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Letter: It’s Always Commercialism First at the Borough Council

Published on: 12 Dec, 2020
Updated on: 12 Dec, 2020

Debenhams Restaurant

From: Bob Benjafield

In response to: The Guildford Society Has Ideas About the Future of The Debenhams Site

Come off it. Let’s be realistic about the future of the Debenhams building. Back in the Sixties, when Moons Timber business ceased trading on its riverside site, the council had the chance to buy the land and turn it into a “green lung”, joining the bottom of the High Street to open countryside only yards upriver along the Wey.

At that time, the Surrey Advertiser, on which I was a reporter at the start of my career, ran a campaign calling on the Tory-dominated council, with members who were, before everything, Guildford shop-owners, to create an open public space.

But the dead hand of commercialism-before-everything, in the person of Herbert Weller, in a position equivalent to today’s borough council chief executive, led councillors to sell off the land for what became Millbrook’s dominant eyesore, Plummers Store, then Debenhams.

The same hand was influential in the site of Friary Brewery becoming Friary shopping centre and the former Playhouse Cinema arcade in the High Street becoming the homes of Chelsea shops opening branches in Guildford.

The town in-joke was that many of the deals were negotiated in the Jaguar of the council’s top official in the GBC car park, those days in Upper High Street.

Today’s borough council shows no more sign than the Sixties lot of being able to do absolutely anything to influence the new owner of Debenhams empty building to pay much heed to what we Guildfordians would like to see along this town centre stretch of the River Wey.

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