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GBC Announcement on Town Centre Planning Welcomed and Criticised

Published on: 18 Aug, 2018
Updated on: 20 Aug, 2018

A claim by Guildford Borough Council (GBC) that is moving forward its “bold plans to regenerate Guildford” has been met with both encouragement and scepticism.

And the statement from the GBC council leader that: “There will be consultation opportunities during the next stages of this important work to regenerate Guildford and we’ll let people know how they can get involved,” has been seen as a possible response to comments made by the presiding planning inspector during his examination of Guildford’s submitted Local Plan.

John Rigg, chairman of Guildford Vision Group which, he has complained, has been cold shouldered by GBC, said he welcomed the announcement but that the council “…has to rapidly make up for lost time and produce a proper masterplan for the town centre capable of being legally adopted”. Adding: “Let’s get on and let’s get it done.”

But the council leader’s erstwhile council Executive colleague Tony Rooth (Ind, Pilgrims) was more critical: “The council’s approach to Guildford town centre appears complicated, confusing and uncoordinated.”

GBC map showing town centre boundary

Council Leader Paul Spooner (Con, Ash South & Tongham) said: “Guildford is a successful and high-performing regional centre and we must keep looking ahead to ensure a vibrant future for our local economy and communities.

Cllr Paul Spooner

“We are now starting work to review and update our Town Centre Regeneration Strategy. This long-term flexible strategy continues to evolve and making our ambitious vision a reality will take time and appropriate investment.

“I am also very pleased that we have engaged external specialists to work with our professional Council teams on our new Guildford Heights and Views Strategy and our new Strategic Development Framework.”

According to the press release, it is intended that the review will allow the council to update how it could, “deliver significant, integrated and meaningful improvements in public spaces, homes, transport, shopping, and leisure, balanced with protecting Guildford’s unique character.

A GBC spokesperson said: “Our new Guildford Heights and Views Study will identify particularly important views of our historic places and buildings that help us to better understand the development of the town.

“Land Use Consultants (LUC) will be assisting with this study, which focusses on the town centre with key views identified from locations outside and on the approach to Guildford. Being located near the North Downs also means there are strong visual links between our town and countryside.

GBC has also commissioned David Lock Associates to produce a Strategic Development Framework, which will look at overall high-level master planning for strategic sites in the borough, including their connections to and from the town centre.

Cllr Spooner continued: “There are great opportunities, as well as challenges, in making our dynamic and attractive town a great place to live, work and visit. ”

Cllr Tony Rooth

Cllr Tony Rooth was critical: “The council’s approach to Guildford town centre appears complicated, confusing and uncoordinated.

“Cllr Spooner refers to reviewing and updating the Town Centre Regeneration Strategy which was adopted only last year. He also mentions a Strategic Development Framework and ” Heights and Views” strategy, both new but for what real objectives?

“There is no mention of the existing Town Centre Masterplan, the new Corporate Plan, just published, or indeed the draft Local Plan. The planning inspector indicated the importance of new policy S3 for Delivery of development and regeneration within Guildford Town Centre at the Local Plan enquiry. Let’s hope he challenges the council’s proposed “retail led” development and supports the real need for more affordable homes on brownfield sites.

“Will the public be able to make heads or tails of how our town centre might be “transformed “or will they be confused and effectively sidelined by the sheer weight of information anddocumentation?

“Proper consultation with the people is required , starting with what our residents require to become involved in deciding the future of Guildford’s town centre . The council leadership has consultation obligations, not “opportunities ” and should ask the people how they can get involved, not tell them from on high.”

Cllr Caroline Reeves

Lib Dem leader of the opposition at GBC, Caroline Reeves (Friary & St Nicolas) hoped for a more radical approach.

Asked if she had confidence in the council’s handling of town centre planning she said: “There are many aspects of the town centre planning that should have been dealt with much earlier in the Local Plan process but political decisions were made by Conservatives in the past which put the town centre in the difficult folder on the back burner.

“We now need to be radical in order to solve some of the issues currently facing Guildford, and whatever the plans, they must be a workable solution if we are to realistically move forward. As a ward councillor actually living in my town centre ward, I shall be keeping a very close watch on what is planned, and what we can ensure will actually happen as well as engaging with my residents and businesses to find out their views.

“The next stages of planning for our town must be open and transparent – but we have to produce an answer this time and not yet another consultation document to add to the pile.

“The Guildford Heights and Views Study, a rather unwieldy name, is very welcome and long overdue. I hope consultation on this will be across the whole town, residents, businesses and other stakeholders. It’s a document that would have been very valuable during the Solum [railway station planning] application.

“The key for successful consultation for any town centre plan is to engage with residents and businesses who are the ‘ordinary’  people actually living and working in the town centre, who will live and breath whatever the final plan is.

“We know that interested parties will take part in consultations and not hesitate to give their views, but they are not the only people who should put forward an opinion.”

John Rigg, GVG

GVG chairman, John Rigg said: “GVG welcomes the council’s commitment to further work on the Town Centre Regeneration Strategy.

