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Councillors Reject Expert Help for North Street Regeneration Project

Published on: 31 Jul, 2023
Updated on: 3 Aug, 2023

CGI of how the proposed Friary Quarter in North Street would look. Image developer, St Edward.

By Emily Coady-Stemp

local democracy reporter

Guildford councillors have rejected calls to bring in experts to comment on plans to redevelop North Street amid claims the suggestion amount to “jobs for boys”.

A new planning application for the largely derelict area in Surrey’s county town will be submitted to the council with the highest building two storeys lower than in the previous scheme, rejected by councillors in January.

As well as submitting the revised application the developer, St Edward, has appealed the borough council’s rejection of its original 400-home scheme but denies trying to blackmail the council.

A model of the original North Street development proposal exhibited by the developers and refused by GBC’s Planning Committee. It is now subject to an appeal.

Cllr Matt Furniss

A council meeting on Tuesday (July 25) voted against a motion put forward by Conservative Cllr Matt Furniss (Pilgrims) to appoint the firm Create Streets to act as a “critical friend” on the North Street plans.

The not-for-profit organisation, which Cllr Furniss said was set up as a community-led organisation to improve developers’ designs, has worked with Surrey County Council to develop a Healthy Streets policy.

Cllr Furniss called on Guildford councillors to work with the organisation in order to bring in a “strong understanding of what needs communities have” that would be backed up by evidence.

He said the debate around the rejected North Street plans, now being appealed by developers, had been around the height of the proposed buildings, the number of affordable homes and the road layouts.

While he said the plans to regenerate the area had support across all political parties, he added that several council administrations had tried to get a redevelopment scheme over the line for the area.

Work with Create Streets would champion “gentle density”, Cllr Furniss told the meeting.

He added: “We’re not talking blocks, we’re not talking towers.

“We’re talking good, gentle design. Five, six storeys and so on, with developments that do not cause people to have a bit of shock about the proposals.”

A view of how the North Street frontage of the Friary Quarter would look.

He said that the county council’s Healthy Streets policy, which the borough council’s Executive was asked to endorse as part of the motion, was based on the principles of active travel, reducing air pollution and “effectively reclaiming our streets from the motor car”.

But councillors questioned the need to appoint Create Streets, saying it came too late in the process, and that new reasons couldn’t be added to the current application under appeal.

Cllr George Potter

Cllr George Potter (Lib Dem, Burpham), the authority’s lead councillor for planning, environment and climate change, called Create Streets “quite an unusual organisation”, in that they weren’t an established consultancy.

He also pointed to their founder, Nicholas Boys Smith, being a former Conservative candidate in a parliamentary election, having written a book called True Blue, and articles on the Conservative Home website.

According to the Create Streets website, Mr Boys Smith is also chair of the advisory board for the government’s office for place, and an academician of the Academy of Urbanism.

Cllr Potter said the organisation seemed to have a “political leaning”, and that appointing it as a critical friend would either mean asking the firm to comment on planning applications, which it could already do, or “potentially paying them taxpayer’s money” to do so.

He told the meeting: “We are in a difficult economy and I suppose it is positive to see that the county council are running a jobs creation programme, even if that jobs creation programme is just ‘jobs for boys’ in the case of this piece of guidance.”

Cllr Fiona White, chair of GBC’s Planning Committee

Along with Cllr Fiona White (Lib Dem, Ash Wharf), he raised concerns about the borough council endorsing county council policy which could be in conflict in parts with Guildford’s own Local Plan policies.

Cllr White said of the new North Street application: “It’s important that that application comes to the Planning Committee in the autumn and anything which delays that I think would be very bad for the council and for the developers and, I venture to suggest, for Guildford as a whole.

“The Planning Committee, when it does come, will make its own decisions based on planning policy but I think to delay it would be a retrograde step.”

She said she was concerned that despite the positive contribution that Healthy Streets could make to the planning process, supporting the motion could “create more problems that it solves”.

