Fringe Box



Opinion: My Fears Over ‘The Great Wall Of Guildford’

Published on: 20 Jan, 2016
Updated on: 20 Jan, 2016

By Robert Benjafield

Guildford has, like many a town in south-east England, a problem. Demand for housing exceeds supply. Everybody  knows that – especially those seeking a home for a reasonable price.

So along comes Solum, a company which has worked on several projects with Network Rail, to offer Guildford – via Guildford Borough Council – the opportunity for 438 new flats on the site of our station car park.

How the development may look like viewed from Onslow Village (see black shape) and an impression of the facade.

How the development may look like viewed from Onslow Village (see black shape) and an impression of the facade below.

It sounds a good idea. But then you see the plans: 10-storey offices, eight-storey flats; the whole amounting to more than 300 metres – well over 900 feet – in length.  That’s three Debenhams laid end-to-end; and twice the height.

It’s a monstrous size. And not only on paper.

Last week a public meeting called by The Guildford Society showed a near-capacity gathering what this Solum creation would look like from the town centre, from Onslow Village and from several other viewpoints.

The graphics were created by Guildford Residents’ Association by superimposing the mass of the development over photos of existing views. Increasingly sharp intakes of breath greeted these revelations. It would indeed be The Great Wall of Guildford, as it was dubbed by one Guildford Society speaker.

It would, the meeting agreed, divide the town visually. For it would be a barrier of high-rise buildings stretching pretty much from Farnham Road bridge to halfway down the town centre section of Walnut Tree Close. To appreciate this just take a walk – or stroll the length of the station and its car park.

Opinion Logo 2But that’s not all. What do you find when you reach at the end of The Great Solum Wall? A newly-constructed three blocks of six-storey flats which comprise Taylor Wimpey’s Station View. So here we have what could in the future greet rail travellers as they approach Guildford: nearly a quarter of a mile of high-rise buildings which totally obscure the town centre and its setting.

It is, therefore, hardly surprising that for those in Guildford, rather than in the train,  this development is a similarly disastrous topographical no-no. Thankfully, the topography issue is a legitimate reason for our borough councillors to send these plans back to the drawing board.

Take a look at the rail approaches to Woking, or Epsom.  Canyons of tower blocks. Does our council wants that in Guildford? Would it not be an unacceptably bulky, dominating, bullying mass of concrete, brick and glass?

However, it is not just the matter of sheer size. The council also wants – and is required by the government – to encourage the development of housing.  Including affordable housing.

So how does the Solum proposal fare in this respect? Solum plans to build 438 flats, albeit with car parking for only half of them, which is itself a novel approach in this age of the, erm, car.  But, more importantly,  how much will these flats cost?

Well, we don’t know, but we do have a clue or two from Taylor Wimpey’s Station View. Its prices are there for all to see: 177 one-bedroom and two-bedroom flats, starting at £410,000 and rising to £470,000. Low-cost housing there? Not really.

Which brings us back to the Solum flats. Solum is offering only 10% of low-cost flats. What’s more, it is now probably encouraging for Solum, if not to anyone else, to see the prices being invited for the flats next door to the ones they wants to build.

All of which surely means that the station development will contribute little to solving Guildford’s housing problem for first-time buyers and many others, too.

The council has other, more feasible, sites including Woodbridge Meadows. And why does the council think of the redevelopment of the North Street area in terms of shops?  Why not housing?  The redevelopment of the Surrey Advertiser and Biddles sites as flats is a good example of bringing people into the town centre; and it helps keep the town alive in the evening. Shops and restaurants are not the answer to everything!

So, what exactly will Solum’s proposed station development give to Guildford? An acceptable level of low-cost housing? Buildings which, in size and scale, complement, enhance or contribute anything at all to our town? Or, by the way, improved platform facilities for the eight million people who use the station each year?

The answer to all three is, sadly, no.

The Great Wall of Guildford will contribute mainly, if not solely, to Solum.

Robert Benjafield was brought up in Guildford and has lived here for most of his life. He was deputy editor of the Surrey Daily Advertiser, editor of the Woking News & Mail, press relations director of a marketing and PR company, university lecturer in journalism and PR.

Share This Post

Responses to Opinion: My Fears Over ‘The Great Wall Of Guildford’

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    January 21, 2016 at 9:10 am

    In respect of ‘low cost housing’ the definition is as irrational as ‘brown field sites’ (any built on land not used for housing in use or otherwise).

    I believe ‘low cost’ is defined as 80% of local general housing cost.

    That’s not low cost, it’s reduced cost and only for the first purchaser.

    They can by purchased at the reduced rate then sold for the market value, and that ain’t going work!

    True low cost is 3.5 times average salary.

    We need a system which outs the ‘investor’ so any new house purchased in Guildford borough must be occupied by the buyer for five years and one of the occupants must work in the borough.

    Any low-cost housing must be sold pro rata, the reduced cost to the next buyer, or else we will be forever trying to provide low-cost housing.

    Take council housing being sold off. If it is not replaced our low-paid workers and shop assistants, postmen, dustmen, labours, and clerks will have to travel in from other areas increasing traffic problems and generating more chaos.

    Empty new-build homes left empty as an investment by any buyer should be seized after six months and rented out for five years.

    Radical maybe but something needs to be done.

    As for the Guildford Wall, the article says it all.

  2. George Potter Reply

    January 21, 2016 at 10:09 am

    If those graphics were created by Guildford Residents’ Association then, as an Onslow resident, I would like to point out to them that the street name is Hedgeway and not “Hedgway”. I’m also rather dubious about how accurate those illustrations are.

