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Vision Group Hold Meeting to Present Critical Review of Council Planning Documents

Published on: 29 Aug, 2012
Updated on: 31 Aug, 2012

The title slide for the GVG presentation – All photos John Schluter

Guildford Vision Group (GVG) presented their critical reaction last night to two recent planning documents, produced by Guildford Borough Council, which include crucial guidelines for the future development of the town centre.

Amongst the audience of nearly 200 were, at least, seven local councillors including Cllr James Palmer, the newly appointed Lead Councillor for Town Centre and Transport and Guildford’s MP, Anne Milton.

Criticism centred not only on some content of the two documents, ‘North Street Design and Development Brief’ and ‘Guildford Interim Town Centre Framework’, but on the limited public consultation and short time allowed before their formal adoption by the Executive, expected on 6th September, despite a claim that the documents should only be approved by the full council.

Gerald Bland

Gerald Bland, former property partner of Herbert Smith (lawyers) and Guildford resident for 25 years, the first speaker, concentrated on some of the legal aspects. He quoted Lord Woolf on the legal requirement for consultation: “…it must be carried out properly. To be proper, consultation must be undertaken at a time when proposals are still at a formative stage. … Adequate time must be given for this purpose…”

Mr Bland suggested that GVG could become, under the Localism Act, the Neighbourhood Planning Forum for the town centre, although it was not something the group wanted to do. “We would far sooner take part in collaborative planning than confrontational planning,” he said.

Julian Lyon

The second and main speaker, Julian Lyon, a chartered surveyor for General Motors and Guildford resident for 50 years, said that as with many things the devil lay in the detail of the planning documents. Recapping on the history of GVG he said that its origins lay with the disquiet felt by the Guildford Society over the Town Centre plan, in particular a perceived lack of vision.

The Society had engaged Allies and Morrison, consultants with a good reputation as town masterplanners, who had drawn up the Masterplan for the Olympics site in London. They had advised that the Guildford Masterplan needed considerable redrafting.

Commenting on the plans for a new Waitrose supermarket on the Bellerby site Mr Lyon said that reference to a supermarket had been buried in the annex of the original consultation document. The same document had stated “Access from York Road is unlikely to be acceptable.” However, in the subsequent Supplementary Planning Document (SPD), he said, the claim that the site was suitable, ‘in particular, for a supermarket’ had “crept in” as had the statement ‘Access to the site via A246 York Road… could be an option.’

Turning to the Interim Framework Centre Framework (ITCF) document Mr Lyon acknowledged that the council had listened to the community’s response and the document had been genuinely improved as a result. Additionally, the appointment of Cllr James Palmer as Lead Councillor for Town Centre and Transport was “a positive sign and a recognition of the importance of this key role.” And Cllr Palmer had been, he said, the first councillor to attend a meeting of the GVG’s steering group.

“But,” he continued,”this framework is being adopted before any base evidence of traffic has been collected.” And having quoted Carol Humphrey, head of planning at GBC, who was on record as saying, “…the main difference between the town centre masterplan and the new document is that a more distinct vision has been put forward.” Mr Lyon said, “I am sorry I don’t agree.”

Summarising other concerns, a slide presented by Mr Lyon stated there were ‘two main observations: the development plan does not show how to resolve the identified issues and secondly much of the evidence base [including traffic analysis] will come forward over the next several months – why not wait?’

Then, referring to the North Street Design and Development Brief, he said that: “it may fit with the ITCF vision but it does not necessarily seemed designed to do so.” North Street is a key site for the town but the future of retailing was uncertain and no one could be sure that Guildford could sustain the amount of extra retailing space identified in the brief.

The recommended position of the ‘anchor’ retail store being on North Street seems ‘bizarre”, he said, normally these would be placed at the back of a development to draw shoppers past other retailers.

Mr Lyons concluded by encouraging the audience to let their borough councillors know their opinions: “It may not be too late to make minor amendments.” He also pointed out that, as he understood it, adoption of the two documents should not be made by the Leader or Executive and had to be referred to the full council.

Questions and comments were then taken from the floor:

Gerald Bland (GVG) asked in one response why it had been presumed that we wanted to keep up and compete with Kingston, Reading and Woking. Perhaps we did not wish to be like them?

