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Letter: Is This a Bridge or Two Too Far For the GBC To Work Out?

Published on: 4 Aug, 2020
Updated on: 3 Aug, 2020

The proposed route of the new Ash flyover or bridge. Image GBC.

From John Ferns

In response to: A Bridge To Benefit Ash, A Vanity Project, Or A Key To More Housing?

David Reading was told by a GBC spokesperson in September last year: “The council expects planning for the separate footbridge for pedestrians and cyclists near the station will be submitted before the road bridge application is determined at the end of 2019, early 2020.” That was utter hogwash.

This is also an update on the former chair of AGRA’s detailed response, reported here: The Real Purpose of the New Bridge at Ash Is Obvious

I am neither for nor against the bridge because I feel we simply do not have enough information to make an informed decision and many questions still remain unanswered.

Plans for the road bridge application are already well-advanced and the formal application is expected to be brought before the Planning Committee after the summer recess is over.

But contrary to the statement attributed to GBC (above) I can find no evidence of any work being done to execute an application for the footbridge.

Earlier, local residents had received a statement from Network Rail about the safety issues. Their concern was with the foot traffic and the dangerous habit of residents dodging across the railway line when the barriers were down, the culprits being those living on the east side of the bridge going to the shops and the schools on the west side.

For those residents a non-stepped footbridge is essential and Network Rail was prepared to contribute to the costs of providing a footbridge in the sum of £2.5 million (but nothing towards a road bridge).

Shortly after the election last year, at a meeting with the outgoing Executive members and officers, that there would be a new road bridge was made quite clear to us “whether we liked it or not”. Three months later, in July 2019, an Ash parish councillor submitted a petition to GBC, in which he claimed that ‘….the vast majority of residents welcome a bridge’.

In fact, the petition included both a foot and a road bridge:-
“We the undersigned petition Guildford Borough Council to support the new road bridge and footbridge to be built at Ash Station and ensuring this much-needed project is completed.”
A year later, this petition has just 39 signatures, which is hardly a ringing endorsement.

Were the signatories confused about whether it was the road bridge already in planning and/or the footbridge which GBC have shown no inclination to plan for, in advance of the road bridge?

Two further complications now delay any progress on either bridge. First, the High Court has agreed to an application on behalf of AGRA for a judicial review on four counts, which is to be heard in the autumn. This refers to alleged failures in the planning process, which have a direct impact on the Grade 2* listed building of Ash Manor. This historical building is to be surrounded on all sides by 750 new homes and is 180 metres from the highest point of the elevated road bridge, equivalent to the distance between the steps of the GBC offices to Debenhams across the Wey.

Second, residents had earlier expressed their misgivings to GBC on the funding of the road bridge. GBC, in an attempt to balance the books, had determined to impose a “bridge levy” on individual developers at £10,000 per dwelling.

An application went to appeal last year, and the appeal was refused. But the appeal inspector in his summary questioned the council’s levy of £10,000 per house, saying it appeared to be an arbitrary amount. This has been cited in at least one other appeal.

Contributions for other projects are also required in the local area. At least one application has cited the cost of the bridge levy and the 40% requirement for affordable housing as reasons why they are not willing to contribute to any other project. Would they contribute if GBC were to compromise on the affordable housing? It is certainly a temptation.

Perhaps GBC’s reason to plough ahead with the road bridge regardless, is that it justifies the Local Plan’s demand for another 750 homes on top of the 1,000 homes in South Ash and Tongham being constructed or occupied already?

Given the recent debacle over the BVR “Hotspots” project when it was established that GBC had lost track of the finances and had no idea the project had already been fully funded from grants and S106 contributions, GBC should now look critically at the financing for the bridge projects and establish whether there is an even greater budgetary shortfall? It might avoid a major hit on council taxpayers or GBC’s reserves which are already under pressure.

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test One Response to Letter: Is This a Bridge or Two Too Far For the GBC To Work Out?

  1. Carol Durrant Reply

    August 4, 2020 at 8:55 am

    More traffic into Grange Road to short-cut to Ash Street will make the road more hazardous to cross. And the addition of over 400 house on Manor Feilds will cause even more traffic at peak times. The roads are not big enough to take all this and three busy school runs each day.

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