Fringe Box



Letter: A Question of Image, What Will A Future Guildford Be Known For?

Published on: 17 Oct, 2020
Updated on: 17 Oct, 2020

From Alistair Smith

Chair, Guildford Society

In response to: A Realistic Vision For the Rebirth of Guildford in the Age of the Internet

Cllr John Redpath, lead for the local Economy on the GBC Executive, has asked for comments on how the town should evolve.

He fails to mention the Guildford Economic Regeneration Programme (GERP) 2020, adopted in July and due to produce a high-level strategic appraisal for the town in January 2021 (Gateway 1).

Hopefully, this will provide data on the local economy, traffic, infrastructure constraints (for example, waste management), that can help short- and long-term decision-making.

One GERP objective is “Town centre attractiveness to residents, employment, and as a visitor destination”. Determining what residents, and visitors value about Guildford, and how they would like it to develop is critical, and several techniques can be used to establish this.

Cllr Redpath is correct to be concerned about resizing and reshaping retail in the town centre. A recent survey (Lichfields) found 59% of those aged 16 to 25 visit town centres to eat, not shop. Unlike previous generations, that age group uses multiple channels to meet their shopping needs for personal convenience.

On present trends, Guildford will have a smaller number of shops in the centre. The rise of eating out could provide an opportunity, particularly if combined with the existing food market

Many experts believe town centres should evolve to be more mixed-use environments with employment, and housing co-located. The 15-minute city where work, rest, and play are in a limited walking/cycling travel zone is worth exploring. Should Guildford be providing shared office space, attracting smaller companies and organisations and developing local hubs as London offices reduce?

Cllr Redpath is also correct that the council will have to use the change-of-use regulations effectively to support and encourage change, but this should be done against a view of how the town will evolve. The Society believes we need a short-term policy developed from GERP Gateway1 to manage the town while the full GERP proposals are agreed?

Guildford needs to build on its distinctiveness, which is not just its heritage High Street and castle. The town has major assets in its environment, education, culture, and key economic sectors, including gaming, 5G and life sciences.

Many of these are not obvious in the town. For example, should the university be encouraged to have small 5G demo centre in the town, be seen as a gateway to AONB? The Society recently proposed using a redevelopment of the Debenhams site to support a community arts centre. The council has a key role in initiating discussion on these types of developments.

Finally, Guildford needs to establish what it is to be known for in future. Freiburg, our German twin town, is known for its environmental stance. What is Guildford going to be known for?

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