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Letter: The Guildford Society is Not Nimby

Published on: 15 Aug, 2021
Updated on: 15 Aug, 2021

Comparison between the heights of the existing Debenhams building and the proposed St Mary’s Wharf.

From: Alistair Smith

Chair of the Guildford Society

In response to: Debenhams – Let’s Not Get Nimby

I am afraid Bill Stokoe GVG [Guildford Vision Group] chairman will be shouting “Nimby!” at the Guildford Society. We have written to the developers Native Land expressing our major reservations that the St Mary’s development is too tall, massive, and has major impacts on the surrounding area and heritage.

As usual, the GBC brief for the site, not being in the Local Plan, is unavailable.  James Whiteman (GBC managing director) in April 2019 was quoted that the site “has potential for residential development” just weeks after Local Plan’s adoption. We note other modern riverside sites have provided more imaginative solutions and good public realm.

We are not being Nimby. The Society does want Guildford to be a vibrant town that accepts change and growth and has no objection to a well-considered redevelopment of the Debenhams site.  Revising and reconsidering the design now is easy in this world of Computer-Aided Design.

The Society has long requested proper height policies in Guildford to guide developers.  We are not against tall buildings but have always questioned their use in the centre of Guildford, where we would like to see the landform preserved as a Gap Town.

We believe the Plaza site at nine stories should not be accepted as a precedent for central Guildford.  The Town Centre Masterplan in area, includes GBC offices at Millmead and Millbrook Car Park.  Are we going to see nine stories on these sites as well?  The GVG vision seems to be evolving to high buildings lining the Wey.  But Guildford is not a northern mill town.

Importantly the Native Land consultation has been on the evolution of a single solution for the site – housing, with retail on the ground floor.  As a key site in the town surely there should have been an engagement with residents on what they value about the location, its relationship to the rest of the town, and how it might evolve. There will be many ideas – for example, we proposed a scheme to repurpose the existing building in a sustainable way.

The Society has a vision that we can have a town centre responsive to change but which also continues to incorporate, enhance, and preserve those elements that make Guildford unique, notably its historic core, river and countryside.

Becoming a clone of Woking, or Reading, we would submit, is not the direction we should follow.

Much has been said on the viability of sites ie profitability for the developer. We need to think about “viability” in a wider context for the town and its residents, elements a viable town needs to address include:

  • Provision of an adaptable balance of housing (of all types, not just flats), employment, retail etc.
  • Provision of medical, education, and entertainment facilities etc – we already have critical issues eg GP provision.
  • Be able to adapt due to economics, and technology
  • Be able to meet the challenges of climate change.
  • Provide a healthy environment free of pollution and encouraging principles such as Active Travel and the 15-minute town.
  • Long-term, be an attractive environment where organisations and people want to settle and remain.

Guildford, at St Mary’s Wharf, has an outstanding site, probably unique in the South East.  It could produce a development that the town can be proud of, complementing and enhancing the centre.  The Society’s view is that the proposed development fails to respond to the potential of the site and would damage the Town Centre.

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test 2 Responses to Letter: The Guildford Society is Not Nimby

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    August 16, 2021 at 7:43 am

    Clone of Reading or Woking? Has anyone been down Walnut Tree close recently?

    It’s more like a clone of the Grand Canyon, a fundamental change of character. What happened to no building in the active flood plain, and opening the river to the public? Ghastly!

  2. Janet Moorhouse Reply

    August 16, 2021 at 2:32 pm

    There was a proposal to open the Town Bridge to traffic again. Is this idea still on the table? A bad idea if it is.

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