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Opinion: Cramming Housing Into The Town Centre Is Not The Answer

Published on: 1 Nov, 2015
Updated on: 4 Nov, 2015

Allies & Morrison Masterplan Report 2015By Caroline Reeves

leader of the opposition at Guildford Borough Council (GBC) and Lib Dem borough councillor for Friary & St Nicolas

As expected, the Guildford Greenbelt Group’s (GGG) comment on the Town Centre Master Plan (TCMP), Too Little, Too Late demands more housing, saying that, “the plan allows for just 2,500 additional units.” All but 134 of these units are in my ward of Friary & St Nicolas, as are the additional sites that GGG suggest should be used.

The figure of around 2,500 homes included in the TCMP does not include any that would be part of North Street redevelopment, also part of the Friary & St Nicolas ward. One has to assume that they have no desire to see a plan that actually works by creating a good place to live and work. They don’t seem to care about cramming homes into the town so long as they aren’t built on green belt land.

Opinion Logo 2The plan states quite clearly that there’s a need for smaller homes, so it is not, as GGG claims that, “this need is not adequately reflected in the Plan.”  If the plan is read thoroughly it is plain to see that the “surprisingly large brownfield site in Walnut Tree Close” is in flood zone 3B, the highest flood risk designation by the Environment Agency, and that is why the TCMP has indicated that should be an area of open green space, as have the other 3B areas along the river.

Strangely GGG go on to say “Smaller units make more efficient use of land. They can be delivered more cheaply at higher density allowing building nearer to the centre. Walking to the station, places of employment and easy access to shopping and entertainment would all become possible. It could considerably reduce journey times, improve air quality and make more efficient use of infrastructure and services.”

Looking at the suggested sites for new homes in the TCMP it is very clear to see that every one is within easy walking distance of the station, and they will be smaller units, so what is their point?

As for the statement, “Pushing residential development, as this plan will do, into the countryside may be an easy and immediately lucrative option in the short term,” I completely fail to see how this TCMP will push residential development into the countryside.

GGG contradict themselves, they want more housing in the town but also say, “Traffic is already a factor in restricting the attraction of Guildford as a venue. Access will become more and more difficult and the whole area less desirable to live in.”

Surely even more town centre homes than suggested in the TCMP will only emphasise this issue. I am already concerned that the extra 2,500 homes in the TCMP will have no doctors surgery, no schools, no community buildings.

It may well be that some of the proposed homes will have to make way for at least a primary school as there are no places currently in any of our primary schools in town. A new school and surgery would need to be in the development area so that there’s less need for car use.

Further lack of understanding is shown in their statement, “GBC are in a strong position to fast track the brownfield development process and the complete lack of urgency shown in the Masterplan to make use of this is very disappointing. Many of the proposals are over 10 years away. This is too late and the wait is simply not necessary.”

Anyone who knows the town will see immediately that most of the brownfield sites have buildings on them, they are not vacant plots. Existing businesses would have to be found alternative sites, then the buildings would have to be demolished, the site checked for contamination before any new building work can be started.

Building work would happen over a period of time with some being in the ten year period. In terms of logistics it’s impossible for all the building work to be done simultaneously, whether its for homes, offices, retail or community buildings.

We know that there are many businesses who would like to move to Guildford but we can’t offer them the space that they require. Yes there are existing vacant office spaces which are being converted to homes due to current central government policy but this is not producing the new office space that we know is needed.

A recent report by the John Lewis Partnership has acknowledged the rapid growth in on-line ordering, and click-and-collect, but also stated that the numbers visiting their stores has increased. There is still value in having a presence in a quality store.

The charity shops have had a presence in the High Street for many years, they are not filling long empty sites, and most of the shops that are currently empty have tenants about to move in.

The framework for the TCMP on page 77 shows the three approaches, protect the historic centre, manage the wider town centre area, and change the river corridor.

Once again GGG have chosen to ignore this, and point out our, “…great potential to become a ‘must see’ destination for tourists and visitors” has been ignored. Strangely, this is an important part not only of this masterplan, but also of the cross party work that has been done over the last two years working on our tourism strategy.

The desire to open up the river, to create parks and open spaces, to have more small homes, to promote a better pedestrian and cyclist lifestyle, to make more of our heritage but most of all to make the town a better place to live and work are the key threads of this masterplan. I’m not sure which version GGG have read, but their comments do not reflect the version I have before me.

The Conservative group at GBC were also invited to write on this subject.

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Responses to Opinion: Cramming Housing Into The Town Centre Is Not The Answer

  1. jim Allen Reply

    November 1, 2015 at 12:35 pm

    Interesting comment.

