Fringe Box



Letter: Unless Councillors Wake Up They Are in Danger of Being Hoodwinked Over North Street

Published on: 11 Oct, 2023
Updated on: 11 Oct, 2023

A developer’s CGI of how the proposed North Street development would look.

From: John Harrison

Guildford Residents Association member

The Guildford Residents Association (GRA) has submitted a detailed formal objection to the slightly revised North Street planning application due for consideration by GBC’s Planning Committee this evening (October 11).

GRA is shocked at the way the real impact of the proposal is being hidden, not just from the
general public, but also from the planning committee, with misleading images that seem to ignore council policy requirements.

The latest version is more bulky than the refused application. When the scheme is shown
honestly, and as indicated in the Council’s own policy, the harmful impact of the mass of big and blocky towers can be seen.

How the North Street scheme would appear according to GRA

By contrast the applicant is offering views in which you can hardly see the towers of Woking let alone the North Street scheme. GRA is troubled that when a Planning Committee member asked for an image of the previous application to be zoomed so she could see it, the officer refused even though the council’s views policy includes zoomed images.

The more distant view offered taken from the planning application documents.

GRA’s objection sets out in detail real concerns about the information provided, with many similar instances of views being difficult or impossible to see, because they do not follow Guildford’s own SPD” says John.

Blocks of 11-13 storeys (the ground floor is two storeys high) close together would be overwhelming to the existing town and its character, and be dark and depressing internally.

A wall of high buildings would line Leapale Road. GRA is as keen as anyone for a high quality residential-led scheme here, but does not accept the threat that it is this scheme or nothing.

The developer intends to sell the flats on 999-year leases, so it really is worth investing time to get a sensitive scheme that avoids harm and damaging precedents.

GRA thinks the benefits of the scheme are overstated and do not outweigh the harm. “We are told a new town square would be created by enlarging the North Street pavement by a strip of land a few metres wide. Yet, it would be smaller than the little-used existing public space opposite the Friary entrance near TK Maxx.

GRA would welcome a refurbished bus station and a partially pedestrianised North Street, but say such improvements should not be dependent upon overdevelopment any more than the recent refurbishment of the cobbled High Street was.

We firmly believe that when informed by accurate images of the true scale of the proposal, councillors will decide the revised application does not meet their own policies, designed to protect the character and views of Guildford.

Unless we wake up to how we are being hoodwinked, we risk ruining the character of Guildford forever. It’s time for our councillors to demand honesty, and to defend the town again!

The officers’ report to the Planning Committee reveals that the 10 per cent affordable housing has only been conceded by the developer on the basis that there will be no late stage review, contrary to policy.

Such reviews are there to capture a fair share of affordable housing from large long-term schemes like North Street, where costs can be reduced through value engineering (ie dropping all the expensive architectural detailing) and increased sales prices.

Guildford council appears to have capitulated in the classic “gun to your head,” take-it-or leave-it negotiations that developers are good at but planners tend not to be. So what may be portrayed as a victory for the community is in reality, anything but.

Interestingly, the Labour Party was talking about this at the weekend and indicating if elected it would set up a special unit to help councils achieve better outcomes in all the negotiations that are part of the modern planning process.

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