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Local Parties Asked, ‘Should We Have A Building Height Policy in Guildford?’

Published on: 7 Sep, 2022
Updated on: 8 Sep, 2022

The 13-storey building proposed for the northern end of the four-acre North Street Regeneration site. Image St Edward

By Martin Giles

The issue of building height control in Guildford is controversial.

Some feel strongly that it is the way forward if modern developments are to be allowed to regenerate the town, help improve the economy, help meet our housing targets and relieve pressure on the green belt.

Others feel equally strongly the high buildings are out of place in Guildford, that they can dominate and damage the townscape, especially in a gap town, and make Guildford a less attractive place for visitors.

Local political parties represented at the borough council were invited to give their views. They were asked:

  • Should there should be a height limit policy in Guildford?
  • If so, how should it be applied (eg zoned or blanket)?
  • Where do you feel public opinion is on the subject?
  • Is public opinion on the subject important?
  • If so, how can it be measured?

Cllr Joss Bigmore

Council leader and leader of Residents for Guildford and Villages, Joss Bigmore said: “As ever with all things planning there is a range of views on this topic, however the overwhelming majority view of R4GV and its supporters is that our town is in desperate need of regeneration and investment.

“We need more homes in our town to protect our countryside, we need to provide quality public realm to attract visitors and we need to provide an environment in which our businesses can thrive.

Outline of the North Street Development viewed from the Hog’s Back, as produced by the developers.

“Inappropriate development causes harm, sometimes a three-storey building is harmful, and sometimes a 10-storey building can add to the character of an area, a blanket limit on heights is a very blunt instrument that may allow higher buildings than you desire in some areas.

“All significant development will go through the Planning Committee and it is up to those democratically elected members to decide whether a development is harmful, having seen all public responses to the application.

“Public engagement is crucially important, it has undoubtedly caused the welcome changes to the application on the former Debenhams site, when we go out with the R4GV Listening Post to talk to residents a majority are clearly in favour of regeneration and accept higher developments for the community benefits they bring.”

The model presented at the recent exhibition of the proposal for the North Street Regeneration, project “The Friary Quarter” showing the proposed building heights in the setting of existing buildings.

Tom Hunt, Liberal Democrat lead councillor for Development Management said: “The issue of the height of buildings in Guildford has been raised following the submission of a planning application for the North Street redevelopment. Some have suggested that there should be a maximum height of buildings, perhaps no more than five.

Cllr Tom Hunt

The Liberal Democrats do not believe that a blanket height policy would be the right approach for Guildford. This approach risks the maximum allowable height of buildings becoming a de facto minimum, resulting in a homogenous townscape. More importantly, it increases the pressure to build on new greenfield sites, outside of the town centre, by potentially reducing the amount of housing that can be built on brownfield sites.

Tall buildings should not be allowed where they obstruct views of Guildford’s landmark legacy buildings, such as Guildford Cathedral, the castle, or Holy Trinity Church tower. The council’s Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) on town centre views prevents this, and it is important that the proposals for North Street do not obscure any of these important views.

It is worth noting that a maximum height does not guarantee good design, nor compliance with other planning policies. The North Street application will have to be debated at the Planning Committee before being decided.

However, whilst the Liberal Democrats do not believe that a height policy is necessary, we have an open mind, and believe that the council should review the decision to not have a height SPD, even if the current policy is subsequently affirmed.

Cllr Ramsey Nagaty

The leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG) Ramsey Nagaty was less equivocal. He said: “A height limit for Guildford should have been in the Local Plan Development Management polices. We raised this with the planning officers during task group sessions and relevant Executive Advisory Board and council debates.

This is why our members voted against the adoption of the Local Plan Part 2. When challenged officers stated height restrictions would be a “major modification” requiring consultation, delaying adoption of the plan . A stand-off ensued and policies were approved without major changes. But GGG vowed to continue raising concerns at the inspection.

The failure to adopt a height restriction, which could be zoned, has caused site values to increase fuelling viability arguments limiting the affordable home supply and increasing building height.

We feel many Guildford residents and businesses want to see development and homes in the town centre rather than on greenfield sites. It is more sustainable, less car-dependent and helps regenerate the retail sector.

Public opinion is important; central government plays lip service to it whilst pursuing contrary policies and regulations. Surveys and opinion polls can be used to measure it and there is the ballot box. It could be argued that the town voted for R4GV and the Lib Dems as a result of the Tory Local Plan and the Solum development, both badly handled by the previous administration.

Sue Hackman

Sue Hackman, Guildford Labour Campaign Coordinator said: “Guildford Labour is committed to seeing more homes built in Guildford which are affordable for ordinary people, particularly local young people. However, that does not mean that anything goes.

We need good quality, spacious homes which are in keeping with the local neighbourhood.. We also favour housing which is dispersed across the borough and built gradually onto local communities and knitted into local neighbourhoods. And if we can, we should favour local builders who are more likely to build responsibly because they then live with their reputations.

Labour favours a town plan which includes height guides in keeping with the local style of the neighbourhood and protecting the light of neighbours.

