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North Street Plan Rejected by Borough Council in Knife-edge Vote

Published on: 12 Jan, 2023
Updated on: 15 Jan, 2023

Aerial view of the North Street Regeneration site

By Emily Coady-Stemp

The regeneration of Guildford’s North Street area has hit a big hurdle after councillors voted against the plans last night.

The refusal came after Housing Secretary and MP for nearby Surrey Heath, Michael Gove, made clear he wanted the final say in the decision were it given the green light.

A meeting of the borough council’s planning committee on Wednesday (January 11) debated issues such as affordable housing, building height and the character of the town, before a tie in the votes meant it had to be decided by the chair.

The plans included 473 new homes, most of them one and two-beds, as well as space for shops and cafes, new public squares and updates to the town’s bus station.

The GBC Planning Committee considering the North Street proposal

Councillors voted seven in favour and seven against the officers’ recommendation to approve the plans – which meant the chair had the deciding vote, having already voted against the application.

Councillor Fiona White (Lib Dem, Westborough) said: “This is the one thing I always hoped would never happen to me while I’m chairing this committee.”

According to the letter sent by Michael Gove to the borough council on Tuesday (January 10), he had issued a “holding direction” on the application ahead of the meeting.

He also told councillors they could not “grant permission on this application without specific authorisation” though they could still consider the application.

The developer’s model of the proposal for the North Street Regeneration, project “The Friary Quarter”.

Cllr White said she had concerns about the amount of affordable housing offered, the objections raised by Surrey County Council in terms of road changes and the bus station, and about the views of the town she maintained her position against the application.

Just 20 affordable homes, under part-ownership, were planned for the development of 473 homes in total.

While a possible 28 further shared ownership homes could have come forward subject to funding to be applied for by the developer, negotiations with officers had led to this being the “best and final offer” because of concerns about the viability of the development as a whole.

The development is one of several large projects underway in Guildford at the moment, with councillors having narrowly decided to approve 400 homes on the old Debenhams site last year.

This report will be developed. Please check back.

Click here for:

  1. Meeting agenda
  2. Late sheet with public speakers
  3. Late sheet including information about SoS holding direction

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Responses to North Street Plan Rejected by Borough Council in Knife-edge Vote

  1. Howard Moss Reply

    January 12, 2023 at 12:07 pm

    I watched the Planning Committee meeting last night and noted the points raised by councillors who subsequently refused the application.

    It did occur to me that those councillors surely had ample opportunity in the many months prior to this application being submitted, yet alone decided upon, to ask the developer questions and make amendments. I wonder how many did, and if not, why not?

    I was surprised to see all the Liberal Democrats voting against the application, especially having received not that long ago a Lib Dem leaflet through my door entitled “Fixing North Street”, which goes on to tell us how the Lib Dems on the council has worked with this developer to bring forward a scheme to redevelop North Street, which according to the leaflet will include over 470 homes.

    Zoe Franklin said “this was excellent news” and would provide “much-needed housing in the town centre”.

    To be fair she did say the lack of affordable housing concerned her, well if so why didn’t they work with the developer to change that.

    The Lib Dems claimed this development was the first part of a new Guildford-wide plan to rejuvenate Guildford. I wonder how they came to that conclusion?

    Having, all of them, voted against this application and the former Debenhams scheme [except Cllr John Askew Ed] where will be the regeneration?

  2. M Harper Reply

    January 12, 2023 at 12:47 pm

    I cannot believe that the members of the Planning Committee refused a well-made 150 million pound town centre regeneration application which had the officer’s recommendation for approval and was going to provide 470 new homes with retail and hospitality to an area of North Street that has been derelict for more than 35 years awaiting a company brave enough to invest in Guildford.

    The points raised had all been addressed by the officers to their satisfaction within planning guidance while the councillors’ subjective opinion to height, design and massing really did not carry much weight. The objectors were only left the with bus station design and allocation of affordable housing; both of these things Guildford Borough Council could build and pay for on this site, if they were so-minded.

    I think the people of Guildford have lost a fabulous opportunity after at least six of the UK’s top developers have walked away. And the saddest thing is there was a majority support in the form of written comments from businesses and members of the public in Guildford.

    What’s the point of a town centre master plan costing £5 million if no one will build it? Maybe GBC should become a developer!

  3. Netty Wood Reply

    January 12, 2023 at 2:10 pm

    That’s a shame. Hopefully the developers will appeal.

  4. Mark Stamp Reply

    January 12, 2023 at 3:30 pm

    I fail to understand how the decision being made by a single person, the MP accountable only to the residents of Surrey Heath, rather than a committee made of Guildford councillors, can be seen as democratic.

  5. John Phelps Reply

    January 12, 2023 at 4:34 pm

    What a loss for Guildford. Not surprising from the Conservatives but the Liberal Democrats should be ashamed of themselves.

    Only a few weeks ago I received a Liberal leaflet through my door claiming all credit for the development- of which I’m sure they’ve done none of – and now they are voting against it.

    When will national political parties get out of local politics? They are holding our town back, first with their failed attempt to stop Debenhams and now this. Pathetic. This will be remembered in May.

  6. David Bilbe Reply

    January 12, 2023 at 5:44 pm

    If John Phelps wants to get national politics out then he should not make statements that that deride parties such as the Conservatives.

    The decision on Wednesday evening was taken, as far as I was involved, on policy and planning law considerations and nothing else. I cannot speak for any other party but I do know that there were serious concerns which were aired and debated.

    David Bilbe is the Conservative borough councillor for Normandy

  7. John Murray Reply

    January 12, 2023 at 6:28 pm

    This area of Guildford needs redevelopment but not as it was proposed.

    Despite comments that some people in the town seem to want to live in the days of Farmer Giles and the tooth-drawing barber, the fact is that people choose to live here because of the town’s unique historic nature and this development would have marked the beginning of the end of that. Much of the argument in favour of the development seemed to be of the “something needs to be done, this is something so we will do it” variety.

    We need development that is low-rise, and retains our essential character, not something more in keeping with towns like New Malden that have been wrecked by developers.

    One member of the Planning Committee [Ramsey Nagaty, GGG] did say that he had recommended a height limit at the start of the exercise and it is a pity that this recommendation was not accepted as it would have saved a lot of time and expense.

    The attitude of the Lib Dems is not surprising. They are aware of local feeling and want to be re-elected.

  8. David Roberts Reply

    January 12, 2023 at 8:14 pm

    Could The Dragon please say which councillors voted which way?

    The list is contained in the article: North Street Proposal Defeated by Casting Vote of Committee Chair I have now added a suffix (How Each Councillor Voted) has now been added to make it more apparent. Ed

  9. Luke Smith Reply

    January 12, 2023 at 9:21 pm

    Shame on these councillors for passing on this opportunity in favour of more years with the wasteland that is the current North Street site.

    When they talk about ‘preserving the character of the town’, what exactly are they referring to? Guildford as it stands has very little character. I am embarrassed when friends from out of town come to visit and we go into the town centre.

    Do these councillors not realise that other towns have moved on in the last 30 years? Woking, Farnborough, Reading, Oxford, even Wokingham have all invested in their centres.

    All we have in Guildford is a collection of abandoned sites, others that are grotty and run down, miserable examples of 60s architecture and a closed off river front. There isn’t anywhere in town that I would call “nice”.

    It is an absolute disgrace that they would reject this proposal due to a lack of so called “affordable” housing, which everyone knows isn’t going to be affordable for the average person anyway.

  10. Andrew Penman Reply

    January 12, 2023 at 10:03 pm

    What a massive shame. So our councillors are happy to bumble on with scruffy unloved North Street rather than voting to revitalise that part of town. The Nimby approach of Guildford Borough Council is a joke and an insult to many of those of us who live here.

    What do they want? Why didn’t you ask for it while the proposals were at planning stage?

    Developer after developer has walked away from us. How are you going to attract another now? You’ve let us down Lib Dems. Again.

  11. Julian Cooper Reply

    January 13, 2023 at 12:50 pm

    An interesting comment made by the chair (Liberal Democrat Cllr Fiona White) at the end of the meeting (that has been chopped from the video archive since I watched yesterday” was: “I wish Graham Eyre (the absent Conservative councillor) had been here and not at the dentist.”

    I suppose that would have meant she wouldn’t have been in the awkward position she found herself in. Rejecting the proposal with a decision that is fully loaded politically.

    So that’s that then. Now for the Hoo Haa that’s going to be associated with the ridiculous idea of tunnelling under Guildford. I hope this is going to be in keeping with the existing historical tunnels we have under the town.

  12. S Collins Reply

    January 13, 2023 at 1:18 pm

    Ten more years of a derelict site then, because there weren’t 20 more affordable flats.

    I would be interested to know what an “affordable” flat in a prime location in the centre of town would be.

    On a positive note, at least the new sewage works might be finished before more housing is built.

  13. Mick Brewer Reply

    January 13, 2023 at 2:54 pm

    Since the first consultation I saw on this proposal, the consistent feedback has been that one of the blocks is too tall (probably all it needs is a couple of stories reduction [It was reduced by one storey. Ed), the new bus station doesn’t provide enough extra capacity or journey improvement (believed to be required to increase usage) and that the affordable housing numbers are too low.

    So, for it to be rejected for primarily these reasons should hardly be surprising. These have remained the red lines for some of the planning committee (and, I think, a fair few residents) but the developer hasn’t really done anything to address them properly, other than commission reports to try and argue these things don’t matter.

    To me this proposal is so close to being right, it just needed the developers, and certain councillors, to listen a bit more carefully. Community engagement is one thing, actually acting on that feedback is another.

    If it’s the case that these changes genuinely make the site unviable to develop, then this was never the right proposal for the town.

    As for an appeal, I suspect any appeal will simply get called in for the SoS to decide and with what we’ve seen politically in the last week or so I would be a surprised if the developer wastes its time with it.

  14. Chris Roberts Reply

    January 13, 2023 at 4:17 pm

    Cllr Fiona White said: “This is the one thing I always hoped would never happen to me while I’m chairing this committee.”

    But should Cllr White have used the chair’s casting vote to refuse this application?

    Where there is deadlock, the constitutional convention on casting votes (known as Speaker Dennison’s Rule) is for the Chair to vote in favour of the status quo.

    The status quo in this case would have been to accept the recommendation of the planning team and approve the application, not to leave the North Street site in its lamentable existing state.

    The logic behind the convention is that change (in this case refusal of the recommendation to approve) should only occur if there is an actual majority vote in favour of that change.

    Alternatively, the chair could have declined to use casting vote – there is usually no obligation to do so, unless the rules specifically require it. Do they?

    The pending decision of Michael Gove on whether to not to “call in” the application is relevant here, since GBC was not in a position to formally approve the scheme, only to reject it.

    One option would therefore have been to leave the vote at a deadlock, and wait for Michael Gove’s decision.

    If he did indeed decide to call it in, then the Planning Committee would no longer need to make a decision.

    If he declined jurisdiction, the Planning Committee could have been reconvened to vote again and arrive at a consensus.

    This would have also given time for further debate (another guiding principle of Speaker Dennison’s Rule), engagement with other stakeholders on the issues relating to the Bus Station, and clarification of some of the more technical planning issues where some councillors’ understanding and opinions appeared to at odds with the arguably more informed views of the planning team and legal counsel.

  15. Michael Ney Reply

    January 14, 2023 at 4:41 pm

    The “Friary Quarter” is little more than a dump and the bus station positively squalid. The GBC’s risible “pop-up Christmas Market” was a money-pit that represented a total loss of the council’s (our) funds.

    One disaster to be avoided is for the council to act as a developer to develop the area. Just look at Croydon’s Brick by Brick development company and others run by councils up and down the country. Every one of them a massive failure, often leading to a S. 114 notice.

    Developers are in it to make a profit but screw them down too far and they’ll walk away. On the other hand, we need more housing that is genuinely affordable.

    80 per cent market value in Guildford is unaffordable to many, many people.

    How we square the circle is the real problem. In short it’ll be another 20 years of decay and depression to North Street and the Friary Quarter.

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