“If this is in part response to the Local Plan inspector’s call for a new town centre policy following his damning but accurate description of the poor planning and environment in Guildford town centre then it’s important that people get a chance to comment on the draft policy before too many things get set in stone.

“A town masterplan/ regeneration strategy should already have been a key part of the Guildford Local Plan but most of the difficult issues have been ducked to date.

“Sadly, the description of the work to be done by David Lock Associates suggests the council is still wedded to a site-by-site approach rather than an overarching plan. This risks another two decades of abysmal planning.

“I also hope the Guildford Heights and Views Study will not be a case of shutting the stable door after the ten-storey Solum horse has bolted. Can we still protect what’s left of our views?

“The boundaries proposed by the council for the Town Centre studies again highlights the importance of a having a separate policy for the wider town centre covering areas like Ladymead, Park Barn and the University.

“The council has to rapidly make up for lost time and produce a proper masterplan for the town centre capable of being legally adopted. It has to tackle issues like the redevelopment of North St which has failed to get off the ground for over 20 years.

“We need a comprehensive, widely-consulted masterplan that properly addresses poor infrastructure, pollution and pedestrian safety as a priority; a plan that opens up the riverside and creates new town squares and markets.

“We also need to have a real plan that makes Guildford even more special. It has to be adopted as soon as possible.

“Let’s get on and let’s get it done.”

Brian Creese spokesperson for Guildford Labour said: “Guildford Labour recognises that large retail shops are not coming back to Guildford, and that we need a far more imaginative approach to developing the town centre.

“Labour would like to see more residential use of town centre buildings, more small units and workshops, more markets and outdoor events, more child-friendly spaces and, most crucially, more integrated and affordable bus services. A free minibus going up and down the hill for elderly and disabled shoppers perhaps?

We need to open up the riverside – far too much prime riverside land is currently used by the council for carparking rather than leisure. There are many fine words in the press release, but little substance, and we oppose yet more money being given to external consultants – have they learned nothing from The Village debacle?

Try listening to residents instead. Guildford needs new ideas, new leadership and new approaches. Guildford needs more Labour representation.

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Responses to GBC Announcement on Town Centre Planning Welcomed and Criticised

  1. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    August 21, 2018 at 12:46 am

    Guildford Vision Group (GVG) would, of course, promote their ideas for the rerouting of traffic and associated developments en route. However, GVG seems unwilling to answer a question I raised before about the practicalities of their suggestions.

    In their plan, Town Bridge and Farnham Road Bridge over the tracks would have to be rebuilt and together with a new bridge over the tracks would carry the diverted traffic away from the gyratory. This route would then continue on a flyover to York Road roundabout.

    Raising the height of and widening Town Bridge and demolishing Abbot Public house to make way for three or four lanes of road would change the view of the historic centre of the town. Rebuilding Farnham Road Bridge could be problematic given that trains run almost 21 hours of the day.

    This winter Farnham Road Bridge is to be strengthened at a cost of some £5m and that would extend its life by 60 years according to Network Rail. So, it is unlikely that its demolition and rebuilding would be a financially viable proposition.

    The building on the corner of Guildford Park Road and Farnham Road by the bridge would also have to be demolished to make way for the link road running parallel to Guildford Park Road. It is not clear as to how the pedestrian route to the footbridge over the platforms that would cross the link road would be maintained and also access to the station’s car park, currently under the arches.

    Building the new bridge over the tracks would also be technically challenging as there is not a lot of room to locate supports between the tracks.

    There is an alternative suggestion of running Millbrook and Onslow Street traffic in a tunnel-like structure that would create a pedestrian-friendly town centre. It also proposes a new east-west crossing a bit further north but within Network Rail site. The location affords the positioning of a bridge over the tracks that would cause the least interference with the running of the trains. This alternative suggestion is quite compatible with GVG’s idea for development of housing and cycle routes etc. but to date, GVG has not commented on this at all.

    I would like to draw attention to my website (can be viewed by searching for ‘revamp Guildford gyratory’) that explains various suggestions for improvements that holistically deal with the traffic, bus routes, the bus station and cycle routes in the town centre and around the railway station. I hope the councils have seen this already but just in case they haven’t, I would urge them to please view it.

  2. Harry Elson Reply

    August 21, 2018 at 6:59 am

    I remember as if it was yesterday sitting outside the Blackfriars pub, part of the newly developed Friary Centre, and thinking who is responsible for this monstrosity – bus station and all – it didn’t take long for the pub to be felled by the contractor’s jackhammers.

    I can’t wait for the bus station to go, it was a bold vision of the future and all the same baloney that is being spouted out now.

    The loss of important local pubs (The Bull in the High Street) for what gain? The usual shop outlets struggling with the high business rates, empty units, down-market outlets. What is for sure the changing shopping environment has been with us for a long time and will continue, let’s see what happens to Debenhams.

    I hate to think how much money is being spent on plans proposals et al.

    I fear that this is another Groundhog Day

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