Fringe Box



Dragon Interview – Julian Lyon – Guildford Society Spokesman on the Local Plan

Published on: 3 Aug, 2014
Updated on: 3 Aug, 2014
Julian Lyon

Julian Lyon

Julian Lyon is a member of The Guildford Society charged with leading its contribution to the Local Plan. Here, in his thoughtful responses, we find out a little more about his views on other subjects, as well as the Local Plan, on which he strikes a conciliatory note some might find surprising.

Tell me something of your background?

I was born and brought up in Guildford, attended Holy Trinity School (when it was at the bottom of Pewley Hill) and the Royal Grammar School. I am a fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and have a masters degree in business administration from Manchester University.

I have previously chaired the Property Group of the CBI and am chair of the RICS Corporate Occupiers Group. I have had several articles published and regularly speak on property issues at industry conferences. I am European real estate manager for a major car company.

I am a member of The Guildford Society and of the Guildford Vision Group. I am a trustee of South East Music Trust and I am married with a grown-up daughter.

You objected strongly, but unsuccessfully, to the winding up of the Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra; now that the dust has settled, what is your current view?

I grew up going to Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra concerts. It was an extraordinary professional orchestra made up of professional orchestral musicians. The quality was outstanding and internationally recognised. Frankly, Guildford punched above its weight in funding and promoting the orchestra.

Over many years funding was cut away but under Nicola Goold the orchestra retained its professionalism and high levels of performance.

My strong objection was not in respect of the council’s right to make a decision to close the orchestra but rather the fact that the decision was made several years earlier and the staff were kept dangling on a thread until finally the decision was confirmed. I believe they – and we, their audience – deserved better.

I still personally believe the decision to have been the wrong one but almost inevitable, once the G-Live venue was designed and built with too few seats to break even, as a symphonic concert venue. The final decision, though, was made based on information gathered by a council scrutiny committee. Although I disagree with the decision I am happier since it was, in the end, made on the basis of the facts and that is a key part of professional governance in a democracy.

Why did you join The Guildford Society?

The Guildford Society is, for me at least, the conscience of the town, finding voice where more than half of the population of the borough has no lower tier of government, such as a parish or town council.

The society is fortunate to have a lot of, mostly retired, professionals who together have a wealth of experience and local knowledge and they have a real passion for Guildford.

I am delighted to be able to put some of my professional experience back into the serious task of protecting and enhancing the town I have lived in all my life.

How do you think Guildford can encourage developers to construct buildings in our town of good quality that will last and be admired for centuries to come? Or is the shelf life of modern architecture necessarily limited, similar to many commodities in our consumer society?

Design is subjective, quality should be absolutely objective. We should be aspiring to build the street-scenes, buildings and public realm that make up the future conservation areas and listed buildings. We should be adding to the beauty and experience that makes Guildford so special.

We should not be too afraid of having some ordinary buildings in terms of design. In Rome you see street scenes where the great buildings are designed to stand out, but they are framed by elegant but functionary buildings. Not every building, therefore, needs to stand out, but they all need to be of enduring quality.

Requiring developers to embrace quality absolutely needs to be key in the Local Plan. The Guildford Society will be calling on the council to establish a “design panel” in Guildford as envisaged by the National Planning Policy Forum, in which the society would expect to play a key role.

If you were allowed to commission one show-piece public building for Guildford what would it be? What materials would you use? What style of architecture would you prefer?

This is a very difficult question because I would prefer to start from a position of protection and preservation of key buildings, street scenes and views, both into and out of the town.

If we are able to make the Guildford Vision Group version of the Allies and Morrison town centre vision a reality – where the traffic canyon is removed from Onslow Street and replaced with public squares and great public realm – I would like to see a high quality “water quarter”, built incorporating the back of the Friary Street shops and the Portsmouth Road [by the George Abbot pub] contract car park, offering great public realm, water-front dining in restaurants and cafés with town centre homes above.

As a traditionalist, and recognising Guildford’s county and market town heritage, I would prefer to see brickwork and natural stone with high quality detailing.

My over-riding preference, however, would be to see a high calibre design competition with meaningful public engagement to reflect all of the interests in Guildford and not just mine.

Julian Lyon presenting his latest briefing on the Draft Local Plan in a public meeting organised by the Guildford Society.

Julian Lyon presenting his latest briefing on the Draft Local Plan in a public meeting organised by the Guildford Society.

The Local Plan is the current hot topic? You lead on the subject within the Guildford Society.  Why is it proving to be so controversial?

There are some concepts and headlines that are difficult to deal with: housing numbers, loss of green belt areas and so on. Much of this is a distraction from the fact that we have a massive historic infrastructure deficit that needs to be fixed. The Local Plan should give us that opportunity. It should make things happen.

The need to achieve things through the Local Plan, however, has consequences.

The disappointing thing for me is that some of the Evidence Base [the  information gathered to justify the plan] is short of meaningful content. A case in point is the treatment of the Guildford Urban Area as one settlement when we know it is, in fact, a diverse mix of neighbourhoods with different needs which, frankly, offer different opportunities.

