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‘Guildford Should Not Look Like a Postcard from the 1900s’ says Council Leader

Published on: 26 Aug, 2022
Updated on: 26 Aug, 2022

Joss Bigmore, Guildford Borough Council Leader in Guildford High Street. Photo Darren Pepe

By Emily Coady-Stemp

local democracy reporter

“Guildford should not look like a postcard from the 1900s.” This apparent dig at The Dragon editor’s opinion piece In My Heart I Knew It Was a Forlorn Hope came from Guildford’s council leader Joss Bigmore.

With one eye on the areas to be “ripped up”, the council’s leader is happy to have a “blank canvas” to work on as major planning applications progress that will impact on the historic town.

Cllr Bigmore (Residents for Guildford and Villages, Christchurch) called it “shameful” that Guildford’s North Street area has been derelict for so long, while recognising there is no way of the regeneration meeting everyone’s idea of how it should look.

Applications for the former Debenhams site and the regeneration of North Street are set to be decided by Guildford Borough Council this autumn, with other schemes such as the train station development underway.

Cllr Bigmore calls North Street the “poor relation” to the town’s historic High Street and is excited about the potential transformation of derelict sites and current bus station.

He said: “You cannot play around with the historic core, you cannot play around with the castle. They are iconic areas that have to be protected.

“What we need to do is have a vision for the areas that basically we should rip up and start again.”

He said unlike Woking where leaders “had a vision” and had “gone for it”, Guildford has had “very little investment” in its town centre for years.

He said the town was eclectic, from the 11th century castle and grounds, the contrasting styles of the Guildhall and the Art Deco boulevard style of Tunsgate and the “stunning” High Street.

“I don’t think people should be too precious about what Guildford’s style is because it doesn’t really have one,” he added.

Cllr Bigmore told the LDRS he hoped the new developments, including nearly 500 new homes in North Street and 440 in the station development would “breathe life” into the High Street.

‘You have to listen to community when planning for next few decades’

The town’s Business Improvement District (BID) chief executive has her own ideas on how the development, with buildings that will range from four to 14 storeys, should impact on the town.

Amanda Masters

Amanda Masters said Guildford needed more open spaces for markets and events, rather than more shops.

She said: “You have to listen to the community when planning for the next 10 to 20 years, because without the local community using and loving what’s on their doorstep, you’re in trouble.”

Community use is something Cllr Bigmore admits sparks debate in the borough council.

A planning application for the former Debenhams site has been updated with a building three stories lower than original designs, and new community spaces but includes just ten affordable homes in the scheme of 194 homes.

Such an “iconic” town centre site, Cllr Bigmore said, should benefit the whole community.

He recognised developers had government-set profit margins they worked within to make schemes viable.

He said: “A beautiful walkway, a bridge to the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, community spaces on the ground floor is good for the whole borough.

“There are some councillors that think, actually that is better than a lucky 10 people who get an affordable flat, in terms of the benefits for the whole community.”

Cllr Bigmore said there’s a need for smaller houses at lower prices in and around the town centre, where people wouldn’t need cars to get around.

Ms Masters agrees, particularly concerning the recruitment and retention of retail staff, an issue not only in Guildford.

She said because it is so expensive to live in Guildford, many retail staff travel in from elsewhere.

“If they’re in retail in Guildford, and a plum job comes up two miles down the road from where they live in, say, Woking, they’re going to go there, aren’t they?” she said.

She said there were still lots of businesses opening in the town centre, almost all of them cafes and “lifestyle” stores as well as dentists and opticians.

The chief executive said people wanted to visit the town centre for “essentials” like getting their eyes checked, then stay for lunch or a coffee.

As well as more for families in Guildford, such as soft plays, of the North Street regeneration plans Ms Masters said: “My dream is for it to be community based, and to have more people that work in the town centre living in and around the town centre.”

What people on Guildford High Street say

People on the streets of Guildford are there for a variety of reasons, from lunch trips to grocery shopping and visiting family.

Andy and Tracey Harris had got a taxi into town from their home in Camberley, been for lunch at the Ivy and collected a clothes order made online.

Andy and Tracey Harris had been for lunch at the Ivy on their visit to Guildford. Photo Emily Coady-Stemp

Mrs Harris said the town had clothes shops that weren’t in any of the others nearby, without having to travel to London.

They said Guildford is “hard to beat” and only wish house prices near town were lower so they could live closer.

“You can get a lot of taxis for the price difference [in homes],” Mr Harris said.

Jack Chovet moved to Guildford about a year ago, and was in town for groceries and a visit to the Warhammer gaming figurines shop.

He works in Woking, and said the commute from Guildford was better than having to travel two hours for a job in London.

He said: “It’s pretty convenient just having a little place that you can go where there’s about 90 per cent of the shops you usually need day to day.”

John Stacey, visiting a relative in a nearby care home, used to live in the town as a youngster.

