Fringe Box



Letter: Another Wall of High-rise Flats Proposed for Guildford: This Time in the Green Belt

Published on: 20 Dec, 2023
Updated on: 20 Dec, 2023

From: John Harrison

Developer Elysian Residences has recently submitted a planning application (23/P/01850) to redevelop the former University of Law site at St Catherine’s on the southern edge of Guildford.

The site is a little island within the green belt and falls within the conservation area, and the Surrey Hills National Landscape, a rebranding of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty protection, the highest there is and intended to convey an equivalent to national parks.

So you would expect a modest, sensitive design, but incredibly the developers are proposing eight 5-6 storey blocks of flats and a multi-storey car park.

University of Law site outline of proposed buildings viewed from the Hog’s Back. The outline has been shaded because the basic wire line was indistinct.

Viewed from the footpath along the Hog’s Back ridge, the developer’s mock up ) suggests another wall of development to mimic the Solum scheme at Guildford station, or the series of student flats on Walnut Tree Close. The white building alone is 75 metres wide, and so the whole scheme cuts a swathe around 300 metres long through the heart of the nationally protected Surrey Hills green belt.

Outline of proposed buildings as viewed from Pewley Down to the east.

Arranged a bit like two toast racks with four slices in each, the scheme would be visible across the Wey valley from Shalford or Pewley Down, as shown in the developer’s image. Look closely and you will see two or three blocks above the pink ones on the right hand side in a light blue that tends to match the sky. And don’t overlook the faint outlines above the purple blocks on the left hand side.

Anyone who has ever applied for planning consent for a minor change to their house in a rural location might wonder what is going on. Those who thought that flats that need lifts and multi-storey car parks typify an urban area might be surprised to see them proposed in a protected green belt conservation area.

The site is within Cllr Tom Hunt’s [Lib Dem, St Nicolas] area, and a number of local residents, vented their anger on him at his latest surgery. They were particularly critical of the way the developer’s so-called consultation failed to communicate the real scale of the proposal which now came as a shock.

There was great concern that council officers had had six or eight meetings with the developer following which the current proposal emerged.

Many expressed incredulity that anyone could seriously expect consent for a forest of huge angular blocks of flats in a landscape given national protection for its scenic qualities, in the green belt, where there should generally be no building, but where if there is any, it should be of exceptional quality, and be specifically justified.

Cllr Hunt was at pains to stress that no decision had been made but disquiet remained. Surely this was so totally over the top it should have been rejected out of hand, commented one. Why have they been allowed to get away with the most basic wire line views in pale colours in their application? asked another.

Surely the council should insist on being given proper mock ups and use its 3-D VuCity computer model to depict a proposal of this scale and controversial nature, said another with some knowledge of the planning process for major schemes in Guildford and elsewhere. There were mutterings that the planning department was under resourced, and that the council was worried about its finances.

Tom stressed that the officers were charged with determining applications on their merits, irrespective of the financial consequences, but the concern remained that if staff were overstretched, they could find it difficult to assimilate all the disparate detail.

Details, such as they are, are available on the councils planning website for application 23/P/01850. Tom encouraged everyone who was concerned to submit comments using the councils planning website and assured that representations would continue to be taken into account up until the time the application was determined.

The Guildford Society has just submitted a formal objection saying the proposal represents a new low in overdevelopment. The letter is available to view on the council website.

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Responses to Letter: Another Wall of High-rise Flats Proposed for Guildford: This Time in the Green Belt

  1. Tom Hunt Reply

    December 20, 2023 at 3:12 pm

    The border between St Nicolas and Shalford wards runs along Sandy Lane and the North Downs Way, so the University of Law site falls in Shalford ward. However, a number of residents who could or would be materially affected by the development live in St Nicolas, so I was happy to discuss the issue with them last week.

    Tom Hunt is the Lib Dem borough councillor for St Nicolas and the lead councillor for Regeneration.

  2. Sheila Atkinson Reply

    December 20, 2023 at 4:55 pm

    All this reminds me of when the Research Park was built near the hospital.

    When we moved here in 1975 we had a clear view across farmland up to the Hog’s Back. Then in 1993, we noticed cranes etc appearing on the site. When we made enquiries we were told it was all part of the Research Park. We then asked why we had not been informed and given the chance to talk to someone about it, we were told they had applied for retrospective planning several years previously and it was published in the Surrey Advertiser.

    Our local councillor got involved to try and help us to no avail.

    Later on, it was admitted the largest building on the site is the one closest to the railway line, right opposite our house. The plans did not show anything on the other side of the railway line, so anyone not familiar with the area would have had no idea how it would affect us. To make matters even worse the land level had been raised after planning permission was granted, making the building even higher.

  3. John Yeomans Reply

    December 21, 2023 at 7:32 pm

    Too high. Inadequate screening. But at least as annoying is the misleading PR that went into the consultation with residents. It’s a dishonest way to try to mislead people.

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