Fringe Box



Mystery Buyer Outbid Council for Town’s Prime Plaza Building Site

Published on: 19 Feb, 2019
Updated on: 19 Feb, 2019

Guildford Borough Council was outbid by an unknown private developer last year for the Plaza site on Portsmouth Road, derelict for 20 years.

The council wanted the site of the former 10-storey Burymead House, demolished in 1999, for affordable housing units to help early delivery of Local Plan housing targets, a Millmead press conference was told. Identity of the successful developer was not discovered by the council in land registry checks.

The Plaza site at the bottom of the A3100 Portsmouth Road has been vacant for over 20 years.

The bid last June was revealed by Philip Brooker (Con, Merrow), lead councillor for housing, as an example of the problems the council faces in developing brownfield sites not in council ownership. The draft Local Plan set a target of 562 dwellings per annum, 10,678 over its 15-year span.

Cllr Spooner said: “It is very difficult as a borough council, other than going through a very long and protracted CPO [compulsory purchase order] process, in being able to develop land we don’t own. We can influence and we can discuss but if an owner chooses to sit on their site it is very difficult to do anything about it.

“We can deliver on our assessed need and our housing only if developers comply with what they’ve actually said they would do during the Local Plan period.

“But they are not legally obliged to do so and what I say to central government colleagues is always, “You expect this of local authorities like Guildford but you haven’t given us anything that arms us, enables us to make developers deliver’.”

An observation was made that the value of the site is used as a constraint on a development’s viability calculation, justifying fewer affordable units within a scheme and also, perhaps, higher-rise developments. Cllr Spooner replied: “There is the madness we all live with.”

Later, the council told Dragon NEWS: “The site was marketed early 2018; we are not aware of a published guide price. The council submitted a bid for residential use including affordable housing. For commercial reasons, we are not able to disclose the bid figure. We don’t have information on the new owners or the sale price.”

The site, just under one acre between the Portsmouth Road and Bury Street, has evidence of people squatting with clothes hung around and a small tarpaulin seen behind the gate.

The Plaza site received planning permission for more than 100 assisted-living apartments in January 2018 but developers decided against building and sold the site.

With other developments planned for the town, notably Solumm’s high-rise development of the railway station, some believe higher-rise development will be irrestible at the Plaza site, although it is in a conservation area and next to Grade II buildings.

Tweet from Rebecca Curley from the resumed Local Plan hearings at Millmead.

In recent months, squatters in the remains of basement rooms were removed, although clothing and a small tarpaulin remain. The site, just under an acre between Portsmouth Road and Bury Street, is being marketed by Savills who have not responded to The Guildford Dragon NEWS.

The council was praised by the Planning Inspector, Jonathan Bore, in the Local Plan hearings on February 12 and 13, 2019. He said the council had been brave because it had, “…made land available to meet the [housing] need”.

Brownfield sites being developed by the council include Guildford Park Road on what was the open-air car park (160 homes, 64 for affordable rent), the Apple Tree pub site in Park Barn (18 homes, all for affordable rent with nine fully wheelchair-accessible), Ladymead site near the new fire station (12 homes, all for affordable rent) and five other smaller-scale previously  developed sites (21 homes, all for affordable rent).

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