Fringe Box



Cathedral Development Appeal Claims Benefits Outweigh Harm

Published on: 21 Feb, 2024
Updated on: 21 Feb, 2024

The 124 new homes would be built in the area surrounding the cathedral Photo: Grahame Larter

By Emily Dalton

local democracy reporter

A developer is arguing that the benefits of 124 new homes next to Guildford Cathedral outweigh the potential harms to the heritage and green space. 

Vivid Homes is appealing for a public inquiry to consider its planning application, which was unanimously rejected by Guildford Borough Council in March 2023.

The cathedral, along with developer Vivid Homes, proposed to demolish the existing staff housing and create 124 homes in a mix of flats and housing – 54 of which would be affordable properties – on undeveloped woodland.

Officers at the council in March 2023 recommended refusing the plans for a host of reasons including its harm to the heritage setting, the “visual prominence of the apartment blocks”, the impact on the “green collar” and the effect on the “silhouette” of the landmark.

Councillors decided it was ultimately not the right location for the development, even if the scheme offered affordable homes.

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

Vivid Homes’ appeal contends that any harm identified has been minimised and should be balanced against the benefits.

The main appeal arguments are that the visual prominence of the development will blend with the heritage asset. It is claimed that the apartment blocks and roofscapes will “sit within the landscape”. Reducing building heights, landscaping and tree planting were also cited as ways to keep the green collar and “longer-distant views” towards and around the cathedral.

A council report noted that the submitted design proposals would “harm the landscape character and the visual experience of the site to the east”, but would “benefit” the approach to the cathedral from the west.

The council concluded that the proposals would “still result in moderate adverse landscape and visual effects” concerning Surrey Hills as an area of natural beauty.

The proposed development as submitted would “continue to harm ‘important views” in relation to the character and heritage assets of Guildford town centre, the council added.

The Guildford Society, a civic group promoting high standards in planning and architecture, said it was “disappointed” at hearing the news that the developers had appealed the decision, in late October 2023.

Indicative CGGI from planning application for the proposed development of land around Guildford Cathedral. Image: VIVID Homes

The urban planning organisation said it had two major concerns: the visual impact of the development on Guildford’s iconic skyline and the infrastructure supporting the development.

A spokesperson said: “The classic view of Guildford Cathedral from the south with its grass area is not really replicated in any of the planning documents.” There is “very little information” on how the development will look when viewed from afar.

Starting March 5, the public inquiry will be conducted by a planning inspector and last ten days.

Vivid Homes is footing the bill for the appeal, despite the application also being made on behalf of Guildford Cathedral.

The acting dean, Stuart Beake, said when the appeal was announced: “[The] decision is crucial for us financially – if planning permission is granted it will mean that our reserves will receive some much-needed funds as we can recoup all the money we have spent on fees.

“An endowment will be established which will provide funds for the routine maintenance and upkeep of the cathedral and that in turn means that our annual budget will start to break even or be in surplus.”

Guildford Cathedral has been operating with a financial deficit for several years which has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and the refusal of planning developments.

The cathedral said it was selling land surrounding its Grade II listed site to create an endowment fund to pay for maintenance costs.

A spokesperson from The Guildford Society said: “Planning applications should be viewed without prejudice of its financial background.

“Whether the cathedral is making money out of it or making a thundering loss is not a matter for the review.”

The application would have raised a £10 million endowment for the cathedral, which it said would help fund the future of the cathedral.

However, the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) highlighted during a public presentation that cash from this sale would only last five years. When combined with a separate sale, planners said, this would only raise 23 per cent of the budgeted maintenance costs.

According to Vivid Homes documents, the cathedral’s deficit at the end of 2022 was £116,000. It was predicted to reduce the deficit slightly to £100,000 in 2023 by looking at ways to increase income and reduce expenditure.

Details of repairing costs provided by a Quinquennial Inspection have identified repairs costing a total of £3,585,000.

Guildford Cathedral and Vivid Homes were invited to comment.

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Responses to Cathedral Development Appeal Claims Benefits Outweigh Harm

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    February 21, 2024 at 11:26 am

    No new home or building in Guildford urban area should be occupied until mid 2027, as there is no longer any capacity to treat additional sewage until the new works are completed.

  2. S Callanan Reply

    February 21, 2024 at 12:06 pm

    It’s worth noting that the Church of England is a very wealthy organisation.

    The Church Commissioners Annual Report shows that as at the end of 2021 the endowment fund was valued at £10.1 billion. It goes on to say that strong investment returns of 13.3 per cent will allow the commissioners to contribute £1.2 billion to the church’s funding over the 2023-2025 period, about 20 per cent of the church’s expenditure.

    Guildford cathedral’s repair bill of just in excess of £3.5 million doesn’t seem all that large in comparison.

    • Jonathan Neil-Smith Reply

      February 23, 2024 at 10:25 pm

      The Church Commissioner (CC) funds are legally ring fenced largely to sustain clergy pay and fund mission projects. They can’t be spent on church buildings.

      There are about 12,000 parishes, many located in areas that could not support clergy without central help and mission needs are as great as they’ve ever been.

      Cathedrals do get some help with staffing costs but otherwise need to find ways of funding themselves.

      One can debate whether there should be another way of funding building repairs for all our historic churches, as well as cathedrals – but CC funds don’t currently offer a solution.

      There needs to be a properly informed discussion about this, but the reality is that this won’t really help Guildford Cathedral meet its immediate repair liabilities.

  3. Valerie Thompson Reply

    February 21, 2024 at 4:07 pm

    I have said before, if only Guildford Cathedral authorities would reconsider improving the acoustics, thereby encouraging musical organisations to return to giving concerts there, they would make some useful revenue.

