Fringe Box



New Walnut Bridge Plan Approved – Despite Remaining Design Concerns

Published on: 11 Oct, 2018
Updated on: 16 Oct, 2018

A computer-generated view of the approved new Walnut Bridge from the river, with the Billings building in the background.

Guildford’s Walnut Bridge which crosses the River Wey by the Odeon Cinema is to be replaced. Guildford Borough Council (GBC) granted permission to itself at the Planning Committee meeting held last night (October 10). According to a GBC press release the project is set to be completed by Spring 2020.

Expected to cost £3.3 million, nearly a million of which has already been spent in consultation fees and preparation, the bridge will be funded by the M3 Local Enterprise Partnership (£1. 5 million) with contributions from Surrey County Council and Guildford Borough Council.

See also: Letter: Dragon Report Ignored Planning Grounds Comments on Walnut Bridge

There was concern, expressed at the planning meeting, that if the project did not proceed the £926,000 already used from the M3 LEP grant would be lost or have to be repaid.

The new bridge is intended to provide an improved route for pedestrians and cyclists between the station and the town centre. The route is likely to be subject to increased traffic by virtue of new development in the local area, especially the unpopular Solum redevelopment of Guildford Railway Station.

The council says that the design of the bridge is sympathetic to its location and will not impact on the setting or significance of the designated River Wey Conservation Area. While the development will result in the loss of a number of mature trees this will be mitigated by a suitable landscaping scheme.

32 letters of objection were received by GBC and none, apparently, in support. One letter was summarised as saying: “Not necessary to replace bridge / current bridge functions well (officer comment: There is no requirement for the applicant to justify the specific need for development.)”

The lack of barriers on the ramps and steps leading to the bridge were criticised as a risk to both pedestrian and cyclist users.

Speaking last night on behalf of Michel Harper, local entrepreneur and owner of The Casino building, Lindsay Wheatley, having criticised design aspects of the bridge, said: “The proposed bridge as presented is extremely dangerous which should be immediately obvious, with two way cycling and pedestrian traffic by endless steps without safety barriers and 180 degree turns up or downhill.”

Julian Lyon, GSoc Chairman

Julian Lyon, chairman of the Guildford Society, opened his statement by reminding the meeting that the council were the applicants as well as the adjudicators in the matter of Walnut Bridge and that it was situated within River Wey Conservation Area.

He said: “The application design is a far cry from the celebration of the riverside that was the preferred scheme from the public consultation. As things stand we are looking at a bland bridge to nowhere replacing an existing bridge with, at least some, life left in it.”

“The bridge will be a barrier between the Bedford Road area and the river at a time when the evidence base of the Local Plan has broadly included the Allies & Morrison vision, agreed by this council to open up the riverside.

“It may be that you see for council reasons that you need to give consent, I think that consent should be no more than a resolution to grant, or an outline consent, accepting the principal of the bridge but with reserved matters… The applicant should have to come back and get detailed planning approval for the bridge and its context…”

The next speaker, Jon Royds, the only public speaker in support of the application, did not introduce himself and his connection with the application was not given on the list of speakers included in the meeting papers.

Reference to the LinkedIn website shows him to be a University of Surrey graduate who has been, for five years, an Associate Technical Director at Arcadis consulting, the company that advised GBC on the bridge and are acting as its agents for the planning application.

The existing Walnut Bridge. Built in 1986, it is Guildford’s youngest bridge but is already considered inadequate.

Royds said: “The existing Walnut Bridge is unfit for current use and inadequate for Guildford’s future aspirations due to its hidden location insufficient capacity, deteriorating condition and its structural inadequacies allied to the excessive sway when it is fully loaded.

“The Solum redevelopment of Guildford railway Station will significantly increase footfall in the area, that’s obvious. The new pedestrian plaza from the railway station will extend [The new bridge] will be a crucial link to safely accommodate the increased pedestrian movement between the station and the town.

A computer-generated image of how the deck of the bridge might look to a pedestrian at night time.

Next to speak was Council Leader Paul Spooner (Con, Ash South & Tongham). In an apparent reference to a previous planning meeting in which Cllr Spooner was not, it seemed, allowed to speak as he wished to on a planning application for a development in his ward, Planning Committee chairman Marsha Moseley said: “I have now taken legal advice before this evening’s meeting so I am now going to call Cllr Spooner, in his capacity as leader of the council, because this is a Guildford Borough application and he will speak to this and then leave the meeting before the vote as stated.

Cllr Paul Spooner

Spooner said: “Today’s announcement that through the leasehold reversal GBC now has control of the Odeon/New Orleans site including the “Bedford Wharf Public Realm” area I think is important as it allows us to move forward in relation to the bridge…”

“… we do have a significant grant not alone from the M3 LEP [Local Enterprise Partnership] in relation to this bridge and we do need to demonstrate that we have moved forward in relation to planning and ensure we do not get into a position where we end up having to return funds to the LEP.”

