Fringe Box



Letter: What Is the Council Planning for Our Heritage Assets?

Published on: 20 Nov, 2021
Updated on: 20 Nov, 2021

Despite the sign, the cafe is set to close on December 18.

From: F Ishuguro

In response to: Shock and Dismay As Guildford House Gallery Café Announces Closure

The Gallery Cafe is part of the historic 17th century Guildford House. It houses the Tourist Information Centre, which has been reported to be moving out.

Some say the Heritage Department in Guildford Borough Council might sell off, or let, Guildford House and the Guildhall, with its iconic town clock. The two buildings were closed for two months from January for upkeep, who knows what is their fate? The castle is no longer open to the public and its staff have been dismissed. What else is to remain of our heritage?

The published story is rather one-sided towards the council, as someone commented on Facebook. There is just a copied quote from Facebook of what the cafe owner said. The Dragon has not spoken to him. There is a long quote from the council however.

Editor’s comment: Cafe proprietor Phineas Williams was interviewed at length, and in person, at the cafe by Hugh Coakley. He would only give the quote to us that we used. The other quotes taken from Facebook were attributed and included to give a more complete picture of his views. For additional balance, customer views were included.

Cllr John Redpath

Cllr John Redpath, GBC’s lead councillor for Economy, responded:

Heritage services continue to be reviewed as the “Future Guildford” restructure of the council has meant that we need to look at the way this service is run in order that we can give the public more access to buildings such as the Castle and Guildhall. 

Contrary to what Ms Ishiguro hears there are no plans to sell or let Guildford House or the Guildhall.  The Castle is always closed in winter until May the following year and should re-open then. 

The financial problems the council has are with the General Fund (day to day running costs). Selling off buildings would do little to improve this as any money raised would be treated as capital and we’re not allowed to continually plug general fund budget shortfalls with capital.

The intention was to move the Tourist Information Centre to the museum so that, with additional staff numbers there, the museum could open six days a week rather than the current four afternoons. 

The Brew House shop was to move to the front of Guildford House which would have greatly increased their sales.  I don’t have the exact figures but I believe that when the shop traded from the front of Guildford House some ten years ago its turnover was well into six figures. 

With the Brew House then vacant it had been my intention that the café should move in there and ultimately become a self-contained unit, benefitting from access from North Street. 

This would have greatly increased the potential for Phineas Williams’ business as he would no longer have been dependent on the opening times of Guildford House. For instance, he could have opened earlier on market days, offering breakfast for the market traders and would have benefitted hugely from the additional business offered by the hundreds of construction workers who will be employed on the North Street development.

Unfortunately a mid-term spending review meant that the brakes had to be put on all non-essential work.  This will have added to Phineas’ frustration as well as mine but that is the financial position the council currently finds itself in.  We had a plan and it was a good plan but fate got in the way and so unfortunately we find ourselves where we are today.


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Responses to Letter: What Is the Council Planning for Our Heritage Assets?

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    November 21, 2021 at 9:51 am

    The greatest heritage asset in the borough is our countryside, and what used to be our green belt. Nothing is being done by the council to mitigate and reduce the devastation being caused to our countryside by the ruinous Local Plan.

  2. F Ishiguro Reply

    November 22, 2021 at 11:22 pm

    It is good of Cllr John Redpath to respond and explain the plans for Guildford House and the Guildhall. I am glad the fear that the buildings would be sold or rented was a false alarm. The sudden announcement of the closure of the wonderful Gallery Cafe must have raised these speculations.

    It must be difficult to balance the budget in these austere times. But I am still not sure what the situation is now.

    The issue is that a lovely cafe is closing. I cannot see construction workers going to this cafe for afternoon tea, quiche and lovely cakes nor stallholders for breakfast, as you suggest. There are no bacon butties on the menu. Surely, there is another solution? The Gallery Cafe is too good to lose.

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