We instinctively dislike “canyon roads” of tall buildings and we are wary of high-rise development in the historical context of Guildford centre. In a nutshell, we favour people-friendly, characterful developments on a more human scale, integrated into existing communities.”

The Conservative party was invited to comment.

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test 11 Responses to Local Parties Asked, ‘Should We Have A Building Height Policy in Guildford?’

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    September 8, 2022 at 7:48 am

    “We need more homes in our town to protect our countryside”.

    I would suggest that Cllr Bigmore reads the Local Plan. Developers have been given carte blanche to build all over parts of the former greenbelt, particularly in the eastern villages.

    Building homes in the town will not prevent a single house being built in the countryside. Developers’ greed will ensure that they profit to the maximum extent from the disastrous plan.

    The only way to prevent inappropriate development in the countryside is to review the Local Plan, to reduce the housing number in line with the real ONS figures, along with restoring green belt status to the villages so cruelly robbed of it.

  2. Ben Paton Reply

    September 8, 2022 at 9:19 am

    How is it that once people get elected they lose the power to answer a simple question?

  3. H Trevor Jones Reply

    September 8, 2022 at 10:38 am

    I’m in general agreement with the very sensible comments reported coming from R4GV, Lib Dems, and Labour. But I think GGG is being too strident in their demands. They risk delaying badly needed housing and other developments.

    • David Roberts Reply

      September 12, 2022 at 6:19 pm

      With just four councillors, GGG are not in a position to delay anything, unfortunately. They are, however, the only genuine voice of critical opposition on the council, since the Local Plan is a Tory one supported by Labour, and the Lib Dems (whose then leader also voted for the Plan) are running the council with R4GV, supported by the lone Green party member.

      As for the comments below from Stuart Barnes, it should be noted that Guildford’s population is not set to rise in the next 20 years or so. Blaming immigration for local over-development is an example of the horrible political atmosphere Brexit has unleashed.

      • S Callanan Reply

        September 13, 2022 at 1:07 pm

        Several pre-Brexit generations blamed immigration for many things. It was as misguided, wrong and absurd as blaming Brexit for many other things, including the political atmosphere. Let’s move on.

  4. Stuart Barnes Reply

    September 8, 2022 at 11:53 am

    The only way to stop inappropriate development in the countryside, or anywhere else for that matter, is to stop unrestricted illegal, as well as ludicrously high legal, immigration.

    It almost feels as though Blair is still in charge but we must give Liz Truss a month or two to see what her solutions are.

    • R Jones Reply

      September 9, 2022 at 1:22 am

      What a bizarre take on the situation from Stuart Barnes.

      The only way for the economy to continue to grow is through immigration.

      I suppose he is happy with there being no development because he’s concerned it might harm the price of his house you bought for, say, £100,000 in 1985, which now goes for ten times that.

      I honestly don’t know how people can possibly argue against increasing the housing stock apart from self-serving Nimby attitudes which help very few people.

      I bet he’d be surprised to hear that net migration hasn’t really changed since just after the beginning of the millennia (2003), and it was the highest it has ever been in 2014/15. Can he remind us which government was in power then?

      • Ben Paton Reply

        September 9, 2022 at 12:02 pm

        According to the ONS, net migration in 2003 was 185,000.

        In 2015 it was 329,000 – a 78 per cent increase over 2003. In 2020 it was 313,000 – a 69 per cent increase over 2003. Net migration in 2000 (the Millennium) was even lower at 163,000. Net migration in 2015 was double that in 2000.

        So it is just not true that “net migration hasn’t really changed since just after the Millennium” (2003).

        Nor is it correct to state: “The only way for the economy to continue to grow is through immigration.” That too is simply not true.

        Growth in GDP does not necessarily make people richer. The GDP of Africa has grown significantly since 1945 – but GDP per capita has fallen significantly because of population growth.

        • Stuart Barnes Reply

          September 9, 2022 at 10:33 pm

          I would like to raise an obvious mathematical point/query.

          Assuming that the highest number of houses/dwellings that can be built annually is about 250,000, and mindful of the current levels of legal and illegal immigration, how can the numbers ever match without continued building on virtually more and more of the remaining land or a major reduction in immigration?

          I suggest that the above conundrum was the main reason that our people voted for Brexit.

  5. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    September 8, 2022 at 3:21 pm

    Equally important aspect of the proposed development in addition to heights of buildings is whether all apartments are accessible by the Fire Service.

    Fire Service vehicles are equipped with ladders that can reach the heights but are there wide enough access all around these blocks where Fire Engines could extend their stabilising out-riggers? It looks to me that access all around some of these blocks may not be sufficient.

    Emergency services need to give their views if they hadn’t already.

  6. S Collins Reply

    September 8, 2022 at 6:58 pm

    Does it depend on whether Guildford stays a town or becomes a city?

    Editor’s comment: Guildford’s recent bid to become a city failed. It is not known when there will be a further opportunity or if an application will be made but the status is not mentioned in the Local Plan.

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