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Guildford’s MP Asks for North Street Plan to Be Decided by the Secretary of State

Published on: 7 Jan, 2023
Updated on: 8 Jan, 2023

The developer’s model of the proposed “Friary Quarter”.

By Martin Giles

Guildford’s MP Angela Richardson is asking the Secretary of State for Housing, Michael Gove, to “call in” the controversial planning application for the redevelopment of North Street and give it his “urgent consideration”.

Angela Richardson MP

Under the Town and Country Planning Act, the SoS has the power to direct any local planning authority to call in an application for him to decide, should it meet certain criteria.

In her letter to the SoS, her former boss when she was his PPS (Parliamentary private secretary), Ms Richardson said: “Residents in Guildford are concerned about several components of the project, its failure to comply with planning policies and the lack of consideration given to affordable housing provision and substantial objections from the County Highway Authority.

Angela Richardson’s letter to Michael Gove. (Click on image to enlarge.)

“The development is located in an important strategic site for the town and it is essential that any development situated within the site is able to satisfy material planning considerations.”

The town’s MP was also keen, in a Tweeted message, to show that she was in favour of redevelopment in principle saying: “I welcome the prospect of redevelopment in North Street, however, we need to ensure that the development is right and suitable for the town.”

The MPs move has been sharply criticised by the deputy leader of Guildford Borough Council Joss Bigmore (R4GV, Christchurch) a close political ally of John Rigg (R4GV, Holy Trinity) who has been driving the scheme in his role as lead councillor for Regeneration.

See also: Guildford North Street Plans Recommended for Approval

Responding to the news Cllr Bigmore said: “This is the latest in increasingly desperate attempts by the Conservatives to politicise a planning application.

Cllr Joss Bigmore

“The Tories forfeited their right to an opinion when they chose to do nothing for two decades to improve our urban environment.  It is staggeringly ironic that they now cry foul when R4GV gets more done in two years of leadership than they did in 20.

“Does the public really want the central Planning System that said the Local Plan was sound, that approved the Solum scheme at the station, and that steadfastly refuses to allow us to remove development sites from areas that were once green belt, deciding applications in our borough?

“If the Conservatives cared so much why have they consistently failed to show up for councillor briefings with the North Street developers where their views could have been added to the comprehensive consultation, and why did they only send one councillor to fill their three seats at the Debenhams application Planning Committee meeting?

Angela Richardson’s Tweet on North Street call in

“Angela Richardson is an incredibly hardworking MP, even if you don’t agree with her politics you can see the hours she puts in on our behalf, however, I am embarrassed for her that she has been dragged into this.”

But local Conservatives support the MP’s call which follows a failed bid by the leader of the Conservative group at GBC to have the application referred to the full council for consideration.

In a press release from the Guildford Conservative Association, a spokesperson said: “Guildford Conservatives have today expressed support for a ‘calling-in’ of the controversial North Street development, an application with profound consequences for the future of Guildford town centre.

“Residents and local stakeholders including Surrey County Council have shown deep concerns that the current North Street application conflicts with national and local planning policies, doesn’t support our town’s future demands for public transport, harms the protections afforded to our town’s heritage assets, and falls at the first hurdle on the provision of affordable housing.

See: Planning Committee Rejects Tory Bid for Full Council Consideration of North Street Plan

“It is disappointing that, when given the choice, the Planning Committee chose not to give all councillors the opportunity to consider and scrutinise the application, by voting for a motion placed by Cllr Paul Spooner to have the application referred to a full council meeting, allowing a wider range of views from all corners of the borough and a larger number of public speakers to be heard.

Sallie Barker

The GCA chair, Sallie Barker, added: “Guildford Conservatives fundamentally support the regeneration of the site at North Street, which has been left vacant for far too long. However, we must not accept development for development’s sake.

“Residents have told us on the doorstep across Guildford that they do not want to see high-rises in the town centre and it is disappointing that this R4GV-Lib Dem council is not listening to local people.

“The North Street Regeneration will shape the future of our town centre for decades to come, so it is vital that the decision made is the right one.

“It is for these reasons that Guildford Conservatives support a ‘calling-in’ of the North Street
development.”

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test 13 Responses to Guildford’s MP Asks for North Street Plan to Be Decided by the Secretary of State

  1. S Collins Reply

    January 7, 2023 at 10:36 pm

    Shouldn’t Angela Richardson say, “Some residents are concerned”?

  2. Craig Adams Reply

    January 7, 2023 at 11:26 pm

    “High-rises”. What hysterical nonsense.

    This town is its own worst enemy. Welcome to years more stagnation and people complaining about how there is no progress.

    You’ve done it to yourself, Guildford. Again.

    • M Durant Reply

      January 8, 2023 at 1:07 pm

      They are high rises and a lot of people including myself are concerned about them.

      They are building on Portsmouth Road more flats and houses and they want to build so many more unaffordable flats in North Street. Where are all those people going to park their cars in the centre of town? How much more traffic in the area is going to be added?