John and Rosalind Stacey were visiting a relative in Guildford. Photo Emily Coady-Stemp

Mr Stacey raised concerns about pedestrianising parts of the town, fearing that stopping cars coming through the town would stop people visiting.

“If you stop the traffic coming into town, then you stop the people coming in,” he said.

Cllr Bigmore hopes a second car-free day in the town in September will show people they don’t need cars in town, while removing the “conflict” between vehicles and pedestrians.

But he knows there have to be viable alternatives to car use, recognising the “frustration” of a “sketchy” bus service and a public transport system that is not very well linked up.

He’d like to see an e-bike hire scheme in the town, saying it’s too hilly for push bikes but would be another way to move towards fewer cars in the town centre.

He said it’s easier for people to share negative opinions with the council, and talks of getting people to engage with planning applications.

He said: “Whenever you do anything in planning, the people that object are always the ones that shout loudest.

“They have a really strong view, and they’re totally within their rights.

“Sometimes objections make schemes better, so it’s a worthwhile process.”

But he wants to find a way of hearing from those who are supportive as well, given he says his Residents for Guildford and Villages party was elected with a mandate to regenerate the town.

Of the North Street project, he said: “If I get turfed out next time and that’s the legacy, that will be a very good legacy of four years.”

One thing that isn’t currently part of his legacy is the town’s third failed bid for city status, as part of the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations this year.

Though he said the bid was “always a long shot”, Cllr Bigmore said the town “packs the punch of a city” and the status would have been helpful, especially in terms of tourism.

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test 9 Responses to ‘Guildford Should Not Look Like a Postcard from the 1900s’ says Council Leader

  1. Stuart Barnes Reply

    August 27, 2022 at 9:42 am

    What a wonderful thing it would be if we could make Guildford look like a postcard of the 1900s. Just think of the tourist attraction it would create.

    I am still puzzled as to why it is the desire of the architects, planners, developers, and so on, to create ugliness for its own sake.

    The very worst case would be to descend to the sheer ugliness of a town like Woking for instance and the current plans seem to propose just that.

  2. Tessa Sinclair Reply

    August 27, 2022 at 5:27 pm

    Oh dear! Cllr Bigmore may come to regret saying this in time. We’ve had this type of problem since the 60s when they built those concrete, Soviet-style buildings that were so very ugly. Do we really want Guildford to go the same way?

    What’s wrong with looking like the 1900s? Isn’t this why tourists visit? They certainly don’t come to look at a high-rise jungle, that’s for sure.

  3. Jane Hepburn Reply

    August 27, 2022 at 9:33 pm

    Perhaps it shouldn’t look like a postcard from the 1900s (although I’m not entirely sure what would be wrong with that) but neither should it look like a Chinese housing estate or a soulless Russian micro-region.

  4. Jules Cranwell Reply

    August 28, 2022 at 2:32 pm

    Personally, I’m in favour of the 1900’s postcard look than the copy of Croydon Guildford is fast becoming.

  5. Tessa Sinclair Reply

    August 28, 2022 at 6:25 pm

    Tourists visit towns and villages that have “old world charm” not ugly high-rise concrete, Soviet-style buildings.

  6. Stuart Barnes Reply

    August 29, 2022 at 3:27 pm

    If Joss Bigmore is in charge (or similar people with similar opinions in the past) then it is no wonder that the beautiful town, that I can still remember, has been destroyed.

    Is there no one left who wishes to recreate or retain what little is left of our previously beautiful country or town?

    It seems that anyone who wants to preserve English tradition and beauty is sneered at.

    If the Philistines want to mock by calling architectural beauty “pastiche”, then let them, but I think that they would be outvoted in a fair vote.

    Please let us bring back the glorious architecture that the Victorians knew how to build and treat with contempt the “modern” rubbish.

    Make Guildford beautiful again!

  7. Sue Hackman Reply

    August 30, 2022 at 7:25 am

    I’m intrigued that Joss Bigmore finds the lack of progress on the town centre “shameful”. Is that the same Joss Bigmore who has been the leader of the council for the last two years? Perhaps he should write a stiff letter to himself?

  8. Dave Middleton Reply

    August 30, 2022 at 10:10 am

    Cllr Bigmore says Woking’s leaders “had a vision” and had “gone for it”.

    Personally, I’d say it was more of a nightmare than a vision, scarring the landscape for miles around. Also, bearing in mind that Woking Council is reportedly some £1.84 billion in debt, it’s hardly a good example to quote.

  9. RWL Davies Reply

    August 30, 2022 at 6:02 pm

    The last thing Guildford needs is Croydonisation akin to Woking.

    The potential for Guildford centre to be an exemplar of future town centres is enormous; aside from it having one of England’s best high streets.

    The current debate is not encouraging; not going back to the 1900s is correct but creating a 21st century dystopian Legoland isn’t the answer.

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