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Cathedral Declines to Comment on Challenge to Cathedral’s Housing Development

Published on: 9 Feb, 2022
Updated on: 12 Feb, 2022

By Hugh Coakley

Developer VIVID, speaking on behalf of Guildford Cathedral, have declined to comment on a new challenge over whether the land around the cathedral was intended to be protected from development for posterity.

View of Guildford Cathedral seen from The Mount. The proposed 124 homes would be on the lower southern and eastern slopes.

Local resident Richard Vary disputes the cathedral’s version of history in the controversial planning application for 124 new houses on the southern and eastern slopes of Stag Hill.

And he said he wasn’t surprised with their decision not to respond saying: “We have tried to engage repeatedly. The dean made all sorts of promises about listening to the community, and not repeating the errors of the previous application, but that’s not materialised.”

Guildford Cathedral from the air during construction in the 1950s showing open fields around Stag Hill.

The Heritage Statement, written by the cathedral’s architect John Bailey in 2015 and included in the planning application, says there was “an expectation on the part of the local planners [at the time of design] that the surrounding land and the road network would be developed and that the Cathedral would therefore be seen within a suburban landscape.”

But Mr Vary has uncovered correspondence in the cathedral’s own archives clearly showing the land around the cathedral was intended to be protected from “too near an encroachment of other houses”.

Mr Vary said correspondance in 1942 and 1943 between the Bishop of Guildford at the time, John MacMillan, and Viscount Bennett of Canada, referred to creating a great green space round the Cathedral” and a memorandum prepared by the cathedral stated: “The whole of the Hill on which the Cathedral stands will now be available for an open place for the neighbourhood which is rapidly increasing in population.

“The extra land insures (sic) that the view of the Cathedral from the Town and neighbouring country will not be spoilt by any buildings, except Cathedral buildings designed by the Cathedral architect.”

VIVID, speaking on behalf of the cathedral on the proposed housing, has declined to comment saying: “In regards to the Heritage statement, I’m afraid we’re not in a position to offer a response to this.”

The comparison by VIVID of the rejected planning application in 2017 and the current proposal has been criticised by a local resident as incorrect and “massaging the figures”..

In a previous letter to The Dragon on January 14, Naomi Vary accused the developer of “massaging the figures” over claims contrasting the current application for housing and the rejected proposals in 2017 (See Letter: Cathedral Housing Developer Is “Massaging The Figures”).

Apart from contesting the number of homes exceeding that stated in the Local Plan, she has challenged the developer’s comparison on affordable housing, density, aesthetics and a lack of detail in the financial benefit to the cathedral and the public.

Illustrative view of how proposed new houses to the south of Guildford Cathedral near Alresford Road would look.

Mike Shepherd, group development and new business director at VIVID, responded to the accusation (February 8). His response does not appear to answer the points raised by Mrs Vary but has been reproduced in full below.

Mr Shepherd said: “The land around Guildford Cathedral has already been allocated for housing within the local plan having been assessed and deemed suitable for residential development by the local planning authority.

“However, this allocation does not take into account the size or types of homes which would be suitable in this location.

“Over the course of our consultation and planning period we’ve identified that smaller homes, in particular 1- and 2-bedroom homes, are needed in the area. This has led to an increase in the number of homes proposed to 124 which includes 13 for Cathedral staff, replacing and improving those currently on site. 40% of the remaining 111 homes will be for affordable tenures.

“In preparing a plan and design for new homes in this location we’ve had to consider the sloping landscape, the existing trees, the surrounding homes and of course the Grade II* Listed Cathedral, whilst also trying to keep the footprint as low as possible.

“We believe what we’ve submitted really is the best possible plan for a successful development that provides much-needed housing for Guildford whilst being an attractive, sustainable, and enjoyable place to live.”

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

The planning application for the housing has been fiercely opposed by local residents. An initial proposal was rejected in 2017 despite the Bishop of Guildford saying that it was probable the cathedral would close if planning permission was not granted.