    If the plan is read thoroughly it is plain to see that the “surprisingly large brownfield site in Walnut Tree Close” is in flood zone 3B, the highest flood risk designation by the Environment Agency. That is why the TCMP has indicated that should be an area of open green space, as have the other 3B areas along the river.

    So why are the Borough Council planning the Slyfield link road? Misnamed for pressurised marketing purposes, “The Clay Lane Link Road” would cut across, through and dam a zone 3B active flood plain?

    It floods more regularly at Burpham court Farm than Walnut Tree Close.

    Can someone please explain?

  2. Lisa Wright Reply

    November 1, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    Cllr Reeves misses the point that if Guildford does not provide enough town centre flats for our young people, they will move away leaving a gaping hole in our community and labour force.

    GBC might want to encourage hundreds of new shops and business to the centre of town but they have not catered for all the low paid retail and office staff with equal housing opportunities.

    Retail and low paid staff are highly unlikely to afford anywhere in the town centre today and are forced to remain with parents or live in a room in a shared house but still have the added burden of running a car and paying for parking in town every day.

    The Park & Ride does not cater for those working outside of the normal 9-5 and buses do not run efficiently enough to rely upon.
    If all homes are built outside of our urban town, in the green belt, it makes them expensive (capital cost, transport, lack of community, lack of leisure facilities etc etc) you force our young people to choose whether they would be better off moving to a different town with central homes that cater for young people.

    As with most of the current GBC ‘growth’ agenda, no one seems to actually care much for our countryside of the physical and mental wellbeing of the people that currently have to live here.

    In my opinion, it seems GBC are more concerned with counting money from commercial and retail investment and winning brownie points from central government.

    Building many more town centre homes, without parking facilities will do more to encourage walking, cycling and community spirit than any fancy ‘movement corridor’.

    GGG is right to point out the problems with the town centre plan. Discussion and debate is the only way to get the best for Guildford and Surrey as a whole. It’s a shame the current GBC councillors do not embrace this extra, independent input from a team of people striving to create a decent quality of life for all residents.

  3. Peter Masterson Reply

    November 1, 2015 at 6:29 pm

    I totally agree with Cllr Caroline Reeves and Julian Lyon on this and thank them for taking the time to address the short sighted opinions raised by Andrew Procter.

    The most attractive aspect about the masterplan is the open spaces created along the river.

    I cannot see the point in filling the town with blocks of flats just to satisfy the housing number requirements up to 2031. The GGG’s opinion seems to be short sighted and wrong on this.

    The masterplan seems to look way beyond the next 20 years to create a Guildford with beautiful public open spaces that can be enjoyed forever by the residents of Guildford. Build blocks of flats on them now and they are gone forever.

  4. Ben Paton Reply

    November 1, 2015 at 10:37 pm

    Attacking the constructive comments of GGG on the Town Centre Master Plan, which can surely be improved upon, fails to address the core finding of the evidence base – that the Guildford Urban Area is a very suitable place for housing.

    In May 2014 the “Settlement Hierarchy” was published as part of the evidence base for the draft Local Plan. This document has a number of flaws – not least the rather obviously subjective scoring and the unexplained re-scoring of certain settlements in later editions.

    The consultants (Pegasus Group) who prepared this report scored all the settlements in the borough on criteria including shops, schools, facilities, transport and employment. Guildford Urban Area and Ash and Tongham both scored 49 points. That was the highest score for any settlement in the borough, making them the most ‘sustainable’ locations for new development.

    While the study has many flaws this conclusion seems to be broadly correct. To deny this conclusion smacks of Nimbyism. Perhaps this explains why Cllr Reeve supported the Tory Issues and Options paper which proposed to take 16 out of 24 villages out of the green belt.

    Rather than attack GGG it might help her achieve fewer houses in her ward if Cllr Reeve scrutinised the housing need figure and insisted that GBC applied the constraints – as required by the NPPF.

  5. Valerie Thompson Reply

    November 2, 2015 at 10:59 am

    Build on the green fields and they are gone forever.

    Build on brownfield sites, which have been built on before and you could provide low-cost housing for people who actually don’t need cars in the town centre. Wherever new houses are built there will have to be more schools and more doctors’ surgeries; it doesn’t make any difference whether they are in the town or the countryside.

    Naturally, we all like the idea of green spaces and better use of the riverside in Guildford, but that does not preclude building houses on old industrial sites. Of course these sites are expensive to clean up, but that is no excuse for urban sprawl, nor can anyone deny that Guildford needs more town houses, particularly with the University of Surrey constantly expanding without providing sufficient accommodation for its students.

  6. George Potter Reply

    November 2, 2015 at 12:31 pm

    Growing up, as I did, near Rye, we have at least one main road there which, like the Clay Lane Link Road will, crosses a flood plain. It does not however, dam it, as Mr Allen suggests, since there are numerous tunnels underneath the road to allow water to flow from one side of it to another.

