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Letter: The Planning Committee’s Decision on the North Street Plan Was Correct

Published on: 24 Jan, 2023
Updated on: 24 Jan, 2023

From Richard Mills:

chair of the town centre Conservatives but writing in his personal capacity

It may be foolhardy for a Conservative to comment on the internecine war between Lib-Dem and R4GV partners over the rejection of the North Street scheme, but one point needs to be recognised by us all

No one who attended the Planning Committee meeting on January 11 could doubt that the leading Lib Dem members, Cllrs White, Hogger and Potter [Cllr Potter is not a Planning Committee member but did speak in the debate], had grappled long and hard with the difficult issues the proposal raised and, to their credit, they took a brave decision in line with their best judgement of their planning and wider public responsibilities.

For too long the Lib Dems may have had their eye off the ball, failed to recognize the key issues and been content to take a free ride on the efforts of their gung-ho partners, but it is disreputable of the R4GV leadership to question the care and integrity of the conclusions their leadership finally reached.

As for the decision itself, there can be little doubt that it was the right one, given the main
issues raised in debate:

  • failure to meet the Local Plan requirement that the development ‘”espond to
    the context set by the surrounding street pattern and historic environment,
    including the adjacent Conservation Area, through the need for high quality
    design and materials, with particular care of massing, heights and roofscape”;
  • unresolved disagreements with the transport authority, Surrey County Council,
    concerned that the project risked traffic chaos and a degraded bus service:
  • absence of any significant affordable housing, against local and national policy
    and in spite of firm borough council commitments in 2020.

R4GV could fairly claim that against the above the committee had to balance possible benefits
from the scheme, but under examination these have simply fallen apart:

  • The suggestion that the 800 or so new residents would provide a significant
    economic boost to the town will be undermined by the grossly inadequate parking
    spaces proposed and the associated reductions in surface parking. These will
    increase parking problems and congestion, driving ever more residents and visitors
    elsewhere for their shopping and entertainment
  • The suggestion that intensive development in the Town Centre will help relieve
    development pressure on the green belt and villages is also a fallacy. The two
    demand groups are different. Indeed developments on this scale will in due course
    increase pressure on the villages and green belt. As young couples attracted by such
    developments grow their families they will surely look for properties in their local
    area with the space they want – and most obviously in the villages and green belt
    nearest to them.
  • Finally, the suggestion that the project will provide “500 much-needed homes” maybe correct but it will not be the homes that Guildford residents need. It will be predominantly homes for a mobile population from across the region – making Guildford increasingly follow Woking as a high-rise residential growth hub for the county and the region, a role for which it is unsuited and for which there is no evidence of resident support.

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