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Opinion: Planning – The Bad, The Uncertain and The Good

Published on: 4 Jul, 2016
Updated on: 6 Jul, 2016

The Bad, The Uncertain and the GoodBy Martin Giles

The unanimous rejection of the widely detested Solum proposal to redevelop Guildford’s railway station, by the Planning Committee at Guildford Borough Council on Wednesday (June 29), should be warmly applauded.

Very few local residents held anything but disdain for the monolithic, dull as ditchwater, contemporary design. It simply ignored the wishes of local residents, put forward in Solum’s consultation meetings.

The councillors who voted were truly representing their constituents and spoke clearly on the many shortcomings of the plans before them. Let us hope no planning inspector overrules their decision.

How such an inappropriate plan, the second attempt it should be remembered, can have even got this far beggars belief.

Opinion Logo 2As Dragon reader Gerald Bland asked in his letter, what advice was Solum given in the pre-application meetings? Either Solum ignored it or the advice was bad, so bad that the resulting plan seemed an insult to our town.

No wonder Paul Spooner, the council leader and lead councillor for planning, became so annoyed that he threw Solum representatives out of a meeting, at the council offices, held to to discuss the plan. Who could blame him?

The entire plan must be ditched. A completely fresh start is now necessary.

To avoid a recurrence of such a debacle, Gerald Bland’s idea that pre-application advice for major developments is published should be seriously considered. Pre-planning advice should be open to scrutiny because if the advice is not sound any project is bound to be controversial and wasteful of time.

Worse still, the town could repeat planning mistakes – e.g. Bishop’s Court (twin towers), The Friary etc. – that as Cllr Nils Christiansen pointed out, we seem prone to do.

When Waitrose was being planned I asked one of the architects why such a contemporary style had been adopted. He seemed surprised and said that is what the council planners had asked for. I remain unconvinced that it is what most residents of Guildford would have preferred, however much we might like Waitrose.

Public support for planning decisions is important if local democracy is to mean anything. Overseeing developments within our borough, and shaping the way it grows, is one of the council’s most important functions.

Tory Green Belt promise 1It should be recognised that there is no clear mandate for the huge changes included in the Local Plan, especially as the Conservatives campaigned during last years election under slogans such as: “The Green Belt is Here to Stay”.

Anyone who suffers the chronic traffic congestion we endure must wonder how all the extra cars, normally at an average of two per household, from another 14,000 houses, in addition to those homes that will be constructed in neighbouring boroughs and necessarily pass through this gap town, will go.

An A3 tunnel might be a great idea but the A3 is not the only local road that is busy and easily becomes choked. How, for instance, will the already busy A281 cope? It can’t easily be widened as it comes through Guildford and it feeds onto the gyratory.

In any case, the referendum result has thrown everything up in the air. No population forecast made before June 23 can now be relied on, even if it could before, and in a meeting held at St Catherine’s on Thursday, Jun 30, Cllr Spooner admitted it.

He said: “There will be an impact [of the EU referendum result on population forecasts]. We don’t yet know what that impact will be. It’s very complex in terms of migration and international migration. But we have already committed…, in fact we are already speaking to GL Hearn, we have already committed to review that.”

Well thank goodness. We cannot proceed as if nothing has happened. But what the outcome of Brexit will be is uncertain and it is likely to remain uncertain for some time, probably for the duration of the two year negotiation period, which has yet to be triggered.

How can any review be meaningful within that period?

In the interim though, we do need protection from any speculative applications from developers hoping to take advantage of the situation. This might need nothing more than revised guidelines from central government to local planning authorities and the planning inspectorate.

Alternatively, we could create an interim local plan for the borough. Such a plan could allow us to proceed with some necessary developments especially in terms of brownfield development to include some urgently needed social housing as well as some of the popular ideas contained in the Masterplan.

These things would be popular and achievable and avoid the risks that the large scale “strategic” green belt sites would represent, if built before we have re-assessed the need.

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Responses to Opinion: Planning – The Bad, The Uncertain and The Good

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    July 4, 2016 at 8:13 pm

    Just before a planning meeting I contacted the councillors and suggested they defer their vote until after the referendum as it would fundamentally affect the SHMA. It’s a shame they didn’t listen they could have been home earlier that night.

  2. Gordon Adam Reply

    July 5, 2016 at 10:27 am

    I do agree that for major developments a pre-application guidance should be produced. This would enable GBC to direct applications better and to ensure that more acceptable designs and developments go before the planning committee.

    Having been involved in reviewing much larger developments in London, pre-application responses were what the application was reviewed against. The pre-application discussion covered everything from design, transport impact, environment and everything you would expect that is involved with a development and usually led to better developments. However, at the end of the day, the councillors have the last word and can go against officer recommendations.

    On another matter, it does amaze me that sometimes the decisions taken by planning officers and ratified by councillors go against the views expressed by consultees.

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