Fringe Box



Letter: University Must Remember Guildford’s Permanent Residents

Published on: 3 Feb, 2014
Updated on: 3 Feb, 2014

A reply to Greg Melly’s letter to The Guildford Dragon NEWS, ‘University’s Local Contribution is Extensive’, from Rob Burch.

Some of the land that the Save Hogs Back Campaign petitioned to have removed from the Local Plan as a site for potential development.

Some of the land that the Save Hogs Back Campaign petitioned to have removed from the Local Plan as a site for potential development.

I am heartened by Mr Melly’s highlighting that the University of Surrey can continue its academic, accommodation and other related development without the need to build on the Hog’s Back at Blackwell Farm: “…it is for the Local Plan process to decide if there are better offers on the table [than Blackwell Farm]. If this proves to be the case, we will continue to move forward in other ways.”  This removes any notion of economic brinkmanship from the Local Plan process concerning the university.

I spoke at the full council meeting on how I believe the council needs to have better governance of the university’s activities.

As stated, I am supportive of the university: “We are lucky in Guildford to have a successful and aspirational university”.  While I am sceptical about economic indicators showing vast benefit beyond direct employees – all organisations economically support many people beyond their own employees – the university does have about 2,500 staff according to its website, a very significant number.

Guildford residents don’t question the benefits from the university and certainly appreciate them, as Mr Melly highlights. However, they do strongly question the university’s behaviour.

While I am sure the university has put significant effort into maintaining very strong links with councillors and officers, the same cannot be said for residents. The university is seeking to engage with the community as part of its campaigning for development at Blackwell Farm, but are about 10 years behind.

As part of the Development Brief for Manor Park, agreed in 2003 between the council and university, a series of commitments was made to the local community (eg review access to Beechcroft Drive, augmentation of permissive routes at Blackwell Farm, conversion of buildings at Manor Farm to provide a classroom for visiting school groups, way-marked trail through Manor Copse, etc), none of which have been delivered and if they have been discussed, residents have not been made aware of this, as one highlighted passionately during the debate.

The university may make commitments and enticements to the local community as part of its Blackwell Farm drive, but history shows we should be very cautious about these.

This beings me back to the original questions I raised about accommodation, to which the university, through Mr Melly, has replied twice in a desire to provide “clarification and correction” and most recently to “get some facts straight”.

However, we have not been given any details of what will be done on accommodation, beyond a placation “plans are to bring forward the next phase of residences” (despite being at least five years behind the original targets).

Those impacted by the university’s failure to deliver the 60% goal for the number of students accommodated on-campus it set as part of the Manor Park Development Brief are very frustrated by the impact that students have on their local area and will also be upset to hear that the university reduced this target in 2009 to 40% to 45% ,according to its Estate Strategy document (my estimates show it is currently achieving 37%).

All students go to university to learn, advance themselves and have a good time and rightly so, but this must not come to the detriment of permanent residents.

To quote the council’s Issues and Options document: “In particular areas of the borough, [students in private accommodation] cause issues with noise and disturbance, car parking and sometimes with the general upkeep of the rented property. A high level of student housing can change the character of the area.”

This gradual down-grading of the quality of significant areas of Guildford led for my call at the debate for action on off-campus accommodation. By way of example, I highlighted that this has already been tackled for over 12 years by Oxford City Council, who set binding targets on the number of students not accommodated in university residences.

I’m sure that this has played a major role in ensuring that, despite its two universities, Oxford is in a better situation compared to Guildford where here students not in university accommodation make up 10% of the population of the Guildford urban area compared to 9% in Oxford city.

Guildford Borough Council is late to recognise this situation, but the Local Plan offers a great opportunity to address this challenge whilst simultaneously improving the character of areas of the town, delivering much needed housing and preventing green belt development.  Three for one has always represented a great deal.

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Responses to Letter: University Must Remember Guildford’s Permanent Residents

  1. Peter Elliott Reply

    February 10, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    Rob Burch has made some very important points shared by a great many Guildford residents.
    We look forward to both Mr Melly and our elected councillors taking them on board.

  2. Ben Paton Reply

    February 16, 2014 at 7:21 pm

    Rob Burch has made some very sensible, logically argued points. Everyone with an open mind can see that his point of view is supported by incontrovertible evidence and common sense.

    GBC and the university need to listen. The whole point of localism is that significant and powerful institutions take local opinion into account. It is all too easy for officials to talk to each other, make their own plans, put councillors on notice and then ambush the public by disclosing their intentions at the last minute.

    This is not fair play or good neighbourliness. There is significant evidence that the planning department (as also in government more generally) has been ‘captured’ by the development industry it is supposed to regulate. The consultation on the local plan included (‘promoted’) sites owned by private developers. The inclusion of these sites was in the private interest of the owners/developers but not in the public interest.

    “The planning system is created as an instrument of government, as a means of restricting private land use rights in the interests of the community as a whole” – not, as some of Guildford’s planners seem to think, to facilitate private development. (Quote from Sir Malcolm Grant wrote in ‘Urban Planning Law (1982))

    GBC and its planning department has an overriding duty to ‘restrict’ the university’s use of its land (as it has with all private property owners) in the public interest. It can only show that it is fulfilling this public duty by giving local residents full notice of the university’s plans and by demonstrating that sensible proposals like Mr Burch’s are seriously examined and implemented.

  3. Bernard Parke Reply

    February 17, 2014 at 9:53 am

    About three years ago we were told that there were some 1,300 properties in Guildford, mostly little more than student dormitories, the occupants of which or the owners did not pay council tax.

    We are now told that the figure has risen to some 1,800 such properties, many of which could be described as “affordable” houses.

    Affordable houses, old or new, should be earmarked for our own young families here in our town, and not a source of income from speculators, many of whom live in far distant parts.

  4. C Stevens Reply

    February 17, 2014 at 11:56 am

    Mr Burch and Mr Paton make some very good points.

    What worries me about the university’s approach to matters is that they seem quite prepared to spin the facts to favour their arguments. So Mr Melly, in his original letter, suggested that the university supported more than 16,000 jobs locally. As Mr Burch points out, the correct figure is less than 3,000. Just because jobs are supported elsewhere is not, in my view, sufficient reason for the university to continue to expand endlessly.

    Perhaps Mr Melly should visit some of the streets colonised by students so he’d be entirely clear about the effect on the local community. I find it ironic that the artist’s impression of the university’s projected garden suburb looks a little like parts of Guildford did before the students moved in.

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