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Letter: Debenhams Redevelopment Proposal Misses A Huge Opportunity

Published on: 24 Aug, 2021
Updated on: 24 Aug, 2021

Aerial view of the Debenhams site, close to the High Street and the River Wey.

From Gerry Lyttle

Architect

It has been many months since the change of guard at Guildford Borough Council, as a result of national politics and local concerns.

A fresh group of independent councillors were elected on a platform to protect the green belt and deliver a better town environment.

Town centre developments are progressing and the North Street development is being revised again, due to a changed brief.

Into this mire of new developments, the Debenhams proposals have arrived. The new councillors were in place at the time of interested bids, for the Debenhams Site, yet there seems no proof that there was either a brief or a wish list from the council for development requirements for this important town site.

The development of this site in the 1960s followed the creation of a new north-south road, “Ladybrook”, releasing a much-congested Quarry Street from two-way traffic.

Following the closure of the timber yard which occupied the site, it was decided that any development demanded an iconic building worthy of the location in the town centre, including a large public usage.

Whilst this completed design has always split public opinion, as an architectural composition, it succeeded; representing a style of its time and making a clear, defined design statement.

The proposal sat comfortably in the surrounding heritage context of High Street, and flanked by two of the remaining town churches, where the height was in scale to the width of the street and distance from the buildings on the opposite side enhancing the feeling of a wide street, (classic urban planning).

Regarding public use the store not only provided major employment for the town but also was used regularly as a traditional department store of its time by the residents, and hence a civic response was achieved. As shopping needs changed, the usage was no longer viable, resulting in the current development proposals.

An excellent public relations exercise is ongoing but many important and necessary questions need to be raised.

The proposed scale is twice the height of the existing building justified by the developer’s financial viability The current height of the existing building is impressive when viewed from street level as a pedestrian.

The proposed replacement is double this height dwarfing not only adjacent buildings but due to the bulk proposed, it visually dwarfs the town’s landscape, wherever a view is chosen.

Is the architectural style iconic or just a representation of the London residential scene, and hence what relevance to Guildford and its important heritage. The proposal of over 200 apartments on this site does not reflect any due diligence in serving the public need for such an important location.

With only the ground floor being proposed for retail, the huge opportunity for civic use on many floors is missed.

Should one question why there was not a specific brief or at least a wish list to cover scale, potential uses, linkage to the rest of the town and river enjoyment; prior to such a quantity of work being carried out by the professional team for the current proposal?

Buildings are more and more being repurposed, the ‘Rodboro’ building in the town centre, is a good example. Why was this not considered as a possible option?

Maybe an architectural competition, on a sensible brief, for this important town site, would deliver a building with usage which future generations of Guildford would be proud of, whilst setting the pattern for the next generation of developments in our town.

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test One Response to Letter: Debenhams Redevelopment Proposal Misses A Huge Opportunity

  1. J Rendon Reply

    August 25, 2021 at 8:11 am

    Woking is well ahead of Guildford when it comes to development and progress not to mention shopping, business and economy.

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