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Letter: An Effective Building Height Limit Is Now Necessary and Urgent

Published on: 12 Sep, 2022
Updated on: 12 Sep, 2022

From: Richard Mills

chair, Guildford Town Centre Conservatives

Guildford Conservative Association’s detailed views on building height will be covered in due course in a wider planning strategy for the borough, but it may meanwhile be a useful contribution to your timely debate to report the views of the committee of the Town Centre Branch, which covers the wards most affected.

In short, this is that an effective height limit in some form is now necessary and urgent.

Guildford is under heavy development pressure. Over the last three years, a succession of applications has sought to push building heights higher. With little in the way of clear guidance, the town centre has increasingly been at risk of a free-for-all in higher-rise development. In this respect, the recently approved Part 2 of the Local Plan was a sadly missed opportunity.

What is needed now is a moratorium. It does not matter that this cannot be statutory: it would be sufficient if the ruling parties simply made clear that they will not look favourably on any planning proposals that seek to push building heights significantly higher, using the protections for local character written into the Local Plan.

Such a moratorium could buy time until a long-term policy could be put in place after the borough elections in the spring. Clearly, that policy will need to take account of the circumstances of different parts of the borough, respect sight lines and cherished views, and avoid potential problems such as the tunnel effect that can accompany high-rise building in the narrow streets of traditional town centres.

The comments of other parties offer only two arguments against this. One is that high-rise is needed to meet housing need in the town. This is spurious. High-rise apartments in the town centre are mainly taken by transient commuters from outside Guildford. They do little to satisfy the housing needs of current residents. They will simply meet a demand that could otherwise go to more suitable locations elsewhere.

Moreover, relying on high-rise wouldn’t even hit housing targets. Woking has gone all-in on high-rise tower blocks, with the resulting monoliths visible for miles around – but Woking consistently fails to meet its housing targets, and tries to have Guildford make up for its shortfall.

Equally untenable is the argument that intensive provision of apartments in the town centre will relieve pressure on the green belt. All of us concerned to limit further intrusion into villages and rural areas need to remember that the client base for town centre apartments is different from the expanding families who want to move to the countryside.

Ironically, the final result of current R4GV policies could be the very opposite of what supporters of the green belt want. When those single people and young couples drawn to central Guildford’s new apartment buildings want more space for an expanding family the countryside around the town will be the first place they look.

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test One Response to Letter: An Effective Building Height Limit Is Now Necessary and Urgent

  1. Ben Paton Reply

    September 12, 2022 at 9:46 pm

    It was necessary to create a height policy long ago.

    The so-called Guildford Conservatives had an opportunity to create a height policy when designing their Local Plan. They took over ten years at it. The result? The unrestricted height of the new Railway Station/Solum development will be their monument. They did not just muff their chance. They sabotaged it.

    We are still living with the “trajectory” created by former Cllrs Mansbridge and Juneja – Leader and Deputy Leader of the Conservative Group on the council [until 2015]. Their successor, Cllr Spooner is still the driving force on the Conservative group. Mr Mills was a strong promoter of the Tory Local Plan. He’s part of the problem, not the solution.

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