Fringe Box



Guildford North Street Plans With 471 New Homes Approved 13 Votes to 2

Published on: 12 Oct, 2023
Updated on: 12 Oct, 2023

A developer’s CGI of how the development will look viewed from the North Street end of Swan Lane.

By Emily Coady-Stemp

local democracy reporter

Controversial plans to redevelop Guildford’s “eyesore” North Street with 471 homes, shops and public spaces have been given the green light.

Despite just 47 of the planned homes being affordable, far lower than Guildford Borough Council’s 40 per cent target, this number was higher than put forward in a previously rejected scheme for the largely vacant site.

GBC’s Planning Committee approved the plans by 13 votes to two, for the site which sits between the bus station, North Street and Leapale Road.

Woodbridge Road, which runs through the middle of the future development, will be closed up, replaced by a pedestrian route. Public squares and a wellness garden are also planned.

Illustrative view of the refurbished bus station looking south towards North Street.

Councillors rejected a similar plan to regenerate the area in a knife-edge vote in January, which the developer St Edward has since appealed. But that appeal will now be withdrawn, after the decision of the Planning Committee on Wednesday evening (October 11).

In the January vote, councillors appeared to vote on party lines with the Lib Dems all voting to refuse but this time only one Lib Dem, Cait Taylor (Stoke) voted against joined by Conservative Richard Mills (Castle).


The tallest 11-storey building which will be at the north end of the site.

The tallest building in the plans, roughly on the site of the current Dominion House, will now be 11 rather than 13 storeys, with the height of the buildings increasing further away from North Street.

Jack Nicholson, St Edward’s land and development director, said the 471-home application had received 16 objections and 193 letters of support.

He said since the previous scheme was refused, the developer had worked with Surrey County Council to improve the bus station design and had lowered building heights and added more affordable homes.

He added: “The quality of the placemaking, architecture, landscaping, commercial spaces and public realm will create a vibrant new cultural destination in the town.”

But others at the meeting raised concerns about the number of homes being built, the size of the buildings and what it may mean for the future of the town.

Alistair Smith, chair of the Guildford Society.

Alistair Smith objected to the plans on behalf of The Guildford Society saying the density of the homes was “more suited to a city location” and raised concerns about setting a precedent for similar developments in the town.

He said the development could influence the town for several hundred years and “more carefully considered” design was needed to avoid things such as the “dull” largest building.

Mr Smith added: “The character of Guildford attracts businesses, shoppers, visitors and residents.

“It is the economic foundation of our successful town, we lose it at our peril.”

The homes will be mostly one and two-bedroom apartments, with 59 three-bedroom homes.

The affordable homes will be made up of 31 at an affordable rent, and 16 shared ownership homes.

John Harrison of the Guildford Residents Association

Another public speaker, John Harrison, said he was “really disappointed” there would be no review during the course of the development to see if more affordable homes could be added.

He said the 47 homes meant “a few people will get 10 per cent off their rent and a few more will get a slightly cheaper flat”.

Mr Harrison said: “The developer is now free to make unlimited profit over the 10 or more years it will build.

“The professionals will tell you that they’ve done their best, but they said that last time.

“Ten per cent [affordable housing], and no more, cannot justify rampant overdevelopment. It sets a precedent for others and will swamp the town.”

On the “controversial” application, one councillor said there was a danger of the committee adopting a “‘something must be done, anything is better than nothing’ state of mind”.

Cllr Richard Mills

Cllr Richard Mills (Conservative, Castle) who voted against the application, said this was the “worst basis” on which to make a decision, and was also against the process needed to take a planning decision.

With worries about density, affordable housing and the height of buildings, he told the meeting: “We are already a crowded town with heavy pressures on infrastructure in every sense, and our first obligation should be just to have limited development that meets the needs of those in the town.”

Cllr Maddy Redpath.

Responding to one public speaker who said the “overcrowded, bland and boring” buildings could impact on residents’ mental health, Cllr Maddy Redpath (Residents for Guildford and Villages, Castle) said she had grown up in Guildford.

She told the meeting: “I’ve walked around a derelict site for 28 years, so that’s not been particularly cheerful either.”

Cllr Howard Smith

Cllr Howard Smith (Labour, Westborough) said there was a danger the site would continue to be a “huge blight on the town” if the application were not approved.

He said: “There’s one thing we can all agree on with this site. It is an absolute eyesore.

“It’s a disaster area in the centre of Guildford and it’s been there for 20 or 30 years and we need to do something with it.”

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr George Potter (Lib Dem, Burpham), the lead member for planning at Guildford, said he was “proud” of the committee for doing a job which was “not an easy one”.

Cllr George Potter

Describing the application as a “controversial” one that would “shape the future of the town centre for decades to come” he said it was clear “many councillors felt torn”, on the application, despite the improvements.

Cllr Potter said: “But the committee had to make a decision and they made one based on what they thought was best for the future of our town.

“Now that a decision has been made, regardless of our personal views, we can all focus on working to make the best of it, for local people and for the future of our town.”

