedral, bought with money donated by Viscount Bennett.

He said: “After a thorough assessment the commission approved schemes allowing the cathedral to sell the relevant land for development.

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

“Discussions with Guildford Borough Council regarding the structure and management of the endowment are ongoing and details will be agreed in due course.”

Developers Vivid said they had discussed with the cathedral the concerns raised by residents, and confirmed that the cathedral was satisfied this land could be developed.

The current plans submitted to the borough council include 44 affordable homes, excluding cathedral housing for staff. Of these 13 would be shared ownership and 31 affordable rent.

Mike Shepherd, group development and new business director at Vivid said the developer had worked to balance the range of views in the local community which represented “a wide variety of needs and desires”.

He said the height of the apartment blocks would be mitigated through designs such as flat and planted roofs to create habitats for birds and insects.

He said that a need for one- and two-bed homes had been identified in the area and that’s why some apartment buildings had been included, adding that the overall footprint and density of was lower than the previous application.

He added: “Alongside the delivery of new affordable and market homes, the development proposes improved connections from the site to the town centre through upgraded pedestrian and cycle paths, reduced localised flooding from surface water run-off and landscaped open spaces for the community to enjoy.

“Carbon emissions from our buildings will be around a third lower than the minimum standards required for new homes by the Building Regulations, exceeding Guildford Borough Council’s requirement.”

Cllr Tom Hunt, lead councillor for development management at Guildford Borough Council, said: “All development, whether identified in the Local Plan or not, must be assessed against local and national planning policies. The current application at Stag Hill is still pending consideration and will be assessed on its own merits. The assessment of the proposal will be detailed in the officer’s report, which will be published once the proposal has been considered.”

The borough council’s site lists a target date of Friday, March 18 for the application, so far 237 objections have been submitted to the plans.

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test One Response to Cathedral Can Develop Land for Homes Says Charity Commission

  1. Julia Shaw Reply

    March 3, 2022 at 12:28 pm

    The design isn’t very green. We’re supposed to be supporting active travel, but people who live in the flats will have to carry their bicycles up a flight of stairs to the bicycle storage. (There is no lift).

    I regularly cycle the school run and run errands with one kid in a kiddie trailer and my 7-year-old cycling. I wouldn’t carry my bicycle, a trailer, shopping and a 7-year-old’s bike up a flight of stairs.

    The cycle storage should be on the ground floor with direct access to the road.

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