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Letter: North Street Regeneration – the Cost to Our Town of the Lib Dem Refusal

Published on: 21 Jan, 2023
Updated on: 21 Jan, 2023

From: John Rigg

lead councillor for Regeneration at GBC and R4GV borough councillor for Holy Trinity

It is a tragedy for our town that the Liberal Democrats, abetted by the Conservatives, chose to vote against the single biggest development for this town for over 30 years. It is a decision that will cost our town dearly.

After four years of engaging with these council members, I think the developer was entitled to assume the councillors, given their silence, were predisposed to support the scheme. At any time, any one of the Lib Dem councillors could have said they were, or were not, minded to support the project. They didn’t.

Cllr Liz Hogger does not appear to understand regeneration needs the active involvement of its council. A developer, in its consultation activities, can engage with many parties, but the council must take responsibility itself for contacting key stakeholders and making sure they have considered every possible implication from the development proposals.

Firstly, the challenges on North Street require road changes, bus station changes, road closures, new pedestrianised routes through a new scheme and parks and squares. All have to be considered in great detail, through discussion with the developer but also verified independently of the developer.

Those investigations include contacting all those affected and checking the existing legal rights of the council and those additional that will be required.

The developer cannot do this. It needs the cooperation of a large number of parties, including a willing council that wants regeneration. R4GV, right from its inception, made regeneration a top-level priority.

I am also not sure the Lib Dems have much understanding of the difference between sitting on a planning committee voting to approve or turn down an application compared to the huge exercise of initiating and carrying forward a desperately needed £200 million town centre regeneration.

This involves large teams of people working for years, full-time, to pull together the very planning application turned down in moments because it doesn’t appeal to some, or for other reasons many of us might suspect.

Hands-on resourcing is also required for a council, trying to regenerate its town centre. A successful council doesn’t just sit in an office gazing at its navel.

A historically passive approach to regeneration is why nothing has been achieved by the national politically aligned groups running Guildford over the last 30 years.

If one of the best developers in the country is turned away by Guildford, what is the message to the others?

I’ve reflected on what I, as portfolio holder for Regeneration, might have got wrong. I really tried hard to secure consensus but it seems tribalism would not permit it.

I tried to reduce the bulk and height of the scheme and did, to a degree, from 750 units to 485 units but the inadequacies of the 2019 Local Plan and the independence of the local planning authority who must decide in compliance with adopted policies

I tried to deliver major public realm wins, place-making and health and safety gains and had, but once again, in my opinion, politics at Surrey County Council worked hard to frustrate us.  Conservative councillors at SCC are unlikely to welcome non-Conservative GBC councillors succeeding here.

Then, when for a time it appeared to the Conservatives that their tactics might be insufficient and fail, they had a local MP rush off to get Secretary of State Gove to use his call-in sledgehammer to crack this relatively little nut.

Let’s be clear – every key aspect of the North Street scheme complies with both the Local Plan requirements and national policy and guidance set out in the NPPF and associated guidance.

In the face of such political games, will any developer or investor come to this town again?

For over four years the Lib Dems and the Conservatives have said little on the subject and ignored opportunities to be better informed and influence the scheme before at the eleventh hour voting against en bloc. This is really not very good for Guildford.

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test 2 Responses to Letter: North Street Regeneration – the Cost to Our Town of the Lib Dem Refusal

  1. Mike Jordan Reply

    January 21, 2023 at 9:55 pm

    Quite right. This is s huge, possibly unrepeatable opportunity lost as a result of simple Nimbyism. A high-quality development with a great deal of local support has been dished in the name of party politics.

    Guildford will rue the day this decision was made. It is to be hoped the developers will appeal.

  2. Ben Paton Reply

    January 23, 2023 at 8:38 am

    Every double-glazing salesman has a repertoire of psychological weapons to persuade the unsuspecting home owner to give him what he wants: a sale:
    1. Prices are going up. Buy now.
    2. Unrepeatable offer to you. Take it now!
    3. Tragedy for you and your family if you let this opportunity pass.
    4. Apocalyptic future if you don’t insulate your house.
    5. This is the best ever product available.
    6. Our company will not come back to this area soon.

    Funnily enough, the world does not end if you tell the salesman to go away.

    If the borough council had put the horse in front of the cart and revised the Local Plan to include a) proper provision for alternative transport b) council housing c) building height constraints then it would not have been necessary to fudge North Street.

    If developers spurn the chance to develop that brownfield town centre site it will probably have a lot to do with the alternatives available to them in the borough: much cheaper green fields, former green belt sites that the GBC’s Local Plan made available to them for the first time since before the Second World War.

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