Another computer-generated view of the new bridge from the towpath looking north. “Not a thing of beauty,” according to Council Leader Spooner.

“In relation to design, this bridge – not a thing of beauty – as Cllr Billington and others have said … is still sympathetic to a range of options over time in relation to Bedford Wharf.”

He continued, saying that despite the almost universal objection to the Solum plan for redevelopment of the station it had to be accepted that the design would encourage people to use the bridge.

Cllr Philip Brooker

Cllr Philip Brooker (Con, Merrow) expressed his dissatisfaction: “I am certainly very disappointed with this. I would have much preferred for it to be an iconic design. …[But] we need to see where this conflicts with any planning regulations and I am afraid I couldn’t really find any.”

Clearly against the proposal was the recently deselected Cllr Nils Christiansen (Con, Holy Trinity). He criticised the quality of the design which, he pointed out, the council had had 18 years to draw up.

He said: “One thing missing from this [planning officer’s] report is it completely overlooks “GT1″ which was the policy on Bedford Road redevelopment. It said in there, development should comprise: ‘a high-quality architectural solution’. Now many of the comments I have heard tonight did not really reflect the high quality of this bridge and I wonder why?”

Cllr Nils Christiansen

Quoting the development brief written in 2000 he said: “ ‘The current bridge is of a utilitarian design and does little to enhance the river or its setting.’ We have had 18 years to think about this. In my view, this solves none of those problems which were looked at, at that stage.”

He continued by predicting that the new bridge would not improve cyclist access: they would still have to dismount. But the dependency on effective modal shift relied on a safe cyclist route across the river this bridge was the only opportunity to provide that but it would not.

Displaying more animation than usual, he concluded, “We should reject this and send it to the appeals if we really want somebody to approve it because we shouldn’t.”

Having explained to the committee what a bridge was and observing that there were as many different opinions on design as there are people, Cllr David Bilbe (Con, Normandy) said what worried him was: “…the issue of hindsight. What we don’t want to do is to say well, actually, if we had all this town centre area improved what sort of bridge would we really have? Because we can’t deal with that – so let’s defer this and come up with a different design in the future.

“I know that since I have become a councillor this whole bridge subject has attracted a lot of brain power a lot of attention, a lot of time … the planning officers have considered it and put it forward for approval. I see no grounds for turning this down.”

The application was approved by nine votes to four.

See also: New Design For Walnut Bridge Required After First Choice Found ‘Technically Challenging’

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Responses to New Walnut Bridge Plan Approved – Despite Remaining Design Concerns

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    October 11, 2018 at 5:19 pm

    If we wish a modal shift towards walking and cycling, would it not have been more appropriate to wait until the final design of the Solum contract is finalised and have the bridge integrated with that, rather than throwing a few metal girders together without thought for what may or may not be adjacent to it?

  2. Bernard Parke Reply

    October 11, 2018 at 5:22 pm

    When will they realize that pedestrians and cyclists, especially those that are children, just do not mix?

    It is said that a thing of beauty is a joy forever.

    Frankly, this is neither, just another blot on our town centre!

  3. Jules Cranwell Reply

    October 11, 2018 at 7:29 pm

    If the GBC leadership has had anything to do with the design, expect it to wobble.

  4. John Hawthorne Reply

    October 11, 2018 at 8:21 pm

    Come on this is ridiculous, spending our tax money to make Conservative councillors look good just before local elections next year. There is nothing wrong with the old bridge that a lick of paint will not cure.

    If they want a new bridge so badly they should spend their own money, not ours.

    I’d rather see the money spent on more beds for the homeless or some community project that could actually do some good.

  5. Guy Sutlieff Reply

    October 12, 2018 at 1:43 pm

    Some things are simply beyond parody, aren’t they?

    So we are spending £3.3 million to replace a bland but perfectly serviceable bridge with… er … another bland but perfectly serviceable bridge. Oh and chopping down a nice tree.

    I imagine that the very appearance of this incredible feat of design and engineering will almost immediately lead to “modal shift”, with hordes of new cyclists travelling down the bike highway from the AA Roundabout to the station.

    Completely unbelievable that this is even considered, a disgrace in fact.

  6. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    October 12, 2018 at 11:16 pm

    I gather from the description of this bridge that the approaches are 3.5 metres wide while the bridge itself is 4.0 metres wide. Therefore cycle and pedestrian zones could be separated using a kerb line. Artist’s impression of the deck, however, does not show this.

    The parapets have to be 1.4m high for cyclists, hence it makes sense to design a U-shaped deck with the edge beams serving as part of the parapet system. This should result in the slimmest possible deck and thus it would keep the approach levels as low as possible which in turn would reduce the ramp lengths a little.

    A better alternative for pedestrians between the station and Onslow Street would be a covered high-level walkway. Pedestrians would then have a much safer route over Walnut Tree Close, the river and Onslow Street without having to get down to the ground level when coming off the footbridge over the platforms.

  7. Elizabeth Critchfield Reply

    October 13, 2018 at 10:46 am

    Could we please have a demonstration of modal shift by some members of GBC along the lines of “take a hike” or “on yer bike.”

    Either would be acceptable.

    • Harry Eve Reply

      October 14, 2018 at 7:56 am

      We have been given clear direction to switch to a further method of modal shift – dancing.

      I did give some thought to this – hordes of villagers dancing seven miles into Guildford to enjoy the nightlife (or a council meeting).

      Couples could waltz in and form an enormous circle dancing around the gyratory. Do try to conjure up an image of this.

      As a further thought, council meetings could be made more appealing by including a panel of spectators with numbers to hold up after the performance of each councillor.

  8. Jeff Hills Reply

    October 13, 2018 at 10:49 am

    It seems Guildford Borough Council’s Executive committee can do whatever they like without the rest of our desiccated and hard working Councillors having a say or even a vote.

    This is most certainly not a democratically run council.

    With luck, we might see changes in the upcoming elections, or are they trying to leave there mark before being unelected.

    • Howard Smith Reply

      October 15, 2018 at 1:47 pm


      But two out of three of the Lib Dems on the Planning Committee voted to approve this bridge too.

      Howard Smith is a former Labour parliamentary candidate for Guildford.

  9. Brian Creese Reply

    October 13, 2018 at 3:40 pm

    I have said it before, but it is worth repeating. This dire waste of money, a bridge which no-one really wants, of monstrous design and fitting in with no plan, is purely a Tory vanity project (as were the “Village” and the twinning of Guildford with Dongying).

    There is no money for the community services everyone wants but plenty for grandiose projects involving eye-watering sums going to external consultants. How on earth did this get approved?

    Brian Creese is a spokesman for Guildford Labour

  10. Aubrey Leahy Reply

    October 14, 2018 at 5:04 pm

    Surely if they had really, really tried they could have come with a more impractical and an uglier design less suitable for the location. If only they had really, really, tried.

  11. Ben Paton Reply

    October 15, 2018 at 2:59 pm

    “The next speaker, Jon Royds, the only public speaker in support of the application, did not introduce himself and his connection with the application was not given on the list of speakers included in the meeting papers.”

    This is a good example of the sorts of subterfuge that seem to be typical of GBC. Not for the first time parties with a connection to Surrey University have come to support the council in the council chamber.

    The Dragon has discovered that Mr Royds is not ‘just’ a member of the public. He “has been, for five years, an Associate Technical Director at Arcadis consulting, the company that advised GBC on the bridge and are acting as its agents for the planning application.”

    So the council knew and he knew that he had a direct professional interest in the bridge going ahead. Yet neither party considered it necessary to disclose that interest.

    How is that consistent with the Nolan Principles or with Guildford’s toothless and useless Code of Ethics?

    Is bringing in interested parties employed by the council to support the Council’s own planning applications before the council’s own planning committee and then not disclosing their personal connection with the project open and transparent and honest? Or is it another example of the “Secret State” in GBC?

    How can participants in a debate, and members of the public, appraise a person’s evidence if they are not properly informed about the personal connections of the speaker with the project? They can’t. Was Mr Royd thereby complicit in pulling the wool over our eyes?

    Whatever Mr Royd says, his firm has been paid by the council. That means he had a disclosable interest in the project. He failed to disclose that interest.

    The GBC’s “ministry of propaganda” may seek to “big up” this project. But for all the big talk about the symbolism of this bridge, the fact is that all this amounts to is the replacement of one steel girder, an industrial commodity, with a slightly larger steel girder.

  12. Jim Allen Reply

    October 15, 2018 at 3:26 pm

    Is there a duty of disclosure in such cases? If a developer stands up and supports his own development is he duty bound by code or statute to say, ‘I am the developer of this project. I fear there is no such general requirement for such a declaration. The action of such declaration is more one of honesty of person, than of the project.

  13. Steve Grove Reply

    October 16, 2018 at 11:31 am

    I copy a quote from part of John Hawthorne’s letter of October 11 regarding the proposed Walnut Bridge: “Come on this is ridiculous, spending our tax money to make Conservative councillors look good just before local elections next year.”

    I do not think that the Conservative councillors have done anything in the last few years that “makes them look good”. Let us hope that next May the electorate will see through the secretive and money-wasting dealings of this Conservative council and vote accordingly, so that we can return to a more democratic, open and transparent local government with the interests of local people at the forefront of their decisions.

  14. John Hawthorne Reply

    October 17, 2018 at 6:56 am

    One thing is for 100% certain – there will not be hordes of new cyclists using the bridge as the cycle racks at the station are more or less full.

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