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Dragon Interview: Cllr Rigg Says ‘If the Developers Walk Away It Will Be A Disaster for Guildford’

Published on: 4 Feb, 2023
Updated on: 6 Feb, 2023

Cllr John Rigg

John Rigg, the lead councillor at Guildford Borough Council responsible for Regeneration, is still clearly smarting from the rejection in January of the North Street Planning application from the St Edwards consortium.

The vote was lost only by the slimmest of margins when, following a 7-7 tie made possible by the absence of a councillor, the chairman, Cllr Fiona White, cast a deciding vote. Although party politics should play no part in planning decisions, the votes were cast along party lines with the two Conservative councillors voting with the five Liberal Democrats to reject the application.

See also: The Battle of Eyre’s Tooth

In the interview, Cllr Rigg explains what might happen next. he opibnes that it would be a disaster for Guildford if the North Street developers walked away and gives his view on public opinion of the proposal.

He is asked by Martin Giles if all the organisations opposing the scheme: Guildford Society, Guildford Residents Association, Heritage England, Surrey County Council and Heritage England, are all wrong and whether, with his determination to see the scheme approved, he might have turned a deaf ear to objectors?

The thorny issue of building height control is also raised, as is the impact of Cllr Rigg’s party, Residents for Guildford & Villages’ performance on planning matters on the party’s election prospects at the next borough council election in May.

The North Street scheme has proved to be especially contentious. To hear what the lead councillor says on the matter please watch the interview…

Find more North Street planning articles here.

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Responses to Dragon Interview: Cllr Rigg Says ‘If the Developers Walk Away It Will Be A Disaster for Guildford’

  1. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    February 5, 2023 at 12:08 pm

    An interesting interview to watch but I would have liked Martin Giles to ask Cllr Rigg specific questions on all aspects of refusal.

    The question of height and the bus station issues were raised but Cllr Rigg said, as there was no restriction on heights in the planning process, the rejection on that basis was unexplainable. However, he said that R4GV would want to include a height limit if they win the next election. The question then be, how could development of North Street be possible if, according to the developer, viability is unattainable without the height and density they have proposed?

    There are at least six reasons cited for refusal of the Planning Application. Fewer affordable housing is one of them. There have been many comments on The Dragon about this issue only, as if nothing else is important. However, this was not raised in the interview. Cllr Rigg said younger people wanted housing but I think the reality is very few, if any, local young people would be able to afford to buy an apartments in this development.

    The size of the bus station, fewer bus bays, traffic congestion, difficulty for buses getting in and out of the bus station, inadequate access by all users as objected by Surrey Highways and the bus operators – all aspects are just as important.

    Cllr Rigg mentioned that three traffic consultant reports failed to find any problems and yet SCC and the bus operators retained the objections. Surely something is not right. My personal experience of congestion through the area opposite the bus station and in Onslow Street is horrendous at peak periods, especially during the late afternoons. For these traffic consultants not to find anything wrong with the proposal is unfathomable.

    Other issues of height, density, very low provision of affordable units and the views of various groups on the effect on conservation areas were known to the developer and yet the Planning Application was put forward in the hope that it would be granted. The fact that the council wants to achieve housing targets and has a vested interest as owner of 28 per cent of the land might have influenced the developer?

    The developer has three options: appeal, consult and revise the application or walk away.

    The fact that the SoS wanted to call in the application if the council had voted in favour throws up the possibility that the appeal might not succeed. For the developer to walk away means losing the investment put in towards preparing the application and facing the question as to what to do with the ownership of 72 per cent of the site.

    It seems sensible that the developer should consult and GBC and SCC co-operate to find solutions to the issues mentioned for the refusal so that a revised scheme could be found that is acceptable to all parties. Obviously the question of viability has to be addressed again but in view of the refusal of the application, maybe the developer and the council as joint owners of the land, need to consider writing down the value of the land in the viability assessment? What would be the point in owning land that could not be developed profitably?

    Making North Street pedestrian friendly is still possible with both entry and exit as designed to be in the north of the bus station. It requires keeping Leapale Road one-way and redirecting north Street traffic through Chertsey Street to facilitate easier movement of buses and reduce congestion. These ideas are in my correspondence of December 28 2022 in the Planning Application Portal.

    Editor’s response: I agree that not all aspects of the North Street proposal were covered but the interview was already nearly 30 minutes long, much longer probably than most reader’s attention spans.

    The subject of affordable housing has though been covered in many other articles as has feasibility. I have argued in an opinion piece that ha height limit would reduce site values and allow lower developments to become feasible.

    I will bring your comment to Cllr Rigg’s attention.

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