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Only A Minority Oppose North Street and Debenhams Developments, Finds Survey

Published on: 12 Aug, 2021
Updated on: 14 Aug, 2021

By Martin Giles

Most Guildford residents support or are neutral about proposals to redevelop Debenhams and North Street, if a vox pop survey conducted by The Dragon yesterday (August 11) is representative.

Of the 25 people interviewed at random, 15 were from town centre wards, six were visitors or workers and four were from the borough parishes. 16 of the 25 felt they had good or average awareness of local news but the number dropped to 11 when asked if they were aware of development proposals.

Interviewees were asked for their views on three major town centre developments, St Mary’s Wharf (Debenhams, Solum (station) and North Street.

St Mary’s Wharf as it would look from Millmead car park.

St Mary’s Wharf (Debenhams)

12 were in favour of the proposals, five were neutral, six against and two had no opinion.

Comments included:
“Debenhams is an eye-sore. Prefer riverside site to be open but new development okay if in keeping.”
“Okay. We need more to live in town centre.”
“It’s better than Debenhams.”“
“Not a lot of character but think it would work.”
“It should be lower. Don’t crowd the river.”
“Would prefer Debenhams building to be reused.”
“Too high.”

Solum (railway station)
Seven were in favour of the proposals, five were neutral, eight against and five had no opinion.

Comments included:
“Bloody awful!”
“Hate it. It should have been about the station.”
“Big and ugly.”
“Bit characterless but good if it helps regeneration.”
“Not necessarily a good thing.”
“It will be an improvement.”
“Solum’s redevelopment is good – it will make the station like Waterloo.”

Aerial view of the North Street site between the bus station and Leapale Road car park.

North Street
13 were in favour of the proposals, three were neutral, one was against and eight had no opinion.

Comments included:
“Yes – it is a bit run down.”
“Got to have it but we should avoid higher buildings which close in the streets. We need more open spaces.”
“I have no problem with it [the regeneration]. We want people to come here but it should be in keeping with the town.
“Anything will improve North Street”
“Height needs to be limited.”
“Depends on whether the North Street development is eco-friendly.”
“Not a fan of new developments.”

Image showing the comparative heights of the existing Debenhams building and its proposed successor “St Mary’s Wharf”.

Building height
Asked if building height in Guildford was a concern, 11 said it was, eight said it could be, five thought it wasn’t and one had no opinion.

Comments included:
“I don’t like height of new buildings.”
“Yes. Eight storeys should be limit as in parts of Europe.”
“Yes, balance is required but can’t limit to four storeys.”
“Yes, there has to be a sensible balance and the skyline and townscape must be considered.”
“No real issue. We won’t be New York city overnight. One or two high buildings okay.”

Cllr John Rigg

Having reviewed the survey results the lead councillor at GBC for Regeneration John Rigg (R4GV, Holy Trinity) said: “With these projects, we are arriving at an important point in our history. We either regenerate the town as buildings fall empty or have sites derelict for decades as at North Street.

“If they are redeveloped then it will only happen for profitable schemes for which there is demand and lately neither offices nor retail work. However residential is desperately needed and with it we can revitalise the town and also help save our green belt.

“So then the debate is height, quantum and architecture. Most of us want to sustain the historic character of the town. Our conservation areas will protect the historic areas but on these sites we can have new 21st century homes reflecting an evolving town, not one tied to one period of the past.

“Of course, finding consensus on architecture is difficult if not impossible and the station development was many thought an exercise in how not to work with the community but the appeal process there accepted 10 storeys and with the Plaza in Portsmouth Road consented at nine stories both setting a new precedent. But still, not 34 stories as recently proposed at Woking.

“I hope we will make progress. New investment into Guildford can bring fresh vitality, new jobs, new residents and new customers for our High Street. New quality development can improve our choices and our townscape. Turning regeneration away leaves us only decline.”