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Responses to Guildford North Street Plans With 471 New Homes Approved 13 Votes to 2

  1. Bill Stokoe Reply

    October 12, 2023 at 3:42 pm

    I would have thought balance in the report should have meant that Nick Wyschna’s comments merited a mention. He put forward very cogent arguments in favour of the scheme.

    He speaks with the experience of starting a local business and a significant contribution to the arts scene as founder, along with his wife Charlotte, of the Guildford Fringe, plus other relevant experience; all grounded in his long involvement in our town, from boyhood onwards.

  2. Brian Creese Reply

    October 12, 2023 at 4:23 pm

    This is excellent news for everyone who lives or works in Guildford. For decades a central part of the town centre has been a derelict eyesore, but finally we can now see progress – a new bus station, new public spaces, social housing, the pedestrianisation of lower North Street – all of which will mean more economic activity in Guildford.

    Finally, it seems, Guildford is looking to the future rather than back to its past.

    Brian Creese, former chair of Guildford Labour Party

  3. Frank Emery Reply

    October 12, 2023 at 4:50 pm

    Could someone please explain what “affordable housing” is? Are the houses, housing associations or smaller cheap versions of the bigger ones in the same block?

    • George Potter Reply

      October 13, 2023 at 4:35 pm

      There are 47 affordable units in the scheme. 31 of those are for affordable rent, which means the same level of rent charged by a housing association, and usually the units for affordable rent will be bought by a housing association who will then rent them out. Affordable rent is defined as being the same as the housing benefit rate for the Guildford, so these will be what most people would consider to be affordable.

      The remaining “affordable” units will be for shared ownership, where occupants part buy and part rent the flat, gradually building up equity in the property but never being able to buy it outright. These will be discounted by around 20 per cent compared to the local housing market, so will most likely be not very affordable by most people’s definition.

      George Potter is a Lib Dem borough councillor for Burpham

    • Jules Cranwell Reply

      October 16, 2023 at 1:13 pm

      Affirdable in the Local Plan is defined as 80% of prevailing prices. Let’s say the cheapest apartment will be 500k, then the ‘affordable’ units will be 400k. Hardly affordable to key workers. For compariosn, the cheapest very small ‘affordable’ flat at the Fakeham development in West Horsley if 415k.

  4. Jules Cranwell Reply

    October 13, 2023 at 10:04 am

    So Robin Horsley failed to stop this after all?

    All he acheived was to land us with an ieffectual Lib Dem council, with a leader hiding in a bunker!

  5. Roger Kendall Reply

    October 13, 2023 at 11:00 am

    Yes the battle against ugliness was lost on Wednesday. Good marketing from the developers plus the veiled threat that “if you don’t accept this it will be empty for decades”, won the day over protecting our town.

    Remember all those sixties tower blocks and what happened to them? Yet now here we go again.

  6. M Durant Reply

    October 13, 2023 at 3:06 pm

    It is the wrong time for this rather imposing scheme to be built. Energy prices and the cost of materials will go up again due to the Saudia Arabian and Russian monopoly on the oil market, the shutdown of one gas production in Israel and another in Finland and strikes in Australia.

    Also, no extra infrustructure will be added for the extra amount of people such as adding a new GP surgery. The big pharmacy inside of Sainsbury shut down recently. This has put extra pressure on nearby GP surgeries and pharmacies with the existing population.

    • Pete Bennett Reply

      October 13, 2023 at 9:00 pm

      M Durant asks two questions that deserve an answer.

      The first question is around whether it is the right time to build. The council is not responsible for the cost of this scheme (unlike Weyside). Almost all the risk is on the developer. The benefit of the new bus station is one of the first deliverables, so we will get that anyway. The only real risk is that all the affordable housing is in the last phase. If the developer chooses not to deliver that phase, there will be no affordable housing.

      That risk, and the second question about the GP surgery, is covered by the section 106 contract that is currently being negotiated. This covers the developers obligations. The original scheme, negotiated by the previous administration, set aside space for a new medical centre and I have seen nothing to indicate that it has been removed.

      The S106 contract will also include money that the developer must give to SCC in order to turn that space into something usable, ie a new surgery.

      To be fair, SCC have got a pretty poor record on doing this (you will have seen the recent article about the promised surgery in Ash not being delivered) but given the politics that have surrounded North Street you can imagine that politicians of all parties will be pushing to see the benefits delivered as quickly as possible to offset the anger at the “tower blocks” being voted through.

      On the question of whether the final phase gets built, I was concerned that the Lib Dems were using the line that 22 per cent of the units are delivered in the final phase, which is sufficient incentive to ensure that they do get built. I pointed out to Cllr Potter that this means that the final phase is nearly 50 per cent affordable, which is no incentive to the developer. He agreed to feed that back into the contract negotiations to ensure that there is a greater incentive for the developer not to walk away and leave us with no affordable homes at all.

  7. Jacob Allen Reply

    October 13, 2023 at 5:40 pm

    Wonderful to see! A good decision that will benefit the townscape especially the dreary and dated bus station.

    Jacob Allen was a Labour activist in Guildford and is now a city councillor in Brighton & Hove.

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