Fringe Box



Letter: Another View of the University’s Development Plans

Published on: 4 Aug, 2014
Updated on: 16 Aug, 2014

Town & GownFrom Malcolm Williamson

I wish to put forward my view on the subject of plans to develop the University of Surrey and how the plans can be tied to those of the past and the benefits to the borough.

As a member of the University Council for ten years and for 18 years an elected councillor, representing most of residents on land forming the slopes of the Hog’s Back, I see a different context.

There were benefits for the borough from earlier development. Those benefits to the community were incidental to, but co-ordinated with, careful planning to establish the university as an academic and research institution.

I was on the University Council when the then Vice Chancellor, Tony Kelly, bravely led us to purchase of the farmland running along the Hog’s Back. That decision was, however, taken by us in the context of providing for the university’s need to expand, not as a cash cow for future development.

Past development was good for the university and was, and is still, good for Guildford. The current proposals are a good cash source for the university but are not good for Guildford’s environment.

Guildford Borough Council’s Draft Local Plan proposes development from the Hog’s Back to Wood Street Village, fundamentally changing the Guildford community rather than evolving the 1965 planning decision by central government to create the university.

The last two borough plans both addressed the university’s need and allowed considerable evolution of the facilities of the university. Current proposals for residential expansion are not for university facilities and must be seen as a landowner making money, not our university enhancing its facilities with ancillary benefit to the community.

A positive contribution the university could make would be to remedy the despoiling of the approach to Guildford by its Manor Farm car parks. No one attending the last borough plan enquiry, as did I, would have expected to see the sea of car parks on the Manor Farm site.

Surrey County Council as the highway authority, of which I was an elected member in addition to chairman of the local Guildford highways committee, was assured that off site park & ride would be provided for those working on Manor Park and that the site would be almost traffic free. That was clearly nonsense.

The environmental degradation this caused on the approach to Guildford by the proliferation of car parks can be turned to advantage. My son works with the WWF [World Wildlife Fund] at its new headquarters in Woking, the Living Planet Centre, an environmentally clean, sustainable building over the Brewery Road car park owned by Woking Borough Council.

Anyone doubting what can be done by building over a car park should look at it. (Visit the Lightbox for a coffee alongside the canal and it’s across the Bedser Bridge.)

We need a vision in Guildford for imaginative architecture.  If homes were built over the University of Surrey and the Royal Surrey County Hospital car parks then the environmental degradation they have caused could be reversed and the gobbling up of green belt land mitigated.

The council is dipping its toes into the possibility of development over car parks on the open air town centre car parks. If that was done at Manor Farm, rather than building on the university owned countryside, there would be a resumption of a real university-borough partnership.

It would provide housing as a dynamic forward looking contribution to Guildford while sparing Guildford’s most viewed countryside.

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Responses to Letter: Another View of the University’s Development Plans

  1. Adrian Atkinson Reply

    August 5, 2014 at 10:11 am

    It was good to hear Malcolm Williamson’s point of view with a historic perspective from various sides of the fence [Can there be more than two? Ed]. For me, too many times I have seen or heard about promises made which are subsequently broken with revisions or blatant disregard to the basis or arguments put forward at the time the application was granted.

    You have described a couple instances. I recall a university representative saying that building over car parks was not the right approach as they are located in the wrong place for their vision for the campus and students. So, it seems to me, by failing to build the agreed student accommodation we now have a proposal to build thousands of houses in the green belt. The right place is still on the campus.

    Why doesn’t the university use their much lauded innovation and science departments to come up with the solution, not further destroy, and sell off for profit, the environment they were given by the borough for the needs of the university?

    My view is having planning permission should oblige the applicant to build, in the same way as having no permission to build obliges an applicant not to. Or the university should not be granted new approvals until it has built out, in full, the buildings for which it has obtained permission.

    I was shocked at the sheer scale of the car parks at the Surrey sports centre when I visited there for the first time (by bus) with the kids. It reminded me of one of those out of town American malls. Again if the university prides itself as a thought leader then its duty is to maximise the gift of land rather than treat the area like some sort of mid-west semi-desert and just build what it wants, when it wants, where it wants – with the rest of the borough having to take the hit.

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