Kevin O’Keeffe asked why it was presumed that the introduction of Waitrose would necessarily increase traffic? Many shoppers would be pedestrians.

Gordon Bridger (Hon Alderman) pointed out that the growth sectors of the Guildford economy were not in the town centre but in the west of the town by the University in the Research Park. To embark in a huge retail expansion was to go strategically in the wrong direction. We don’t need a survey to tell us that traffic congestion is the greatest problem. More priority should be given to housing rather than retail in the town centre.

Bibhas Neogi proposed that the efficiency of the gyratory could be improved by using the inner lane of the gyratory to be used as a contra flow. He was told that this was being actively considered by Surrey County Council.

Bill Stokoe (GVG) remarked to much amusement that George Abbot had been a very far sighted man to position his hospital opposite Sainsbury’s but he wondered how modern requirements can be fitted into a town without damaging its historic character.

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Peter Slade (Guildford-Freiburg Association) pointed out that previous forecasts that the town would die without very considerable retail expansion (i.e. Westfield’s proposed huge Friary extension) has not proved true. He wished more attention was being paid to environmental matters.

Graham Hibbert (East Guildford Residents’ Association) noted that the new Local Plan had not been mentioned and wondered as the future requirements were not well understood would it not be sensible to insert a clause that the proposals will not go ahead it they conflict with subsequent plans.

A Send resident asked the audience to consider how good shopping developments near the M40 and at Brooklands are despite concern over utilisation of Green Belt land.

Anthony Davis, a planning consultant, pointed out that the preparatory building blocks such as traffic analysis needs to be in place at the start, before plans are finalised.

Canon Nicholas Thistlethwaite, of Guildford Cathedral, urged decision makers to incorporate the west of Guildford including the cathedral, the RSCH and the university into their thinking for mutual benefit.

John Lynan asked if the shortcomings of the existing plans are agreed what can actually be done in the next week or so in order to try and delay things? The council will not want to loose face so a way needs to be found that a delay can be amicably agreed, he suggested.

In addition to James Palmer, other GBC Councillors observed in the audience at Holy Trinity Hall were: Nikki Nelson Smith (Con Christchurch), Matt Furniss (Con Christchurch), David Elms (Con Worplesdon), Bob McShee, (Con Worplesdon), Richard Billington (Con Tillingbourne), and Angela Gunning (Lab Stoke).

Anne Milton MP said: “I think it was an absolutely excellent meeting with a wide range of views expressed thoughtfully, moderately and with an understanding of the difficult job the council do.”

James Palmer, Lead Councillor for Town Centre and Transport said later: “I was pleased to be able to attend the Guildford Vision Group’s public meeting last night. It was great to see the level of public engagement and hear the constructive comments and ideas that came from the audience and GVG Steering Group. I look forward to continue working with the GVG, Residents Associations and members of the public to shape these policies.
“This document is an Interim Town Centre Framework and we will be conducting further consultation and engagement when the transport and other studies are complete and before we adopt the final version of the framework. I look forward to engaging with Guildford residents again to hear their views on this important stage.”
See also ‘Letters’ for further reactions.

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Responses to Vision Group Hold Meeting to Present Critical Review of Council Planning Documents

  1. Gordon Bridger

    August 29, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    Congratulations on The Guildford Dragon NEWS’s professional coverage of last night’s meeting.

    In the 40 years or so that I have been reading GBC Planning Documents these ones are by far the worst. Yet we have more and better trained Planners than ever before. So what’s gone wrong? Planning taken over by short term financial considerations and retail consultants regardless of the indirect and long term social, environmental and economic consequences on the town. Our future lies with development of knowledge and science based enterprises not more and more shops dependent on Chinese imports.

  2. Roger Marjoribanks

    August 29, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    I fear that much of the discussion has been more or less irrelevant. Peter Slade is wrong – the historic town centre has been dying economically for a generation or more. Years ago a majority of the shops was owned by residents, many of whom were councillors and closely identified with the community; now these have all been driven out by the chains, owing to exorbitant rents and business rates, among other things. These chains have no interest whatever in the town. Why should they? They are concerned only in their own wider commercial interests. So we might as well concede that Gordon Bridger has a point (he illustrated it well when he was Mayor) and concentrate on making the historic centre as pleasant a place as possible to maintain specialist shopping.