Cllr Joss Bigmore

Former Guildford leader, Cllr Joss Bigmore (R4GV, Merrow), said it was “unfair” to portray the organisation as “some off-shoot of the Conservative Party” and that the council had worked with it before on the Weyside Urban Village plans, winning an award for good design.

He added: “Create Streets have a lot to offer in the future and it’s unfair to say they are a politically motivated group.”

But he added: “It is too late for these applications for them to be involved.”

When the motion was lost, Cllr Furniss said he found it “disappointing but unsurprising.”

He said that rather than slowing anything down, the aim was for more dialogue with residents and businesses to “get their voices heard on applications”.

Cllr Furniss said: “You often get a very adversarial developer, council versus residents in planning applications and [Create Streets] can create good community links, to make sure everyone’s views are heard and able to be included.”

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Responses to Councillors Reject Expert Help for North Street Regeneration Project

  1. Roger Kendall Reply

    July 31, 2023 at 5:46 pm

    The bottom paragraph of this report on the North Street development says it all:”adversarial developer, & council versus residents.”

    The council is supposed to act on behalf of the town’s residents, defending the town’s interests. This site requires upmarket classical designs that will stand the test of time.

    Environmental concerns, mean buildings need to last for hundreds of years, which they can, if they are attractive and treasured.

    This ugly group of tower blocks with no parking and a vast amount of shop/workshop space which will remain empty for ages is not right and will damage Guildford for years unless stopped.

    Matt Furniss’s idea of getting an outside expert to comment may have helped but it doesn’t take an expert to see its ugliness and unsuitability for our beautiful town centre.

  2. Stuart Taylor Reply

    July 31, 2023 at 7:20 pm

    I sometimes think that North Street is going to end up with something that looks like Caucescu’s Palace, with all the competing ideas.

    Why shouldn’t a new building look new? It’s not on the High Street with all the heritage assets and what’s there in North Street now ain’t no oil painting.

    • James Heaphy Reply

      August 2, 2023 at 9:48 am

      I completely agree.

  3. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    August 1, 2023 at 2:52 pm

    I am afraid Cllr Furniss’ idea of ‘gentle density’ would not be achievable on the available site area that would give the developer enough return of their investment. The calculation of viability although heavily skewed to show a small margin of profit by using inflated building costs, could be reassessed but would not perhaps show enough increased margin to warrant further reduction of height and density.

    The way to achieve ‘gentle density’ would require vacating the bus station area and adding this to the site. The bus station would have to be relocated and the best site for this is Bedford Road surface car park.

    SCC and GBC need to grasp this nettle of traffic and congestion issues and be bold enough to opt for a more holistic approach and resolve the development issues, efficient running of the buses and traffic congestion all at the same time.

    I cannot see St Edward rejecting such an approach provided the bus station relocation is done as a second phase of their revised application that looks likely to be accepted by the council, and therefore not delay the scheme anymore.

    Vacated bus station area could be used for building housing units that would offset the loss of units due to reduction in heights. It may also be possible to incorporate public car parking in the lower stories of these units to offset the loss of parking in Bedford Road and may be a few additional parking bays would be useful. Such parking would facilitate businesses in the town centre and also the evening trade.

    My letter outlines the suggested solutions as described in

    I hope that instead of bringing in any outside paid advice at this late stage, the councils should consider exploring this free advice. Now that Cllr Furniss is also a GBC councillor, the issues of traffic and the bus station that are SCC’s responsibility overseen by Cllr Furniss might be an advantage.

  4. RWL Davies Reply

    August 2, 2023 at 10:41 am

    Agree entirely with Roger Kendall.

    How long will the North Street farce continue?

    Don’t expect any sensible resolution soon; perhaps within 3-5 years?

  5. Guy Sutlieff Reply

    August 2, 2023 at 12:57 pm

    I always love the developers’ pictures of pedestrianised streets in their lovely new quarters. They always portray sophisticated people popping out to byy some artisanal bread or an Aperol spritz on a lovely Mediterranean-style August evening.

    Sadly, the reality is usually a wet Tuesday evening in November, with empty streets with loads of litter and a bunch of feral kids on bikes frightening older people away.

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