Fringe Box



Opinion: Critical Year for Guildford Town Centre Planning

Published on: 16 Jan, 2013
Updated on: 16 Jan, 2013
How will our historic High Street be affected?

How will our historic High Street be affected? – Photo John Schluter

By Gordon Bridger

Hon Alderman and Former Town Mayor

Next year will be crunch time for for planning Guildford’s future.

The citizens of Guildford, through their Council and the Planning Committee, will be determining  one of the most important strategic decisions ever made about the future of the Borough.

The strategic choices are between Guildford becoming the largest town shopping centre in the south east of England, or Guildford becoming an international  technical and science-led enterprise with its economy based outside the town centre.

Put at its simplest do we concentrate on being an retail economy or do we concentrate on becoming a producer economy, selling highly skilled services? The two are not mutually exclusive but the emphasis given to one or the other is crucial.

While it has long been thought that retail development  in the centre is the engine of the Borough’s economic growth, a report commissioned by the Council  from the University back in 2009 showed that only around 10% of Guildford’s ‘Gross Value Added’ can be attributed to town centre retail development, while our service sector, which is dependent largely on skilled experts, accounts for 32% (public services account for another 39%, and manufacturing for 10%).

Opinion Logo 2The “consumer” solution, or  the ”retail led solution” as our planners call it, envisages a massive increase in retail development in the town centre. It could be anything between 40,000 and 60,000 m2 (for comparison  Sainsbury’s town centre shop  is 1,000 m2 ). It is argued by those supporting it that unless we  expand in this way, which we have not done since the Friary shopping centre was built, we will lose out to other major retail  centres such as Kingston, Woking and Basingstoke. It would create employment and attract many to shop and live in Guildford.

The basis for this plan is a report produced  by retail consultants using data from 2006, before the economic crisis; and before much Internet use, and on the fact that there had been no major retail expansion for nearly 30 years.

However, this massive expansion ignores the town’s geographical limitations. It would only lead to even greater traffic congestion, and would seriously undermine the financial viability of the High street. Even if there was a net  increase in  jobs, which is unlikely, these would be low-skilled jobs,  many taken by foreigners. The goods sold would also have a high foreign content. And of course it would only affect that  10% of the GVA.

The alternative strategy is to concentrate on assisting science-based technical services built around the University and the Surrey Research Park. It would generate much greater income because of a more productive high-value labour being employed. There would be a greater local multiplier effect, and a far greater export earning capacity – which is essential not only to Guildford but to Britain generally.

The advantage of this strategy is not only that it is economically much more productive, in a sector three times as great, but it is based outside the overcrowded town  centre.

In order to assist development of this sector the Council needs to give priority to the provision of housing for these key skilled workers with  small families, and office and work space outside the town centre. It needs to develop the 10 hectares of  unused land belonging to the University which is currently designated as Green Belt land ( which is no great landscape value).

As for the town centre it could still develop more retail facilities but these should be of a secondary nature, complementing the High Street. Greater priority should be given to high-quality housing for asset-rich elderly. The money earned would  help fund the key worker housing needed elsewhere.

Share This Post

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy. All comments are moderated and may take time to appear.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *