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Letter: Building Height Goes Up While Lib Dems Keep Their Heads Down

Published on: 16 Apr, 2023
Updated on: 16 Apr, 2023

No 1 Onslow Street permission granted for three extra floors. Image Google Maps

From: John Ferns

In response to: ‘It Is the Duty, of All Politicians to Call Out This Nonsense,’ Warns R4GV Leader

It strikes me that the Lib Dems were given a free pass in Mr Horsley’s recent glossy video.  In my opinion, it was mischievous and lacked all balance.

I write against the background that an earlier application, where height issues had caused no qualms to the planners and ward councillors and few to residents. It was in an adjacent but equally sensitive location adjacent to the North Street development site.

The location is within Friary & St Nicolas ward which has three Lib Dem councillors, Tom Hunt, Angela Goodwin and Cait Taylor. Ward councillors are normally advised of all planning proposals in their ward.

The precise site was 1 Onslow Street. The planning application (21/P/00539) was for a three-storey extension to the roof, roof terrace, and external alterations to the existing building, including new external elevations and new entrances to Woodbridge Road.

Building height issues did not seem to concern the three Lib Dem councillors who represent the Friary & St Nicholas ward, Tom Hunt, Angela Goodwin and Cait Taylor.  Ward councillors are normally advised of all planning proposals in their ward.

In so far as the North Street development is concerned, Tom Hunt is on the GBC Executive and is also the Lead Councillor for Planning Development, therefore it can be assumed he had no qualms about the height of the North Street Development.  And Angela Goodwin is on the Planning Committee.

In view of her lack of concern about the 1 Onslow development, one does have to ask what her motivation was to vote against the North Street Development on January 11 where Lib Dems mentioned height, specifically, as a reason for their objection.

How No 1 North Street will look in comparison with St Saviour’s church. Image taken from application documents.

Mr Horsley too, happily ignored the No 1 Onslow Street aberration, as it appears almost all the residents of the ward did by their apparent failure to object at the time. However, one objection was received from the Guildford Society by letter in April 2021. It stated, inter alia:

“The Society supports the improvements to the existing building but objects to the application because of the proposed increase in height and mass of the building.”

This should, I understand, have triggered email messages to the three ward councillors who could have then called in the 1 Onslow application. And, in any case, shouldn’t the council officer planners have recognised the potential sensitivity of the application?  Had they done so, all the recent fuss and aggravation caused recently might have been avoided.

A comment is also listed:

Planning Application 21/P/00539
If “The Friary Quarter, North Street Development” was refused then I believe that this development should also be refused for the same reasons, height, bulk and scale and lack of affordable accommodation and in addition, very close Grade II listed St Saviour’s Church.
With regards
Gina Gasson” [Gina Gasson is an R4GV candidate standing as Gina Redpath in Pirbright. Ed]

No wonder the Lib Dems have been keeping their heads down, whilst allowing all the North Street flak to descend on R4GV’s heads.


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Responses to Letter: Building Height Goes Up While Lib Dems Keep Their Heads Down

  1. David Smith Reply

    April 16, 2023 at 2:56 pm

    I couldn’t be more disappointed with Tom Hunt who I am shocked is re-running as the Lib Dem candidate for St Nicolas ward. He has an extremely poor track record on planning and now this.

    In his leaflet, recently arrived through my door, the Lib Dems criticise the Local Plan yet Cllr Caroline Reeves, who led the Lib Dems at the time, voted for it. [Other Lib Dems abstained or voted against. Ed]

    For anyone interested, the freeholders of the building which houses Bo Concept have now put in permission for two additional floors.

    Thought I’d raise it as there hadn’t been a single objection and being adjacent to the church (and of an uninspired design) it looks horrendous. The application reference is 23/W/00016.

  2. John Rigg Reply

    April 16, 2023 at 5:25 pm

    Mr Ferns is right in his assessment, but I believe it is worse than that. 

    R4GV is in coalition with the Lib Dems to run the borough. Over the years that the North Street proposal was progressing the Lib Dem Executive members indicated formally and informally their support for the proposals. R4GV mistakenly relied on this.

    All councillors had presentations from the developer, on four separate occasions, when they all could have expressed strong views on any issue they wanted to raise or change. 

    The low number of affordable homes within the scheme was highlighted by the Lib Dems as a point they were not happy with but the scheme complied with the policy so no more could be demanded.

    So after three years of negotiations the developer submitted the application, I believe in good faith, thinking in general terms there was a broad spread of support.

    Only on the night of the Planning Committee meeting did the developer and R4GV find out that the Lib Dems, our coalition partners, along with the Tories, were vehement in their opposition to the project.

    In rejecting the application after three years intensive work by all the parties concerned some even appeared to take delight in hanging out to dry the Executive and the developer who had spent millions getting to this point.

    This was based on a degree of understanding that the councillors and council were supportive and the Planning Committee would at least be minded to support the scheme, recognising both their independence and the many opportunities they had to express any dissatisfaction with the proposal.

    R4GV stayed steady and consistent with all the studies and work that had been undertaken by planning officers as well as the decisions by the Executive to support the scheme, endorsed by the Lib Dems. 

    This has been unnecessarily harmful for the town, our reputation and in delivering regeneration had councillors expressed their views earlier.

    The allocation on the site specified in the Conservative Local Plan 2019, is equivalent to about 750 homes which was reduced to 473. This seemed to be accepted.

    Why did they allocate so much space in 2019? It was the main guide to the building industry and set expectations. 

    It may be that there was no interest all along in reaching a political party consensus on North Street which I tried to encourage and which everyone ought to want. 

    Focussing solely on R4GV clearly suits Mr Horsley with his one-sided agenda it also suits the other political parties but those readers with a more balanced approach will understand the sequence of events between 2019 and 2023 and perhaps vote for a party that wants action, wants progress and consensus, but also a party which wants to restore Guildfords reputation and not leave a site vacant for another 30 years. 

    If we are to deliver regeneration it also must be understood there is a need for the council to be perceived as a reliable partner by the private sector. Due to local party politics, our reputation is now severely damaged.

    John Rigg is a R4GV candidate in the forthcoming GBC election.

  3. Paul Spooner Reply

    April 17, 2023 at 6:15 pm

    John Rigg is simply not telling the truth when he plays games with numbers to try and justify his position on North Street. No pre-app had taken place prior to May 2019 and Conservatives had, partly under pressure from the pro-development GVG group, agreed with the late, great Tony Pidgeley CBE at Berkeley Homes that the scheme should be Residential led rather than retail-led as it was for several years prior to the adoption of the Local Plan.

    Cllr Rigg is playing roughshod with the facts in trying to pretend that the developer was in any way led to numbers such as 750+ for North Street. I have discussed Cllr Rigg’s claims with Tracey Coleman the Director at GBC in place back in 2019. She has clarified that a glossy hard-backed book was presented to the Lib Dem leadership (Cllrs Reeves and Harwood) in late May 2019 with various developer options for affordable [units], apparently showing 750 for full affordable down to no affordable at 450.

    This had nothing to do with us Conservatives as Cllr Rigg well knows, but apparently had little to do with Cllr Rigg either, unless he was wearing his GVG hat whilst a councillor until he became a lead member through the coalition agreement.

    To try and play dirty politics is very disappointing but perhaps explains some of the concerns being raised about R4GV.

    Paul Spooner was the leader of Guildford Borough Council until May 2019 and is a Conservative candidate for Westborough in the forthcoming GBC election.

    • John Rigg Reply

      April 22, 2023 at 4:14 pm

      Paul Spooner knows the reality is that R4GV left the Lib Dems and Tories for dust on every measure of running the last council.

      The old parties were irrelevant to progress. Following the last Conservative council our decisions saved £millions, revealed wasted £millions, and revealed millions of pounds of infrastructure commitments which should be paid for by Surrey County Council. Presumably, Messrs Spooner and Furniss were helping their friends out at county level. Cllr Furniss (Con, Shalford) is the Cabinet member for Infrastructure at SCC .

      I used my skills as a former Fellow of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors to get the best for residents across all the current Guildford projects which total £600 million. Many should never have been taken on by the last Tory borough council and will be a massive burden in the years ahead.

      Clearing up the mess has taken time, but now is the first time Guildford has a plan for the town to address flooding and open the riverside, we have a joint venture with Waverley to produce better services and value.

      R4GV ran a spectacularly good council under Joss Bigmore so North Street fake news has been an essential distraction by the old parties. Whilst they haven’t wanted the facts to get in the way of a good story, here they are:
      1) The Tories in 2019 pushed through their Local Plan removing countryside and villages from green belt and proposing 40 per cent more housing on undeveloped sites than the “agreed need”, as assessed before the government planning inspector.

      2) The over-allocation on North St was also huge with an allocation close to one million square feet (92,903 square metres).

      3) As a result, in 2018 the land owners and developers quite naturally decided on a scheme of 700 homes up to 10 floors even before R4GV existed.

      Because England operates a plan-led planning system (ie people not liking something is not a reason to refuse a scheme – it is the adopted planning policies which dictate the outcome).

      4) The Conservatives in 2019 and then, after the election, the new Lib Dem leader and her head of planning, knowing this allocation, met with the developer. The scheme emerged for 750 homes. The developers then followed these meetings with an offer to the Lib Dem leader in July 2019 for 735 homes being 4-12 stories.

      5) My first involvement in the next round table meeting with Lib Dem leader, developer, and officers was on 14th November 2019. It was clear to me it was far too big, and that the location meant increased height and bulk. By 2023 we reduced the scheme to 473 units 37 per cent smaller and won other major planning gains and great improvements.

      6) The key problem and still relevant on appeal remains this Conservative Local Plan policy allocation equivalent to 750/800 and approved by Messrs Spooner and Furniss, the government planning inspector and the Secretary of State.

      So what height and size is right?

      As a coalition, it was blindingly obvious to me you need consensus across the council to deliver progress. The problem was and is the old tribalism of national political parties.

      I had the developers undertake the largest public consultation over four years, and I had the scheme presented four times to all councilors. Other than a preference for more affordable housing no major issues were noted. The developers also require consensus to not waste millions of abortive costs which has now occurred.

      In conclusion, the Lib Dem leader and the full council Executive supported the magnitude of this proposal for four years. All councillors tacitly or openly supported this North Street proposal.

      The professional planning officers supported the scheme.

      Lastly, members of the Planning Committee had every opportunity to say they were “not minded” to support the proposals but said nothing until the evening of the committee meeting. Lib Dems and Tories then block-voted against a proposal no different from the one they nodded through at the previous presentation!

      Neither the developer, the planning officers, nor R4GV can be mind readers.

      Had parties known the application would’ve been withdrawn.

      The chair of the Planning Committee had the option to defer the application on the evening but chose not to.

      So the Lib Dems and Tories failed their voters throughout this four-year journey. They could’ve engaged and saved all this waste.

      Now to seek political advantage from their total lack of responsibility whilst also not condemning the slurs and disgusting character assassination being employed shows staggering cowardice and lack of integrity. It is why we don’t need national political party politics setting standards of behaviour locally.

  4. Jim Allen Reply

    April 17, 2023 at 7:44 pm

    I do like how all the councillors know what went wrong in the past but none can provide solutions for the future.

  5. Julian Lyon Reply

    April 18, 2023 at 3:52 pm

    The application for permitted development (PD) rights for a two storey upwards extension of College House on Woodbridge Road (23/W/00016) – based on the Government’s amended PD rights regulations, plus the One Onslow Street consent (shown above and granted while the Lib Dem ward councillors’ and the Lib Dem lead for planning’s backs were turned) show how the area around Dominion House is changing.

    Extensive changes to the GPDO (General Permitted Development Order 2015 as amended) were enforced in August 2020 and introduced permitted development rights which enabled the provision of additional storeys, as well as creating additional separate residential units on top of existing buildings.

    They included the following which all require prior approval to be sought before commencing development.
    Schedule 2
    Part 1
    Class AA Building upwards to create additional storey on dwellinghouse (householder extension)
    Part 20
    Class A Building upwards to create dwellinghouses on detached blocks of flats
    Class AA Building upwards to create dwellinghouses on detached commercial or mixed use buildings
    Class AB Building upwards to create dwellinghouses on detached commercial or mixed use buildings in a terrace
    Class AC Building upwards to create dwellinghouses on detached dwellinghouses
    Class AD Building upwards to create dwellinghouses on dwelling houses in terrace

    Just take a look across our town centre and consider where this might have an impact on views and heights.

    A Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) is a local planning document that provides further guidance and detail on the policies and proposals set out in a Local Plan. The SPD does not have the same level of statutory weight as a Local Plan.

    The GDPO is a national order that grants planning permission for certain types of development without the need for a planning application..

    In general, an SPD cannot override the GPDO, as the GPDO is a national order and has legal precedence over local planning guidance. However, local planning authorities can use Article 4 directions to remove some or all of the permitted development rights granted by the GPDO in specific areas or for specific types of development, where there are clear justifications for doing so. If an Article 4 direction is in place, it effectively overrides the GPDO for the specified developments in the designated area.

    An updated Local Plan such as R4GV has promised to undertake if it secures a majority, plus an Article 4 direction based on robust heights and views policies in the updated Local Plan seems to me to be the best way to protect the town centre.

    Over-egged, emotive arguments about the North Street scheme are missing the point. Assuming R4GV is somehow responsible is at best letting the Lib Dems and Conservatives off the hook for local and national actions, and at worst is letting the foxes run the hen house!

    Julian Lyon is a R4GV candidate for Stoke in the forthcoming GBC election

  6. John Redpath Reply

    April 19, 2023 at 7:57 am

    I think Julian has just proved why the council will benefit from having expertise like his present in the council chamber. It’s time to clear out those who run only for the sake of their national political masters but have little or no knowledge of the decisions they will need to make if elected.

    John Redpath is a R4GV candidate for Castle ward in the forthcoming GBC election.

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