    As it is, none of the local choirs want to sing at the cathedral because it is not a comfortable place to sing or listen any more.

  4. Tim May Reply

    February 21, 2024 at 5:06 pm

    Does Guildford need more housing? Yes! Does Guildford need more affordable housing? Yes!

    As to the skyline this will be more adversely affected affected by North Street development (which GBC waved through with a reduced share of affordable housing!)

    Let it happen.

  5. Stuart Barnes Reply

    February 21, 2024 at 11:00 pm

    This is another outrage and more destruction of our green and pleasant land.

    The scheme should be rejected out of hand.

    This sort of vandalism will not stop until our government ends the continuing non stop legal and illegal immigration.

    It will be interesting to see what promises/lies re immigration the pretend “Conservative” Party will give us at the next General Election.

    • David Roberts Reply

      February 22, 2024 at 2:42 pm

      Readers will be familiar with Mr Barnes’s opposition to immigration which, of course, has nothing to do with this scheme. According to the best ONS statistics, Guildford borough’s population is scarcely projected to grow in the next 20 years.

      To blame the UK’s dysfunctional housing market on migration is misleading. It encourages prejudice against migrants and makes a feeble excuse for poor planning policies.

      • Ben Paton Reply

        February 27, 2024 at 8:00 pm

        In point of fact, the ONS statistics do show population growth in the next 20 years. All of it is caused by net migration into Guildford.

        It is only births less deaths of the current population that shows no growth.

        • Stuart Barnes Reply

          February 28, 2024 at 11:19 am

          Very true.

          The influx of several million moving in to the UK over the last 20 years has had a very adverse affect (not just re building – think doctors’ and dentists’ appointments for example) on what is left of our poor little country.

          Most new building in all areas (not just Guildford) is because of the failure to reduce immigration, the acknowleged primary cause of population growth, despite our regular voting (including Brexit) to control it. The fake “Conservative” Party deserves to lose the next GE because of it – although that may make things worse.

          It will interesting to see whether so called “Conservative” ex MPs, after having been beaten, own up as Socialists or Liberals. Perhaps even a genuine Conservative Party might rise from the ashes?

  6. M Durant Reply

    February 22, 2024 at 11:12 am

    The property developer would say that because they benefit in building new houses they have obviously never used Madrid Road which is regularly clogged up with traffic on a normal day.

    Furthermore, they have built new houses on the Portsmouth road and other areas of Guildford but have forgotten to add the infrustruture, more GP surgeries and pharmacies. The NHS in the area is not copying with the high level of new people in the area.

    We need green areas, the area around the cathedral should stay green, as it is now.

  7. T Merron Reply

    February 22, 2024 at 1:39 pm

    Even though more housing in Guildford is needed this scheme will not solve the issue and will only continue to fill the coffers of the developer.

    Until these housing companies change their ways and build houses as homes rather than for primarily monetary gain their plan in Guildford should be firmly rejected. This is not in the interest of local people.

  8. Nigel Keane Reply

    February 24, 2024 at 2:19 am

    To Tim May I say no we do not need more affordable housing because no developer ever really provides it. They have shareholders to support. What we do need is more socially affordable housing but not in that area of Guildford.

    At one time, before right to buy, most villages had council housing at each end along a local shop/Post Office with a police house for a local constable so every community had support across the board.

    There is now no infrastructure in the area to support this development. Think of the fiasco with Thames Water’s supply, lack of doctors, post offices etc.

    In West Horsley, near Bell & Colvill, the new houses are lower than the drainage access points and so overflow runs across their gardens to the front door

    Vivid Homes have a very vivid imagination if they think they can just overrule local people’s opposition.

  9. Sara Tokunaga Reply

    February 27, 2024 at 9:43 am

    It would appear there has been woeful mismanagement of the cathedral’s finances over the years. The CofE is sitting on billions, including shares in several (poor performance for their customers) water companies, so maybe it’s about time it looked at ways to invest in the maintenance of its properties rather than denying all responsibility.

    Guildford Cathedral could start by selling the bishop’s house, which would raise some “much needed” funds.

  10. Jonathan Readings Reply

    February 29, 2024 at 11:30 am

    Its interesting that some commenters want to preserve this green space but I live within walking distance of the Cathedral and have never seen anyone using the space. The loss of this green space is therefore not a valid argument against the scheme in my view. I would like to see proper provision of socially affordable housing in Guildford as Nigel Keane says.

    Bring it on.

    • Ben Paton Reply

      February 29, 2024 at 2:40 pm

      No one is using Antartica.

      Based on Mr Reading’s argument, the South Pole should be used for housing and to hell with nature and climate change.

    • M Durant Reply

      March 1, 2024 at 12:52 am

      Lord Onslow and gave part of the land to the Diocese of Guildford to build the cathedral not houses. [See also: Parke’s People: Viscount Bennett of Calgary And His Gift To Guildford Cathedral]

      Green areas are needed to absorb the high level pollution in Guildford and to absorb the high level of continuous rain. Highly concreted areas cause floods.

      I have seen people running and walking around the green areas of the cathedral regularly.

    • Richard Vary Reply

      March 2, 2024 at 7:45 am

      I was amused to read your comment as I came in from a walk on the hill. We live opposite and we see people every day. There are running clubs using it.

    • John Perkins Reply

      March 2, 2024 at 10:42 am

      Nor is a lack of visible use a valid argument. Many people own paintings and ornaments which serve no purpose other than to enhance their surroundings and give them pleasure when looked at. Even prisoners decorate the walls of their cells.

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