      The trains going into London are full, they are not planning to add more trains. Are they going to add more GP surgeries and supermarkets to the area? I don’t think so.

      • Mark Stamp Reply

        January 11, 2023 at 1:34 pm

        The answer to where they’ll park their cars is that many won’t own one. 50 per cent of car journeys are less than two miles.

        Car clubs, electric bikes and public transport will satisfy the needs of most people. If only there were plans to get the cycling infrastructure around Guildford improved…

        • S Callanan Reply

          January 11, 2023 at 4:51 pm

          I’m sure Mark Stamp is right when he says that 50 per cent of car journeys are less than two miles but that doesn’t seem to stop people owning and using cars.

          The modal shift described doesn’t strike me as realistic. Public transport is both expensive and inconvenient and cycling, whether by electric or push bike, won’t necessarily increase with “improved” cycling infrastructure.

          As I type it’s dark, rainy and miserable – not in the least encouraging for cyclists – so private cars will get used if people have to go somewhere.

  3. Joe Taylor Reply

    January 8, 2023 at 3:48 pm

    The Conservatives don’t want green belt development, yet adopted a Local Plan that facilitates exactly that whilst also actively stymieing any attempts at town centre residential development.

    The same Conservatives had decades to influence not just North Street but the whole of the town centre development by drawing up more robust planning guidelines such as building height and sympathetic architectural style but failed to do so.

    Guildford has its charm but it also looks quite run down in other areas, I hadn’t long moved to the area when the hand carwash on Leapale Road was knocked down. At the time I was excited to see what would take its place, blissfully ignorant as to how a certain subset of people dig their heels in at any development advancing in their beloved market town.

    I like living here, I appreciate its history. But I also want it to keep up with the times and embrace modernity rather than accept stagnation because we’re too scared of change.

  4. Aubrey Leahy Reply

    January 9, 2023 at 1:57 am

    The decline of empire foreshadows the decline of using architectural visionaries to make a mark. Where is the imagination in our leadership on planning and in other areas? Where is the originality, boldness and creativity senn in examples such as the Guggenheim in Bilbao, the Guildhall and clock, the recent Olympics buildings of just a few years ago, capitals around the world and so on.

    Apart from showing a little more colour the latest proposal could have been built in Omsk, Tomsk or Vladivostok!

  5. Sally Trickett Reply

    January 9, 2023 at 3:05 am

    In the absence of the current leadership of Guildford Borough Council consulting fully with the public and the Planning Committee not allowing all councillors to scrutinise the plans – all of which is undemocratic – I support Angela Richardson’s call for the plan to be “called in”.

    • Mark Stamp Reply

      January 9, 2023 at 1:40 pm

      As per Cllr Rooth’s letter, all councillors can attend the Planning Committee meeting and make representations. In terms of consulting with the public I refer you to Cllr Rigg’s letter about all of the consultation that has happened.

      This isn’t undemocratic, the council is following the rules that are laid out. Having a single person who isn’t elected by the people of Guildford make the decision would be undemocratic.

  6. Mark Rostron Reply

    January 9, 2023 at 6:40 am

    Guildford will be carbunkled.

  7. Mark Stamp Reply

    January 9, 2023 at 1:27 pm

    Angela Richardson states that a lack of affordable housing is one of the reasons that the application should be called in. The reason that affordable housing requirements can be effectively ignored by developers is due to the poor national planning rules which are so easily got around. Maybe her party could have fixed that in the last 12 years if it is such a concern.

  8. Julian Cooper Reply

    January 10, 2023 at 10:31 am

    The definition of a town is a compactly settled area. Whereas this previously has been retail outlets, the town environment is not fixed and must keep up with what is required and housing is most definitely required (the 10 million empty bedrooms that are in the Boomer generation’s houses is another story).

    Others will notice that in most, if not all, towns there is an increase in bars, restaurants and food outlets and a decline in shops, banks etc. This is due to a marked change in the built environment that makes up a town. It used to be compactly settled with shops (this is now unviable due to online activity and, for a lot of small businesses and even larger ones, the cost of rents, rates and power – look at Debenhams).

    These brownfield sites up and down the country along with empty commercial properties ultimately will become residential. And the infrastructure required to support that will also have to be created. The North Street development will be a great addition to what is an already vibrant town. The “not in keeping” argument doesn’t really wash with me, otherwise in Guildford all buildings would look like it’s decrepit Norman Keep.

    Bottom line. There needs to be a social housing element within the development and I would be happy for it to be even higher if it meant that this could happen.

  9. Breandan Murphy Reply

    January 10, 2023 at 4:52 pm

    Good luck. Michael Gove sent an assessor to look at a tower application in Woking and she gave it the go-ahead.

    The Conservatives could have spent decades in power putting in place a proper plan with building heights and style recommendations but they didn’t, just like the Conservatives in Woking didn’t. Reap what you sow.

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