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Letter: New Town Planning Documents – We Can’t Risk Delay

Published on: 30 Aug, 2012
Updated on: 30 Aug, 2012

From Caroline Reeves
Lib Dem GBC Councillor for Friary & St Nicolas

The publication of the Draft Town Centre Masterplan was met with condemnation by the Guildford Vision Group, so I am surprised that the recently published and much improved Interim Town Centre Framework document has had a similar reception.

It’s hard to find a page in the new document that doesn’t include something which was on the ‘wish list’ that came out of the many consultations that have been held on the original draft – mixed use development, small independent retail, more street markets, more public spaces, better use of the river frontage, a more vibrant evening economy, better environment for pedestrians and cyclists, more homes and more community facilities, a town square, to open the river to the High Street, or better connections with the university, or a safer route to the station, or better parking, or better employment opportunities for the next generation to list only a few.

The new document acknowledges right at the beginning that this is an INTERIM document (just as the previous one was a draft), the Foreword states:

… the aim of this Guildford Interim Town Centre Framework is to stimulate suitable development and improvement whilst preserving and enhancing the valued character of our town centre. This is a living document which will be reviewed when the results of the further studies into transport, local economy and housing become known.

The Guildford Vision Group accuse councillors of being out of our comfort zone, and that we are not engaging with them because a document such as this does not allow us to make our mark due to the long timescales. Their solution is to put all the work done by the Council’s own planning team on hold, employ a firm of consultants who will then be briefed by the Council’s own planners before beginning a process that we are already well into.

Apart from the cost involved, which of course comes out of everyone’s council tax, we are time limited on this – the longer we leave matters the more likely we are to see developers making applications that we can’t refuse because we have no plan or vision of our own. We have a town centre which we want to nurture, improve and enhance for the next generation and we have already come a long way in creating a document to ensure this.

Yes, we don’t yet have a traffic report (though it is about to start). Yes, that traffic report may change the Interim document – but that is exactly why it has that name. Everyone knows that we have traffic problems in the town centre, there are many different solutions, not all affordable, not all viable, but when the traffic study ends we will have options to consider which will become a transportation plan and part of the Framework.

The Council’s planning officers are an experienced, highly skilled team who know Guildford exceptionally well. I believe they deserve credit for the transformation of the draft plan into the Interim Framework document which has taken many, many hours of work. It will continue to be worked on with an aim of making a town centre masterplan that residents can be confident will provide a basis for a dynamic, characterful and successful town centre in the future. A town where the youth of today will want to live, work and play.

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Responses to Letter: New Town Planning Documents – We Can’t Risk Delay

  1. Julian D S Lyon

    August 30, 2012 at 11:02 am

    I have a lot of respect for Cllr Reeves as a councillor and I recognise that the narrative of the Interim Framework takes into account some of the feedback received. But the lack of an ambitious vision means, whilst the delivery section allows for the disposal of some major blocks of land in Cllr Reeves’s ward, it simply shifts a few deckchairs around the decks of the metaphorical Titanic when it comes to infrastructure improvements.

    Yes, I agree the planning officers are experienced and highly-skilled. They are also very hard-working and somewhat underpaid. Yes, I agree that they know Guildford exceptionally well, but my experience tells me that what we need is proper community engagement, co-ordinated by a professional who, perhaps, does not know Guildford so well that he/she has any preconceived ideas.

    The public meeting, which I do not think Cllr Reeves attended, may have been robust and critical but I think many would agree it was also objective. I will not settle for an underwhelming set of aspirations and I do not see why Guildford should either.

  2. Auriol Earle

    August 30, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    Caroline Reeves is right in many ways, GBC have moved and I have been comforted by the fact that so many of expressed ideas have been adopted. But … Read the full comment in ‘Letters’