The homes, ranging from one-bedroom apartments to four-bedroom houses, are to be built on land to be sold to the developer by the cathedral and will “help address the shortage of affordable homes in Guildford” says VIVID.

Controversially, the homes will be heated using gas boilers even though installation of gas boilers will be banned for new homes from 2025 to reduce carbon emissions.

There have been 234 public responses to the current planning application, 224 are objecting with 10 supporting.

See also Parkes People: Viscount Bennett Of Calgary And His Gift To Guildford Cathedral

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test 6 Responses to Cathedral Declines to Comment on Challenge to Cathedral’s Housing Development

  1. Roy Connor Reply

    February 9, 2022 at 7:20 pm

    An excellent article with very good points regarding the land and design. Let’s hope that the council sit up and take note to this.

  2. Martin Elliott Reply

    February 9, 2022 at 9:50 pm

    As stated in the linked article on Viscount Bennett.

    “As a memorial to the extreme sacrifice of his fellow Canadians during the First World War, Viscount Bennett bought the rest of the land at Stag Hill for the diocese. It is also to the memory of Canadian service personnel who died during the Second World War.

    It was hoped then that the hill would remain unsullied as a fitting memorial in memory of those brave Canadians who served in the armed forces.”

    Have the boundaries of the tranch of land been confirmed. I remember there being some query of whether the ‘codicil’ was an expression of wishes but not a binding legal status for that land to be retained as a memorial of open land.

  3. Richard Vary Reply

    February 10, 2022 at 5:24 pm

    Replying to Martin Elliott: I recommend taking a look at the correspondence in the archive, but it seemed clear that Bennett’s gift of money was to purchase land including the plot that’s now proposed to be built on.

    We cannot tell from the letters whether the solicitors involved did recommend putting a legal restriction on the use of the land, but I cannot see why Viscount Bennett would have asked them to. When the Bishop told Bennett that he wanted to buy the land to prevent it from ever being built upon, I can’t imagine that Bennett would have doubted the Bishop’s word on the matter. It would have been very impolite for Bennett to say, “You say that now, but I don’t trust you, so as a condition of my gift I am going to ask the solicitors to put a restrictive covenant on the land”. He was dealing with a Bishop, after all.

  4. Judith Drew Reply

    February 10, 2022 at 8:02 pm

    Well done, Richard Vary. He brings to attention the very critical point, raised by Bernard Parke, as to whether the land was given as a memorial for the Canadian servicemen with the added intention of giving pleasure to visitors to the Cathedral and the people of Guildford. It is not for the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral to sell off to pay for the building of their 13 four-bedroom houses.

    As a close neighbour of the Cathedral, I know that this area is our only open outdoor space and has been especially important in the last two years. The Cathedral is so close and the Dean and Chapter so remote that they have not contacted anyone I know for our views on this. Neighbourly they are not.

  5. M Durant Reply

    February 11, 2022 at 11:31 pm

    Why not put flats inside the cathedral rather than on the green areas around it?

    They are building all along the train station, the Portsmouth Road, possibly Debenhams,the expensive student halls along Walnut Tree close and surrounding areas but they are not adding the necessary infrastructure: more hospitals, more GP surgeries. There will be more traffic, more pollution, you won’t be able to see a GP and you will wait longer for treatment at the hospital.

    With green areas shrinking (a lot of land is being sold) the countryside will be full of people. It’s happening all around Surrey, not just in Guildford, massive urbanization of the countryside. They don’t care what the locals think but they want to charge you more for council tax, For what? What are local people really getting back?

  6. E Parry Reply

    February 13, 2022 at 1:46 pm

    Unfortunately, it appears it is down to the residents of Stag Hill and Guildford to look out and protect the heritage value of the cathedral land and the Canadian War Memorial.

    Descendants of the Canadians who came over from Canada to fight for Britain are very saddened and angry at this news. Lots of their descendants still live in the area. Canada played a huge part in helping this country win the war and still plays a huge part in keeping the Commonwealth together.

    I’m not surprised the cathedral and Vivid have declined to comment. This is a PR disaster for them.

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