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Letter: What St Mary’s Wharf Developers Want And What They Get Is Not The Same

Published on: 28 Nov, 2021
Updated on: 28 Nov, 2021

Artists impression of St Mary’s Wharf as it would be viewed from Millmead.

From John Rigg

R4GV councillor for Holy Trinity and GBC lead councillor for regeneration

I have some observations in response to Hugh Coakley’s article on the Saint Mary’s Wharf project titled St Mary’s Wharf Planning Application Has 215 Homes But ‘No Affordable’ Specified.

First, what a developer applies for and what is secured through the planning process are not necessarily the same thing. So far only the application has been received.

“No affordable homes” is specified in the application by the developer. Equally, the Inland Revenue tax return might ask simply “how much tax would we like to pay this year”? I guess some of us might specify none. The taxman would almost certainly ignore this reply.

The local planning authority takes independent advice on the subject of viability and if a scheme can support the affordable homes discount or not. Costs of development are a key part of the analysis and undoubtedly, as with this project, building over existing basements on a riverside site fronting a busy road will be relevant.

There is also an ambition of the emerging town centre master plan to connect the historic core of the town centre to our Guildford Wharf and then open up and continue riverside walks on the east bank travelling north to Ladymead as well as south through the Ex Debenhams site and onwards to the Millbrook car park.

The opportunity St Mary’s wharf presents is to ask the developer to open up their riverside frontage to the public and even more exciting continue the route via a new footbridge over the water to the Yvonne Arnaud improving public access and the theatre’s profile in our town. In time we could look at continuing the riverside walk from there to Millbrook car park. This will produce a wonderful waterside alternative to the often busy traffic and fume laden pavement fronting  Shalford Road.

The great news is the developer has expressed a willingness to embark on, pay for and deliver the walkway on their site including the footbridge as part of their project. The Yvonne Arnaud are equally supportive of the proposal. Every town in the UK is trying to open up riverside walks where there is opportunity. This is Guildford’s opportunity on offer today. I hope we will take it.

There is a desperate need for homes in the town centre and across the Borough underpinned by the government’s targets which we are not currently meeting. So it is possible we will need to build ‘up or out ‘ and out means further into greenbelt which l consider unsustainable.

We do not have policies as yet limiting storey heights as some towns do although draft new policies are to be consulted on shortly by GBC. It will be interesting to see if the public is concerned or not with increases in height.  l expect some extra stories may be acceptable but although almost none of us will want to follow the Woking example.

What I do not wish to see is this site stand derelict for years to come as we have seen at North Street.

Finally, the council do not choose the architect or the designs submitted for approval. Quality development management policies are required to influence schemes that are submitted hence our forthcoming consultation to seek the community’s views on what they want.

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test One Response to Letter: What St Mary’s Wharf Developers Want And What They Get Is Not The Same

  1. Adam Aaronson Reply

    November 28, 2021 at 10:28 pm

    In his analogy with a tax return, I think Mr Rigg is comparing apples with pears. A tax return is not a public document, whereas a planning application is.

    Given the history of the Local Plan and the ongoing housing debate, I think Dragon reporter Hugh Coakley was correct in pointing out that although “The Local Plan seeks “at least 40%” affordable homes on developments” none have been provided.

    We hear regularly how the Local Plan cannot be amended for one reason or other, yet this key provision seems to be something that can be over-ridden because, “A financial viability assessment by the property consultants, Gerald Eve, says the scheme does not achieve the expected “benchmark return” due to the high development costs.”

    Viability assessments of this nature are simply forecasts and I don’t consider that this is a good reason to bypass the Local Plan policy on affordable housing.

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