Fringe Box



Letter: The Debate Is Simple – Town or Country for Residential Development?

Published on: 30 Oct, 2015
Updated on: 30 Oct, 2015

Allies & Morrison Masterplan Report 2015From Andrew Procter

I welcome Julian Lyon’s letter to The Dragon in response to my article on the Masterplan and the opportunity it affords for some much needed public debate on the future development of Guildford.

I also respect Mr Lyon’s professional skills and experience. I do not, on this occasion however, agree with much of what he has to say except for his clear endorsement of the need for more residential development in the town.

The debate is a simple one. Town or country?

Should concentration be focussed first on building on the many previously developed and extensive sites available in the town? Or should development be pushed out into large new housing estates in the green belt and surrounding areas as is the clear intention of the Guildford Borough Council (GBC) 2014 draft Local Plan?

In my view, it makes sense to protect the green belt in accordance with the Conservative party’s recent election pledge and the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

Green belt was established around our towns for very good reasons and particularly to prevent urban sprawl with its consequent pressure on roads and services. Our road system is already at 100% capacity and cannot support large scale rural development. Our infrastructure is already groaning and air quality is poor.

In accordance with the clear guidance from the government championing “brownfield first” we must look to the town.

Allies and Morrison’s terms of reference were clear. They were to maximise the development opportunity of existing sites. They have clearly failed to do so in respect of residential development and have exaggerated the need for additional retail and office development.

Guildford is in need of investment and development. Much of the town is low density and has fallen behind over the years in providing residential accommodation including affordable housing.

The evidence provided in the Masterplan and the subsequent Carter Jonas study does not support assertions of the need for 500,000 sq ft of retail. Their statement that “the retail sector remains fragile and analysts forecast that some operators and centres will continue to struggle over the short to medium term” is a reality and the fact is they have provided no solid, reliable evidence to demonstrate demand.

My concern is that if you manage to build an additional 500,000 sq ft of shops in the centre of Guildford it could overwhelm the town’s retail core and drastically increase current vacancy rates. Alternatively sites zoned for retail development will remain undeveloped as is the case now where an existing large site off North Street is still waiting for someone to show interest.

Similarly, in my view the GVA’s [property consultants], assertion that office rents ‘will’ support development of an additional 500,000 sq ft of offices is equally unreliable. Again there is no real evidence to support this. My concern is that a planned exaggeration of the need for office zoning will result in sites remaining vacant as is the case now.

In terms of additional residential development Mr Lyon cites the problem of flooding as “no easy task to be taken for granted”. Agreed, but why don’t we instruct the council officers to become positive and find a solution.

Flood resistant buildings which make zero impact on the River Wey are not rocket science and the Royal Institute of British Architects have produced an excellent guidance note.

Mr Lyon agrees that we could develop over the station but is concerned that “this means agreeing a deal” with Network Rail in the absence of statutory powers. Again this is not a problem.

Network Rail has a property division with a clear mandate to maximize all the development opportunities of the network and to use the proceeds to improve stations’ capacities for the benefit of their customers. With clear encouragement for increased density provided by GBC a deal could be agreed.

Any Masterplan needs to be based on independent and well researched property market analysis before any pretty “before and after” pictures are included to persuade the public that it is a good idea. This analysis has not been satisfactorily done.

To date, forward planning in Guildford seems to have concentrated on using consultants to pull out ‘evidence’ to support a predetermined vision of what should be. The fact that the evidence produced is therefore insubstantial and potentially flawed seems to be of little concern.

Mr Lyon finally makes reference to the need for a mayor to replace the last “marmite” leader. In my view we do not actually need a new “marmite” mayor. We simply need an honest democratic committee system to provide the necessary checks, balances and scrutiny and the integrity to achieve the best solutions for our borough

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