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Fears of Highrise Developments Echo Around Surrey Boroughs

Published on: 17 Dec, 2020
Updated on: 17 Dec, 2020

“Woking towers” Photo Louise Milton

By Martin Giles

and Julie Armstrong local democracy reporter

Fears that high-rise buildings might be allowed to dominate Guildford town centre were echoed in two other Surrey boroughs this week.

In Woking, already with buildings reaching for the sky, a residents’ group has crowdfunded a professional assessment of a huge development proposed for the town centre that includes its highest building.

Residents handing out leaflets outside Tesco in Woking to raise awareness of the Goldsworth Road development. Photo: Oaks and Vale Farm Road Residents Group.

And Spelthorne council has asked its cabinet to consider putting on hold all development proposed for Staines town centre because there is increasing alarm about a series of tower blocks planned within a one-mile radius in the riverside location.

Cllr Lawrence Nichols (Lib Dem, Halliford and Sunbury West), said: “Perhaps at the next meeting we should put forward a motion to change the name of the town to Staines-above-Thames.”

There was huge support among Spelthorne councillors at their meeting last night for making sure the Staines development framework was adopted ahead of any further development.

Residents Riverside Coalition at Bridge Street car park, where the planned Arora development would be two-and-a-half times taller than the Thames Edge apartments in the background. Photo Residents Riverside Coalition

“We simply don’t want another Woking in our borough,” said Cllr Chris Bateson (Lib Dem, Staines South).

And in Woking, EcoWorld London wants to redevelop the Victoria Way end of Goldsworth Road, over eight years building five tower blocks of between 10 and 37 storeys, housing 929 residences.

This would overshadow the town’s 34-storey Victoria Square venture now underway.

“It’s like what would be done in the City of London, not Woking,” said Bernadette Fischler, who lives close to the proposed location. “We really are in favour of developing the area, but this is just too big.”

Cllr John Rigg

Guildford’s Cllr John Rigg (R4GV, Holy Trinity), lead for Regeneration and Town Centre Masterplanning, said: “We have policies in place for future developments in our borough in our adopted Local Plan.

“Although the Local Plan doesn’t specify a height limit, our Local Plan policies and the Guildford Town Centre Views Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) provide robust protection against inappropriate development that might harm our historic town by considering how height can have positive and negative impacts on our skylines.

“We are lucky to have some amazing views in Guildford and surrounding areas along with some beautiful historic buildings, which have enhanced our landscapes, such as the cathedral, one of Surrey’s most focal and iconic buildings.

“Consideration will need to be given to how new development might better reveal heritage buildings and to reduce the impact of mass and bulk on views and skylines.

“To ensure we maximise new potential sites, developments will continue to receive rigorous scrutiny once we have seen the designs. No decisions have yet been made.”

A spokesperson for Guildford Conservatives said: “We have a lot of sympathy with the situation in Spelthorne.

“We do not want to see the ‘Wokingisation’ of Guildford with tower blocks on North Street or Debenhams. We support the character of our lovely town and villages, to respect the heritage of an old market town and meet the expectations of local residents. We should not impact this by allowing building upwards for developer profits.

“All new housing developments must include social housing and we will be looking to hold the Independent/Lib Dem administration to their promises of 3,000 new social houses.

“The previous Conservative administration limited building height as much as possible (to five storeys as standard, going to eight storeys where the position allowed) and emphasised community gain.

“Guildford Conservatives also unanimously opposed the Solum development due to its size and mass at 10 storeys.

“We hope any planning approval for the town centre does not contradict these principles so the wonderful view from the top of Guildford High Street is protected, which was also a pledge in R4GV literature to prevent tower blocks in the town centre.”

Bill Stokoe

Bill Stokoe, chair of Guildford Vision Group, said: “We missed a real chance with the new Local Plan to set proper parameters for town centre development, especially regarding building height.

“We’re now playing catch up, with one hand tied behind our back. Given our setting, topography and heritage, new building heights are very important.

“A masterplan for Guildford is underway, something for which GVG has lobbied hard. But its adoption is probably two years away, even with a following wind. I remain concerned that intervening, opportunistic development may frustrate elements of the masterplan, especially in relation to any new infrastructure.

“Piecemeal large developments, for example Solum and others, reduce the chance of gaining funding for new infrastructure through a town centre-wide plan. Solum makes no real contribution to infrastructure.

“The council, as part of the Local Plan, still has to institute a community infrastructure levy system (an improvement on s106 arrangements). So these developments are also escaping the CIL charge, to the detriment of our community.

“Properly coordinated development could also reduce the need for individual, sensitive sites to otherwise go high.

“All this again raises questions about the planning regime in Guildford. Is it fit for purpose?”

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