    What’s far more concerning is that Solum are only proposing 10% low-cost flats.

    Surely nothing that contributes so little to the benefit of Guildford could possibly be considered for planning approval?

  3. Pauline Surrey Reply

    January 21, 2016 at 12:46 pm

    As I sat in the House of Fraser café on the top floor yesterday, looking out on that gloriously sunny day, and admiring the marvellous view over to the cathedral, I suddenly noticed the station pedestrian bridge.

    I realised to my horror how ‘The Great Wall of Guildford’ would blight this view to the cathedral forever, if it is granted permission.

    We must all write in to object, still time. See The Guildford Society’s website, hot topics. Please write in. We do count. We still can make a difference!

  4. James Gross Reply

    January 26, 2016 at 10:59 pm

    No doubt if one (even the absence of these proposals) was to colour all the existing buildings in this, or indeed any view from in or around the town, in such a meanacing black, then the effect would be similarly hideous, and as per The Guildford Society’s silhouette, misleading.

    The impact of taller buildings generally comes when they breach the skyline, otherwise the mix of building materials, building heights, architectural detailing and interface with the existing view, leads new buildings to blend in with their surroundings.

    With Guildford sitting in a bowl, and these buildings being located fairly close to the lower areas in the town’s topography, the impact is much lower than it might be, and in my opinion quite justified. Further examination of the elevation produced by Solum reveals a much more varied panorama and one which will integrate into our varied townscape.

    I have written in support of this application, citing the relevance of our town as the UK headquarters for major businesses such as Electronic Arts, Allianz and Colgate/Palmolive, and having achieved accolades such as having produced more satellites for launch into space than any other European city. We are the national trial for 5G technology and yet many are content for the town to sit in an artificial aspic of nostalgia.

    We have some wonderful history in our town, but the age of steam is long gone. Hopefully too the age of the car before long, as Solum have suggested a very sustainable scheme disencouraging car ownership and maximising the density at the mast accessible location we have in the town.

    There is a huge urban movement in support of Transit Orientated Development (T.O.D.) and and enormous evidence base in favour of supporting this. The cost of owning and running cars can in some cases outstrip the cost of owning or renting housing but this does not seem to have figured in the above arguments.

    Furthermore, the contribution that much needed smaller apartments will make to the local housing chain is underestimated. The supply of flats by Solum may free up existing affordable housing as well as create new accommodation, contributing far more than the 10% quoted. Granted this 10% in terms of new build contribution does seem low but will have been tested for viability, furthermore if the affordable dwellings are operated by a registered social landlord (I do not know the case either way) then these are not capable of being sold-on quite as easily as we are being led to believe.

    Guildford is a desirable town, but we are at risk of losing some of our most valuable employers if we cannot provide much needed housing in the most sustainable locations. Where better than the station to let visitors know we’re serious about growth and embracing the technology that underpins the economy of much of what makes Guildford the success it is.

  5. Barry Williams Reply

    January 29, 2016 at 11:42 am

    James Gross makes an interesting contribution to the debate on the Solum development. This is what the town needs, a to and fro sharing of the many points of view through its local media. Just get involved.

    May I applaud him for raising the many positive aspects of the town from its business, educational and scientific prospect. The Guildford Society is singing from the same hymn sheet as Mr Gross but the town needs to do all of this better and hopefully in tune; perhaps we need a Guildford Development Corporation.

    The Guildford Society is not against progress but firmly believe in modern town centre master planning – not ad hoc site-by-site commercial developments that do not give real benefit to the town or community.

    This station scheme lacks inspiration; it fails the town and is a lost opportunity. To steal a phrase from a leading architectural practice – “ we want to see new places created whilst breathing life into old ones.”

    I do not know if Mr Gross attended the public meeting on January 13, but if not may I invite him to visit The Guildford Society website and its Hot Topics page which contains the full video presentation and audio content on the night.

    He will see that The Guildford Society put forward alternative proposals for the site, proposing a station quarter linking to the housing developments at Guildford Park Road car park and the cathedral sites and giving a potential of some 1,000 dwellings- substantially more than Solum offers – and with a good affordable content.

    Our proposal also remains within the sensible height constraints advanced by GBC’s own master planners in their draft Town Centre Master Plan. But what If we take out the questions of height and bulk? What does this station development actually offer the commuter and visitor to Guildford? In short a slightly larger ticket hall and concourse.

    There are no improvements for access to the platforms and nothing to link up the western approach. Solum’s plan would prevent a future river / rail crossing or other public transport interchange benefits to encourage the modal shift in transport habits advanced by GBC.

    So Mr Gross, why not come along and talk to us? You will see that we are certainly not “content to sit in an artificial aspic of nostalgia”. We do want the best for our town and its community and business environment- we are ready to listen.

    Finally, The Guildford Society, supported by Guildford Residents Associations, wish to thank the 240-plus members of the local community who attended our January 13 public meeting and for sharing your opinions.

    Early feedback included the comment: “Well done, you make a substantial contribution to the functioning of local democracy.”

    We also need to add an extra thank to those members of the audience who donated to our cause on the night and helped us defray our immediate costs.

    We made clear our opposition to the development, which we regard as a lost opportunity for Guildford. The audience clearly shared our view that this application must be rejected. Guildford needs better than this.

    [Barry Williams is a member of the executive committee of The Guildford Society but has written this in a personal capacity.]

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy. All comments are moderated and may take time to appear.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *