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North Street Plans Change To ‘Primarily Residential’ Due To Retail Problems

Published on: 17 Jan, 2019
Updated on: 21 Jan, 2019

By Hugh Coakley

Plans for North Street in Guildford are to be revamped by Guildford Borough Council to a ‘primarily residential-based scheme’ due to problems in the UK retail market.

While Guildford High Street has bucked some of the national trends in footfall, it has not been immune to the retail downturn.

The retail-led development in North Street envisaged in the Guildford draft Local Plan is to be changed from ‘retail led’ to ‘primarily residential’ due to retail downturn.

Guildford Borough Council’s draft Local Plan currently plans 41,000 sqm of new, retail led, mixed-use development including 1,300 homes.

The retail space forecast in the Local Plan, to be developed with partners M&G Real Estate, now looks to be unrealistic.

Cllr Paul Spooner

The leader of Guildford Borough Council, Cllr Paul Spooner, said: “Like any sensible council, we have also looked again at the retail market and both (with M&G Real Estate) agreed to now progress with a primarily residential-based scheme. This will mean changes to the balance of homes, retail and other uses.”

The final detailed plans will include an improved bus station.

The announcement of the change, made in a press release on Monday, January 14, also said that the council had looked at “two different potentially viable schemes with M&G Real Estate”.

The Guildford Dragon NEWS asked for details of the options and for the timescale for a start to construction. Guildford Borough Council had not responded at the time of publication of this story.

Debenhams basement ‘mothballed’ in late 2018 due to lack of demand for retail floorspace.

The pressure on town centre retail has resulted in the closure in Guildford of brands such as Maplins in the upper High Street and Mothercare announcing the closure of its North Street branch. High rents and business rates have contributed to stores such as HMV going into administration in December 2018 and the Edinburgh Woollen Mill threatening closure subject to negotiations with landlords. Debenhams, 40% owned by high street entrepreneur Mike Ashley, closed the basement floor of its Guildford store in late 2018 showing a lack of demand for retail floorspace in Guildford.

Cllr Caroline Reeves.

Comments from councillors and political parties in Guildford Borough Council were generally in favour of the change but there were reservations.

Cllr Caroline Reeves, leader of the Liberal Democrats at Guildford Borough Council, said: “I doubt that keeping the bus station on its current site would be viable for the project but much will depend on the final road layout around the site.”

Cllr Angela Gunning, leader of the Labour Party group in Guildford Borough Council.

A spokesperson for the Guildford Labour Party said: “The market is one of Guildford’s central attractions and we would like to see it extended and run more days a week. We have been consulting with shoppers about the future of the moribund ‘Village’ site, and a permanent market, independent cinema or an art zone are popular options.”

Cllr Susan Parker

Cllr Susan Parker, leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group, said: “The glacial pace of development at North Street is dreadful, and led to negative comments in Guildford’s peer review. We need homes there. GGG has campaigned on this for years.

“We need to get started. Consultation could start in days, be concluded within two months. Since much of the land is in council ownership we could move swiftly, and we should.”

Cllr Tony Rooth

Cllr Tony Rooth, former council leader and leader of the Independent Alliance group at Guildford Borough Council, said: “The proposed Local Plan specified a ‘retail led’ mixed-use town centre development. At long last, council leadership now discovers the reality of retail – more empty shops and the rise of Internet shopping.

“The Local Plan will need a review because a large increase in brownfield ‘housing led’ development will reduce the need for building on our precious green belt.”

A spokesperson for the Guildford Society said: “We believe the council should consider refreshing its evidence base that supports the planning to support the correct decision making for both these sites.

“The council should be considering North Street together with Bedford Wharf as a whole.”

M&G Real Estates was not available for comment.

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test 4 Responses to North Street Plans Change To ‘Primarily Residential’ Due To Retail Problems

  1. Harry Elson Reply

    January 17, 2019 at 5:12 am

    Look no further than the Tunsgate Quarter development. It reminds me of all the mistakes made in the 60s a complete disaster. A busy centre turned into a mausoleum. There must be better ways to develop spaces within our historic town. Please don’t keep blaming online shopping, think outside the box, we need real invigorating ideas.

  2. Valerie Thompson Reply

    January 17, 2019 at 9:23 am

    At last GBC is showing a bit of sense.

    The Upper High Street is scattered with empty shops while larger units, such as Mothercare, are blighting the main shopping areas. Now GBC needs to get on quickly with planning for the low-cost, low-rise flats many people have been suggesting for some time, on the empty and ugly bare spaces around Guildford, and the re-development of most of North Street, with its patchwork of poor design.

    This is the best opportunity GBC has to garner a little respect after their disastrous propositions in the Local Plan.
    Perhaps they will now look again at their determination to ruin the surrounding villages by development on the green belt and produce a proper urban plan for Guildford’s town centre.

    And while they are about it, why not demolish the disgusting, rusting bus station and relocate it on the other side of the river, where it used to be, and which is now just an open-air car-park. It would then be better placed for access to the High Street and also the station.

  3. Matthew Smith Reply

    January 17, 2019 at 1:19 pm

    This is an amazing opportunity to significantly increase the number of purpose-built residential properties in the town centre. This is what local people want and, in turn, would cut down on traffic congestion and bring the centre of Guildford to life.

    We can accommodate extra cultural facilities and local independent shops in the existing buildings that are either vacant or will be soon as more and more shopping moves online. We need to be realistic about that and think radically about the future, rather than hoping to go back to the past.

    The alternative is that in the future current shops, even in the High Street, will be converted to lower quality residential usage, and the town centre becomes a disorganised hotchpotch.

  4. John Perkins Reply

    January 19, 2019 at 12:03 pm

    North Street would be an ideal place to develop the sort of mix that’s common elsewhere, with small retail units at ground level and a few stories of apartments above. Even in this online age, such a place could be vibrant and successful; after all, you can’t buy coffee and a conversation from Amazon.

    Cllr Spooner says the council “have also looked again at the retail market” and describes them as sensible. Some might think their recent conversion to this well-tried and rather obvious idea has much to do with the announcement by the Chancellor last year that town high streets should become more residential.

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