Fringe Box



Letter: There Are Few Significant Changes to the North Street Scheme

Published on: 5 Jul, 2023
Updated on: 5 Jul, 2023

From: Joss Bigmore

leader of the Residents for Guildford & Villages group at GBC

See: North Street – Approve ‘Smaller, Higher Quality Scheme’ and We Will Withdraw Appeal Says Developer

In St Edward’s webinar public briefing last week on their revised plans for North Street the development consortium confirmed that they are simultaneously appealing the refusal of January 2023 and submitting a new plan for Guildford Borough Council and the community to consider.

The response has been predictable – those in favour of the original scheme and moving forward in the town centre are in favour of the new proposal. Those vehemently against remain opposed.

So, what has changed?

Let’s start with what hasn’t changed.

  • Former councillor John Rigg’s achievement over four years reduced the first scheme presented to a Lib Dem council in July 2019 of 735 homes to 473 homes. The latest proposal will have 471, just two fewer. So the overall scale of the development is almost identical to the refused scheme;
  • The number of committed affordable homes remains the same. With both schemes only if more funding can be obtained from the government will the percentage increase. But even if it does not the schemes still comply with policy;
  • The buildings facing North Street remain the same height;
  • The bus station will still be improved; and
  • Space for a medical centre will still be provided.

Height was the biggest concern for many people with the original plan.  The original plan had a single “statement building” that was taller than anything else in the area at 82.9 metres. This was reduced to 80.7 metres in the January 2023 application and is now reduced further to 73.8 metres.

The new plan makes a reduction to the maximum height – by two floors so now only one storey higher than 1 Onslow Street next door, already approved as permitted development with negligible public debate.

And the new lower 11-storey building, in the lowest part of the site, will also be designed in brick to blend in more, rather than trying to make a statement as originally advocated by the scheme architects and preferred by the Design Panel for the South East.

It would appear from the presentation that the mid-sized buildings have been increased in size to compensate for some of the lost space.

The previous selection of cladding materials has been replaced by variations of brick, to be more traditional and to blend in. This will include mixes of colours and layouts to “add interest”.

The publicly accessible areas have been increased by 12 per cent by converting private gardens to public.

The significant change is the bus station access. The existing rejected scheme proposed a new two-way Leapale Road entry and exit to the bus station, thereby removing heavy diesel bus movements from North Street and the conflict with pedestrian shoppers in front of the Friary Centre.

The pedestrianisation was intended to improve safety, reduce pollution, as well as improve the visitor environment. Removing heavy traffic from the bottom of North Street, and away from pedestrians was strongly supported by GBC’s planning department and three professional transportation consultants all experts in their field. This has now been changed to retain the southern entrance for buses.

Hence a significant part of the proposed pedestrianised North Street will now not happen and will suffer buses passing through sacrificing the safer environment, the pocket park and the play areas. This is a huge blow to the benefits of the scheme to satisfy SCC

So, is it better or worse?  The token reduction in size can be welcomed, and from a distance the brick effect certainly does blend in better than the original white “statement building”.  Is the brick ugly, or was the previous cladding worse?  That’s for others to judge.  The real hammer blow is the loss of pedestrianisation and place-making that was to be created around The Friary for the community.

What happens next?  The Lib Dems now lead the borough council with a majority in the chamber and on the Planning Committee, so it is up to them.  There were never legitimate grounds for rejecting the original development.  St. Edward will almost certainly win the appeal if it goes that far.

So the new GBC Planning Committee has a choice of swallowing their previous objections and accepting this new proposal or suffering huge legal expenses and lost officer time on an appeal the council will almost certainly lose.

Some residents might also be concerned about further delays or procrastination considering the deteriorating economic climate and housing market, which risks another abortive project at North Street even if consented. This would be failed attempt number 10 over decades adding to Guildford’s catalogue of self-inflicted failure.

From the election, it is evident that many do not like the design and would prefer to forgo the new homes and investment. Unfortunately, planning decisions are ultimately made on policies rather than personal preference. The council can reject something it or voters don’t like, but if that is the only reason that decision will be overturned on appeal.

Subjective opinions on ugliness or height might make good campaign slogans, but unless backed up by policies, the council is powerless and the scheme complies with the strategic planning allocation put in place for the site in May 2019. This was also mostly free of limitations on height.

We will see how this plays out but the key point is that R4GV councillors will have to take an appropriate view at the time on the revised balance of harms and benefits. Any assessment by the Planning Committee will be supported by GBC’s professional planning officers and external agencies in their recommendations.

The previous application came with a clear and robust recommendation from officers to approve the scheme but was overridden on the night, perhaps by other considerations.

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Responses to Letter: There Are Few Significant Changes to the North Street Scheme

  1. Helena Townsend Reply

    July 6, 2023 at 8:50 am

    It’s a little bit concerning that R4GV tried to force a scheme on residents, (they stated it was that scheme or an appeal) then, within a few weeks, the new administration has encouraged the developer to submit a revised scheme with early indications showing local stakeholder support. I even hear SCC have withdrawn their objections.

    Wonder what Robin Horsley’s views are?

  2. Alan Judge Reply

    July 6, 2023 at 4:27 pm

    Why do so many people need Robin Horsley to tell them what to think?

    I notice a lot of comments on many articles mention him and the moderator of this site is more than happy to publish them, presumably as it is seen as a local meme now.

    It’s really not something to laugh at or be proud of.

    Editor’s response. Just four of the last 50 comments published have mentioned or alluded to Robin Horsley. Comments are unsolicited, it is up to readers to comment as they wish. As stated in our comments policy, publication of a comment does not indicate endorsement of any point of view.

  3. Helena Townsend Reply

    July 7, 2023 at 12:01 pm

    I certainly don’t need Robin Horsley to tell me what to think – I was actually prepared to support the last scheme – but that doesn’t mean I can’t be interested in what he has to say.

    Also, what’s funny about him? He’s entitled to his views like anyone else and I like to think people can make their own minds up.

  4. Jules Cranwell Reply

    July 8, 2023 at 6:25 am

    What’s funny about Robin Horsley? Well, he seemed to have set out to improve the electoral chances of the Tories, by denigrating R4GV and GGG.

    Instead, he unintentionally has lumbered us with an ineffectual Lib Dem council.

  5. Jane Dobson Reply

    July 10, 2023 at 1:02 pm

    When Cllr Bigmore – by far one of the worst leaders GBC has ever had to endure – backs something, we should all be very relieved indeed that it’s been binned.

  6. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    July 20, 2023 at 4:57 pm

    I have received an email from the borough council informing me of the appeal and asking me if I wish to take part in the proceedings.

    The appeal has apparently been modified to change the entry to the bus station from North Street end as well as additional staircases. I am a bit puzzled as I thought the refusal was of the original application which had both entry and exit on the north of the bus station.

    Why would an Inspector allow the appeal in the knowledge that the applicant is prepared to reduce the contentious height, change the facade design for better blending and is prepared to offer better “affordable” housing?

    St Edward’s revised design does include North Street entry and other modifications as mentioned above. The development consortium is of course hoping that their revised design would be acceptable so why go through the appeal procedure and make the council spend funds unnecessarily?

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