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Letter: It Is Worth Waiting to Get North Street Right

Published on: 14 Jan, 2023
Updated on: 14 Jan, 2023

A developer’s impression of how the scheme might have looked. Image St Edwards.

From John Harrison

member of the Guildford Residents Association

In response to: I Am Horrified – the Deputy Leader Wants Developer to Appeal Against His Own Council

It is good to be reminded that we Guildford citizens own a good chunk of the North Street site with the council acting as our trustees.

Why has the council not, over the last 30 years of this saga, used this strategic land holding to shape what gets built, for the benefit of the community. Throughout the country, and over centuries, public bodies and philanthropic owners have prioritised long-term benefits, and good design over short-term profit. Guildfordians have a unique opportunity here in a way they did not, for example, on the Debenhams site.

Guildford Cathedral is currently promoting the construction of 100 new homes on its surrounding land. Its first priority is 40 per cent affordable housing and it is working hard to produce a high quality design and to accommodate local concerns. This shows what can be done.

I spent a lot of time reading the expert submissions before speaking against the North Street proposal at the Planning Committee meeting. The various caveats, margin for error, assumptions and omissions in the information the experts had available when undertaking the viability exercise meant that I was unconvinced no affordable housing was possible.

The so-called public benefits relating to the bus station and part of North Street are limited, and arguably part of the development anyway.

In my judgement, the committee was correct in concluding that these were not sufficient to outweigh the harm. What is most striking to anyone following the discussion (the recording is available here) is that the councillors who voted in favour had grave reservations and acknowledged the decision was finally balanced.

At least two members in favour said they had previously argued strongly for a heights policy which would have ensured lower buildings, less opposition, and probably secured consent. So there was very little enthusiasm for this design.

The urge to get something done is understandable but the project is programmed for 8½ years and the flats would be sold on 999 year leases.

Having waited this long it really is important to get it right.

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test One Response to Letter: It Is Worth Waiting to Get North Street Right

  1. Sally Trickett Reply

    January 15, 2023 at 2:31 pm

    I agree wholeheartedly with John Harrison. After so many years of waiting Guildford needs to get the plans for North Street right and as owners of part of the site (through the council) the residents of Guildford should have been given more of a say from the start.

    There has also been minimal consultation with the public; the developers choose three weeks in the peak holiday month of August 2022 to invite residents to look at their plans and “support them”. Not that many of us knew anything about it in the first place, such was the lack of publicity.

    Developers always want maximum profit these days it would seem. A purely commercial decision will never be the right one for North Street.

    What’s the saying about “knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing“. If the developers aren’t prepared to modify their plans to reduce the height of their high-rise blocks, and in particular the 14-storey building by somewhat more than the few metres they’ve proposed, or to provide more space for the bus station and include more affordable housing (smaller flats that would by default be less expensive) then they aren’t the right developers for Guildford.

    And for those people who supported the plan and are disappointed by the outcome, if they think that Woking, Farnborough, Reading and others got their redevelopment plans right then maybe they would like to move to one of these soulless towns as clearly that’s the sort of town planning and architecture they appreciate.

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