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Is Guildford’s Future Bright or Bleak? And Who is Benefitting?

Published on: 8 Jul, 2023
Updated on: 8 Jul, 2023

Joseph Bickle is a young adult born and raised in Guildford, currently studying media and communications at Cardiff University. This summer he is writing stories for The Guildford Dragon NEWS. Here, with comments from people he has spoken to, he questions whether Guildford’s future is looking bright or bleak.

There is no question the town most of us call home has become an ideal place to live – for people and families of all walks of life.

Guildford High Street, July 2023. All photos by Joseph Bickle.

There are many different factors which could be used to ascertain what the future holds for Guildford, such as rate of investments, population growth and so on.

I have spoken to some young people with the aim of understanding where they feel Guildford’s future lies, plus, as a comparison, older people.

From a statistical standpoint, Guildford has experienced moderate to significant growth over the last few years. With steady population growth, a rising housing market, high employment rate and a town centre that has become a hub for retail activity in recent years. From this evidence, Guildford is heading in a positive trajectory.

I asked my interviewees: Do you believe Guildford has become a better or worse place to live over the last decade? How would you describe Guildford’s current trajectory? Do you believe it has a bright or bleak future?

Lucy, aged 16, said: “Guildford’s retail experience (in the last few years) has improved. However, many of the businesses that have set up shop are quite high-end. I find each time I go into town I end up spending more and more money.”

North Street, Guildford, July 2023. Is Guildford losing its charm?

Martin, aged 53, said: “I worry that as London expands, Guildford will be absorbed and lose its charm.”

Sally, aged 22, said: “Rent and housing prices are too expensive for people of my age group, it is driving our generation out of Guildford and Surrey.”.

Gabriel, aged 19, said: “The council looks set on making Guildford solely a commuter town for people working in London.”

White Lion Walk. “On a blustery day it has now become a wind tunnel.”

Sheila, aged 78, said: “I walk down the town centre now and I see a coffee shop every 30 meters.

“A lot of money was spent on updating the White Lion Walk (shopping centre), but on a blustery day it has now become a wind tunnel without the lift and escalator in the centre that took you up the Next store.

David, aged 20, said: “It’s an urban area, like it’s nearly a city, but it’s also a safe place to live and raise a family.

“Guildford has been undeservedly punished by Conservative austerity.”

View from Leapale Road towards Commercial Road and the Friary centre, Guildford July 2023.

Catherine, aged 21, said: “The redevelopment of the train station alongside other areas of the town centre will attract more people to visit the town and spend money.”

To me, it is clear that, while their reasons may differ, many people are sceptical of the direction Guildford town centre is being taken in.

I found that, in general, people are worried that Guildford is going to become a ‘Londonised’ commuter town and lose the characteristics which locals have associated with the area.

From the perspective of younger generations, Guildford has become an unfeasible place to buy or rent homes due to exorbitant prices. This means many young people, particularly postgraduates, feel they are being pushed out of Guildford and Surrey in general, as it is unaffordable.

Guildford High Street, July 2023. Who is benefitting from the changes taking place?

An area which older and younger generations seem to differ in their opinions is the redevelopment of the town centre. Older people seem worried the town may lose its historic charm, whereas younger participants felt it would help modernise Guildford.

Despite this, the consensus among participants from all age groups is that Guildford is being pushed in a direction which does not favour them.

If this is true, which group is benefiting from the current and coming changes in Guildford?  The answer, most likely, are the businesses, investors and Londoners.

If you would like to join the debate and have your say, please leave a comment in the box below.

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Responses to Is Guildford’s Future Bright or Bleak? And Who is Benefitting?

  1. George Musgrave Reply

    July 11, 2023 at 4:50 pm

    It is unclear what Guildford-specific changes are happening that are making people feel unhappy with the direction of travel. There has been very little change to the built environment over the past 10 years I’ve lived here, except for the new student housing along Walnut Tree Close which is undoubtedly an improvement (albeit in a flood plain!)

    Expensive housing is not specific to Guildford, its a product of cheap mortgages driving up demand and asset prices. Guildford is quite a nice place to live which has only added to this phenomenon over the past 10 years.

    I reckon that the conservation mindset which is endemic to the town is restricting its ability to adapt to current and future challenges and trends. Preservation of historic buildings is a given, however not consenting a housing development on the North Street site in a timely fashion has denied Guildford the lifeblood of new residents, ideas and expertise.

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