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Letter: St Mary’s Wharf, We Have Not Been Fairly Consulted

Published on: 19 Aug, 2021
Updated on: 19 Aug, 2021

Comparative views of St Mary’s from Quarry Street. Top, as it is now, bottom, as it would be.

From: Nic Allen

member of the Guildford Society and RIBA

I would like to support the points made in Alistair Smith’s letter: The Guildford Society is Not Nimby, and in Peter Coleman’s letter: Debenham’s Redevelopment Should Respect Town’s Heritage and Valley Setting. As a member of the Guildford Society, I fully endorse its letter expressing concerns on mass and scale the Society has written to Native Land.

I believe that the consultation process for St Mary’s Wharf has been seriously flawed. The developer Native Land and their team have drip-fed information about their proposals to the public in a series of three “consultation” briefings.

The information presented in these three rounds has focused on the benefits of their scheme that they wish to sell to the public. There has been little opportunity for the public to debate or question these benefits or the impact of their proposals.

The developer has only gradually released information on the height, scale and massing of the development. There is still a large amount that has not been revealed especially the comprehensive set of views of the scheme from different locations around the town and its centre which show the development in context.

Comparative views of the proposed development from the High Street. Left, as it is now, right as it would be.

Likewise, only when detailed drawings that show the elevations and sections of the scheme in relation to its neighbouring buildings, streets and the river, will its scale be really evident. When these views and drawings are eventually revealed, probably when a planning application is submitted, will the public really be able to observe how dominant and damaging this scheme will be to the town and its heritage.

Some of the benefits being sold to the public may need questioning. Is all of the public realm being much promoted actually “public” or as it is privately owned will it be closed off at specific times?

Guildford is loved by residents and visitors because of its charm, scale of buildings and interest, much of which comes from being a gap town surrounded by hills. The challenge is to preserve and enhance what is special in the town centre, whilst using vacant sites sensitively to provide for, needed housing, and other uses.

The view of St Nicolas Church from The Mount with the outline of the new development shown in blue.

Most views across the town centre include, in the distance, the hills, countryside and skylines. This scheme with its height, twice the height of existing Debenhams and 5-6 floors higher than most of its surroundings, will permanently wipe out or significantly alter many of these views for ever.

Three of the views from the consultation are shown here although the view from the bottom of The Mount is only shown by a blue line whereas the impact of the actual building’s mass will be very visible and damage this view of St Nicolas Church. Whether it is the views from Quarry Street with St Mary’s Church, the oldest church in Guildford, or from St Nicolas Church or the High Street or Millmead on the opposite side of the River Wey or the Town Mill or the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, all of these views will be altered.

These historic heritage buildings will be dwarfed, over-powered and overshadowed by these insensitively high new buildings and in many cases, the views of the hills and skyline lost.

To provide for a hundred or so residents of the apartments to have views over the River or Town Centre, tens of thousands of people, both now and in the future, will have lost the opportunity to enjoy Guildford’s heritage and views unblighted or unobstructed by this development.

There are probably 50 listed buildings and the historic core of the town centre plus the riverside itself that would be negatively impacted and damaged for ever by this development’s size.

A development of this height and scale would not be permitted in Cambridge, Winchester, Canterbury, Salisbury or Oxford, so why should it be permitted here, in Guildford? Do we want to destroy the best of our town?

I want and believe in us having a thriving Guildford, especially the town centre with exciting new development including more town centre and riverside housing but not at any cost.

Across the UK and Europe there are plenty of superb examples of well designed new developments on sensitive town or city centre sites that are in scale with their surroundings. Many of these designed by leading architects have been the trigger for wider regeneration.

I do believe the public has been misled. We have not been fairly consulted because we have only been given the developer’s choice of information on which to comment. Guildford town centre, after decades of indifferent development, deserves the best new development, urban design and architecture of a quality that enhances our Town and doesn’t destroy it.

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test 4 Responses to Letter: St Mary’s Wharf, We Have Not Been Fairly Consulted

  1. Janet Moorhouse Reply

    August 20, 2021 at 10:37 am

    If only the present Debenhams building had received a Historic England listing it could have been amended to residential use without years of wrangling and arguments.

  2. Susan Hibbert Reply

    August 20, 2021 at 8:30 pm

    I absolutely agree with Nic Allen. It seems that the precious glimpse of green hills which are so much a part of Guildford’s views will be obliterated by the height of the proposed development.

    Also, if one responds to the developer’s consultation (as I have done) one quickly realises that the questions are skewed towards obtaining certain desired responses.

  3. Bob Bromham Reply

    August 21, 2021 at 10:13 am

    The Hoy Trinity Amenity Group (HTAG) would fully endorse the comments in this letter.

    This is not a genuine pre-application consultation, but a manipulative public relations exercise. Our Group did ask the firm that is managing the consultation for some proper definitive data. Their patronising response was: “I have spoken to the wider project team, and it is our view that issuing the presentation as a standalone document – without the added commentary from our architects – would risk some of the context perhaps getting lost or misinterpreted.”

    An issue that has not been addressed is the impact of the proposal on our highly valued riverside. We would ask those who are accusing others of being Nimbys for raising concerns if they can cite any other town where, in recent times, such a high building has been built so close to their riverside. Other places value their “blue” features. We need the riverside to be properly opened up, not enclosed by such overbearing buildings.

    Bob Bromham is the planning secretary of HTAG

  4. Ben Paton Reply

    August 21, 2021 at 1:42 pm

    “This is not a genuine pre-application consultation, but a manipulative public relations exercise.”

    GBC is expert in that sort of “consultation” too. That’s how it created the distorted conclusions-directed “evidence” to support its disastrous Local Plan.

    Instead of creating and upholding standards in the public interest, it kowtows to developers.

    Our councillors seem more worried that sites might not be “viable” – in other words, that developers will not make enough money. They should spend more time protecting the interests of the people who elect them.

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