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Letter: The Concept of a Theatre Bridge to Connect the Riverside is Not Flawed

Published on: 30 Aug, 2022
Updated on: 30 Aug, 2022

By John Rigg

lead borough councillor for Regeneration and R4GV ward councillor for Holy Trinity

I was sorry to see my friend David Ogilvie’s letter (I Would Prefer Less Height for ‘St Mary’s Wharf’ Than Another Bridge) against the proposed footbridge carrying on the proposed new riverside walk on St Mary’s Wharf (formerly Debenhams) to the Yvonne Arnaud theatre.

In due course, it’s planned to be extended along the Wey to the Millbrook car park and then to Shalford Park and on to Dagley Lane in Shalford.

A CGI impression of the proposed St Mary’s Wharf viewed from Millmead. David Ogilvie believes a further reduction of the height of the buildings would be preferable to a new footbridge connecting the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre.

I know David supports Guildford’s decades-long ambition to open up the riverside for our community. Another letter of his to The Guildford Dragon NEWS earlier this year (March 6, 2022 – about a possible route south from Ladymead) made that clear. The public shares his goal. The recent public consultation on Shaping Guildford‘s Future (SGF) put opening up the riverside as one of the highest aspirations of our community.

But we have to be realistic. A public riverside route can’t be achieved in one single step. The process is a jigsaw, that must be assembled over time as opportunities arise. Generally speaking, it’s often only possible with willing parties.

But there’s something in the Guildford water that has held back progress. In 50 years, for all the talk and countless local planning documents, there has been no progress along the riverside. Yet, countless towns across the UK and across Europe have made stunning progress in opening up their riversides. Why can Guildford not match their ambitions and achievements?

The route David highlights in his criticism of the St Mary’s Wharf proposals starts at Town Bridge and heads south. It’s identified in the draft town centre master plan, (part of SGF), and offers an almost perfect opportunity to open up a riverside walk through one of our most beautiful settings.

St Mary’s Wharf – potential bridge locations

The St Mary’s Wharf development offers this new access to the riverside.

The promenade it could create would be the length of the St Mary’s Wharf river frontage. It also offers the opportunity to carry on across a new footbridge to the Yvonne Arnaud. The developer has offered to deliver and install this footbridge.

Normally land ownership is the challenge to delivering these opportunities.  Fortuitously, the developer owns one side and the council owns the intervening mill pool, as well as the freehold of the Yvonne Arnaud.

The theatre is in favour of the bridge. It will help raise its profile, connect it better with the town and generate footfall. There is potential value for the theatre in what is a difficult time financially for it.

Furthermore, due diligence is being undertaken with a view to continuing the riverside route in front of the Yvonne Arnaud, requiring relocation of a bin store, to join the footpath at Millmead Lock. This is the one which runs from Shalford Road to Millmead and on to the council offices.

The SGF plan envisages continuing this footpath past the Thames Water site and across the tributary to the mill via a short bridge to Millbrook car park. This opens up a further wonderful extension of the riverside walk, again on property owned by the council. The footpath would then have to swing inland and east to the Shalford Road to navigate past the pinch point of the Weyside public house.

Unpleasant as it can be walking along the noisy traffic-laden Shalford Road, it is only for a few hundred metres, by the Millbrook car park and Weyside pub, before connecting with the path alongside Shalford Meadow, Shalford Park and the green way to Dagley Lane; open meadows, sports fields or tree-lined route all the way to Shalford.

I believe this concept is not flawed, as David suggests. It is aspirational, consistent with decades of civic ambition but sadly with little or no action so far to open up the riverside for our community. This opportunity is here, now, and within our grasp.

The proposal has never had any bearing on the size of the development. From the start, the developer recognised the wonderful opportunity for our town and confirmed he was willing to include the bridge in his project. Since then, his separate negotiations with the local planning authority have led to the scheme’s reduction by three floors, not an increase.

To travel by foot or bicycle from Shalford to High Street, partly along our most iconic riverside, uninterrupted and in one connecting experience, is something worth supporting, I maintain.

The ambition does not end there. I’m hoping, through the SGF proposals, we can carry on the riverside walk, on the town side, from Bedford Wharf to Dapdune Wharf and then onwards to cross Ladymead. From then, it will connect with the towpath to Stoke Road, onto Stoughton, Bellfields and the Guildford Riverside Nature Reserve.

This is about accessibility for all, pride in our town, plus the offer of a healthy measure of active travel.

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