Please have your say. Add your view by using the “Leave a reply” feature below. It is not our policy to publish anonymous comments.

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Responses to Only A Minority Oppose North Street and Debenhams Developments, Finds Survey

  1. Alan Bathurst Reply

    August 13, 2021 at 7:09 am

    Where will the residents park their cars?

    • Jim Allen Reply

      August 13, 2021 at 1:27 pm

      Cars? What cars? Hasn’t everyone heard? We are all going to walk everywhere, and when we can’t walk or cycle we will use the disintegrated public transport systems.

      That is our future transportation. It is what you voted for, or did you not read in the politicians’ manifestos. They all clearly stated climate change takes precedence over reality, common sense and any “what if?” considerations.

      • Matthew Smith Reply

        August 15, 2021 at 12:04 am

        The climate crisis is reality. Having fewer cars is going to seem trivial compared to many of the changes future generations will have to make to our liberty.

    • Martin Elliott Reply

      August 13, 2021 at 2:48 pm

      With the excellent sustainable transport in the town centre and the voluntary uptake of “Modal Shift” over the past decade… they won’t need cars. Doesn’t everyone know?

  2. Pauline McKenzie Reply

    August 13, 2021 at 3:44 pm

    The proposed buildings are far too high. They are imposing and dark. Four-storeys should be the highest building. We don’t want to follow Woking in making the town ugly and unattractive.

  3. Paul Robinson Reply

    August 13, 2021 at 5:18 pm

    I am very disappointed with The Dragon publishing a headline only worthy of a national tabloid. A survey of 25 people, six of whom aren’t local. Come on Dragon you are better than this.

  4. Richard Francis Reply

    August 13, 2021 at 5:31 pm

    Asking our opinion on building heights ignores the location. An eight-storey building joining existing tall buildings in a big city is fine: the same building in a town centre with historical buildings is definitely not fine.

    Even so, your survey suggests the Debenhams building is “too big”. The new proposal for mainly residential accommodation is in many ways an improvement. However, if the survey had asked: “How many storeys should the planned buildings have?”, I suspect you would have got the answer “four”. Not eight.

    Editor’s response: The building height question was clearly posed in the context of Guildford developments and respondees shown developers’ images of how the different buildings will look.

  5. Jules Cranwell Reply

    August 14, 2021 at 9:51 am

    It doesn’t matter whether a minority or majority oppose the plans. GBC will do what they like. A vast majority opposed the Local Plan and the theft of the green belt, but the Tories in charge went ahead with it anyway.

  6. H Trevor Jones Reply

    August 14, 2021 at 10:27 am

    I support these much-needed developments, especially St.Mary’s making the riverside more attractive and Solum making a more welcoming rail station environment.

    I’m not worried about heights; tall buildings can house more people close to public transport. I don’t think anything will spoil views from our key vantage points on the Hog’s Back, Stag Hill and Pewley Down, looking down the High Street, or from the top of the castle.

    Together these represent my bottom line for views. Have I missed any others?

  7. J Brown Reply

    August 14, 2021 at 1:50 pm

    Cllr Rigg and Bill Stokoe appear to share a lack of imagination and ambition for Guildford. Presented with opportunity, the most they can think of is to copy Basingstoke and Reading. Given the chance to create and influence something unique and remarkable at this “important point in our history,” the best they can offer is this or nothing.

  8. Diane Kivi Reply

    August 14, 2021 at 10:58 pm

    Guildford is a city of relatively low buildings. The proposed buildings on the Debenhams site are too tall and will dwarf the other buildings in the area. Guildford is a low-rise town, with only a few exceptions such as the two 1960’s blocks of flats.

    Reducing the building height will preserve the character of the area.

    The proposed Solum buildings on the railway station site have the same problem, which will be made worse by the raised height of the site in relation to the town centre area.

    If these developments are allowed to proceed, then the character of our city will be adversely affected. I feel that this will also be to the detriment of our economic redevelopment.

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