The outcome of the Local Plan is likely to be that most of the borough would remain relatively unchanged. The bold approach to look at three or four major expansion areas instead of piecemeal development can bring with it significant infrastructure improvements and help protect the majority of the borough.

The Local Plan consultation should flush out the reasons for and against each option put forward and there should be a proper evaluation of the responses leading to a recommended solution.

Population growth appears inexorable. Do you think some development of green belt land is inevitable?

I am not so opposed to once-in-a-generation realignment of the green belt. I am not fundamentally opposed to development in the areas proposed.  I do expect the case to be made coherently for and against such development on the merits of the proposals and not just as an objection to using any green belt land.

89 per cent of the borough is green belt – the seventh highest proportion of any borough in the country. 82 per cent of the borough’s land is green space plus 9.3 per cent made up by private gardens, 3 per cent by roads and, in fact, only 1.5 per cent by domestic houses.

25 years ago when Merrow Park and Burpham Sainsbury’s area were taken out of green belt there was an outcry. We could not necessarily say those developments were wrong. A popular village like East Horsley mostly grew up in the period from the 1920’s to the 1960’s.  We do not have the equivalent opportunities to grow in the 21st century.

Do you think that house prices will drop if there are significantly more homes built, e.g. 650 per annum, the current proposed number? 

On average we have grown by 495 homes per year since the 1930’s; it is only recently that we have fallen substantially short of that historic trend. The pressure on house prices has not historically been affected as much by the numbers of homes built but by our borough’s attractiveness and proximity to London.

There is a need for housing which most people can afford – affordable housing seems to many to be a euphemism for social housing – and we need to take positive steps to deliver suitable homes for our key workers or risk failing to recruit teachers, police, nurses, etc.

You are on record as questioning whether a bad local plan is better than no plan. What do you mean?

The life of the Local Plan is from 2011 – even though it will not actually start until 2016 – until 2031.  If the plan does not deliver what we need – I mean both new developments and protection and enhancement of key areas – this could be deeply damaging for our town and borough.

The absence of a plan would represent something of a lottery as applications would be dealt with by the council and probably on appeal to the Planning Inspectorate. But this approach would still need to conform to the National Planning Policy Framework.

I would prefer to have a good plan and we, the society, will be working to try to ensure that is what we get. I genuinely believe that is also what Cllrs Juneja and Mansbridge are working so hard to achieve but to help make the right changes we all need to make sure we express our views clearly and positively.

You have also said that you prefer large scale developments to piecemeal expansion. Why is that and where in Guildford Borough could that be achieved?

Let us assume for a moment that the housing number is fixed, whatever it may be; with the new housing will come a need for new infrastructure and the requirement to fix legacy problems.

Small developments cannot make the level of contribution of infrastructure that a larger development can. For new settlements or urban extensions, these need to be large enough to deliver up the very real needs of the area – or to be self-sufficient in their own right.

Where small settlements need small-scale development of the village facilities to remain viable, it seems sensible to promote those small scale developments in those locations.

Have you ever considered standing as a councillor?

I stood as an independent candidate in 2007 in the Onslow Ward. I got about the same number of votes as the mayor at the time but he was standing in a different single-councillor ward.

I would consider standing again but struggle to see how I could be truly independent, standing in a three-councillor ward, when those voting for three yellows, blues, reds or purples operate with a mantra of: “Don’t vote for him, he’ll split our vote!”. If we had one councillor per ward – administrative headaches aside – we could attract more talent into the council chamber.

Overall, are you optimistic or pessimistic about Guildford’s future.

I think we have a hugely intelligent population with a vast array of views and opinions and, if the debate is open-minded and objective, then I believe the future of the borough is very strong.

For the town centre, I am pleased that, under Cllr Mansbridge’s leadership and with major contributions from Cllr Juneja and Cllr Palmer, along with several other of their colleagues, we are making progress towards the kind of visionary approach that will stand Guildford in good stead for decades to come. I do believe we will have cause to look back in due course and applaud them.

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Responses to Dragon Interview – Julian Lyon – Guildford Society Spokesman on the Local Plan

  1. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    August 3, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    I agree with Julian Lyon’s observations. I’ve given my views in previous comments on the letter: We Won’t Need A Congestion Charge in Utopian Guildford.

    I welcome the idea of opening up the river fronts and my suggestions are compatible with the changes that the council’s vision document has portrayed except for Bridge Street and replacing the bus station by on-street bus bays in the “new” Onslow Street.

  2. Lisa Wright Reply

    August 4, 2014 at 8:09 am

    At least Julian Lyon admits that the large scale sites being proposed on Greenbelt, AONB [Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty] and AGLV [Area of Great Landscape Value] is a purely commercial decision.

    Unfortunately, as far as I can fathom, those developers will be sorting out their own site’s infrastructure as part of the deal.

    Will they also be expected to sort out the infrastructure, congestion and flooding problems in the rest of Guildford?

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