    I don’t know the specifics of the Clay Lane Link Road but presumably something similar will be done there as it’s not exactly difficult or expensive to build a road which allows water to flow safely underneath it. After all, it would hardly be the first road in Britain built across a floodplain yet most of the others don’t seem to cause issues with flooding.

  7. Paul Spooner Reply

    November 2, 2015 at 1:24 pm

    I am grateful to Cllr Reeves for her excellent insight based on her experience in the council and as a town centre resident and urge everyone to engage in the ongoing consultation over the next two weeks. The Guildford Greenbelt Group have once again demonstrated their very short sighted views of a difficult series of issues.

    In response to Mr Allen’s comment, he knows very well that the proposed Clay Lane Link Road is not a ‘dam’ in any shape or form and that won’t change no-matter how often he states this fiction. There is absolutely no way that statutory consultees such as the Environment Agency would accept such an idea.

  8. Peta Malthouse Reply

    November 2, 2015 at 5:16 pm

    Then how will the housing numbers be met? Cllr Reeves complains that by putting the small units in the brownfield sites area the facilities will be overloaded, yet at least you have some.

    All we have in the rural communities are traffic problems which the proposed masterplan would seem to seek to exacerbate by closing access to the gyratory at Walnut Tree Close and A31 Farnham Road. Closing off access to through traffic will only force drivers to find routes through out of town roads.

    We in Normandy already suffer gridlock when there is an accident on the A31 or the A323, our only routes out of the village. Traffic queues in the winter often stretch back to Farnham down the A31. You would be looking at a ring road created through Compton and thus attracting even more traffic along those roads.

    We have no shops, one oversubscribed primary school and a satellite Doctor’s surgery from the Fairlands practice.

    The alternative is the proposal to build 3,000 houses here instead and in other areas of the green belt which are poorly served by facilities, simply because all the investment has previously been made in the town area and at Ash.

    We have to be sensible. I see no point in providing additional retail units in Guildford. Most of my friends and family shop on the net for everything.

  9. Bernard Parke Reply

    November 2, 2015 at 7:17 pm

    It is refreshing to see a Conservative councillor and a Liberal Democrat councillor apparently on the same wave length.

    Is this the foundation for a new coalition?

    I hope so, then perhaps we could all put party labels aside and work for the general good of the people of Guildford.

  10. Jules Cranwell Reply

    November 3, 2015 at 8:12 am

    By being so fulsome in his support of Cllr Reeves’ position, plus his usual, knee-jerk rejection of anything GGG has to say, is Mr. Spooner perhaps guilty of “pre-determination” of this consultation?

  11. Stuart Barnes Reply

    November 3, 2015 at 10:37 am

    I would suggest once again that all the talk both locally and nationally about lack of housing is starting at the wrong end of the problem.

    The problem is not shortage of housing it is a surplus of immigrants. Stop them and the housing problem will be solved.

    • George Potter Reply

      November 4, 2015 at 9:16 am

      I completely agree. It’s time we put a stop to the mass migration of wealthy Londoners and stockbrokers to Surrey.

      Or did you mean immigration from abroad? Because if so, despite our student population (half of whom are international students), something like 85 per cent of our population were born in the UK, which means that immigration clearly isn’t a problem here in Guildford.

      • Adrian Atkinson Reply

        November 4, 2015 at 2:36 pm

        I recall watching a presentation in front of the council where it was shown that in the population forecasts for the draft SHMA, half of the proposed increase in Guildfords population to 2031 didn’t currently live in the UK.

        Cllr David Reeve (GGG), before his election made the presentation and a chairman of a residents association made the same point in the election hustings:

        “Niels Laub, chairman of the Abbotswood Residents Association – Central Crescent, provoked a debate on what was the real driver for further housing when, he said: “According to the latest figures from the ONS, in the 20 year period from 2012 to 2031 the population of Guildford is projected to grow by some 21,000.

        “However, the combination of natural growth and internal UK migration is projected to lead to a reduction in the population by about 2,000. Therefore the entire population growth is due to projected international migration.

        “The SHMA published last summer states that the majority of the international migration in the Guildford borough is thought to be foreign students attending the University of Surrey.

        “Are we really expected to believe that all these foreign students will settle in Guildford at the end of their studies? Is it sensible to base a large portion of the “objectively assessed housing need” on providing accommodation for foreign students?”

        • George Potter Reply

          November 4, 2015 at 4:02 pm

          I think Adrian Atkinson is wrong.

          The West Surrey SHMA talks about migration being largely responsible for the housing need, yes, but migration is not the same thing as immigration. Immigration would be someone coming from outside the UK to live in Guildford. Migration could just mean someone moving to Guildford from Aldershot.

          So while it is very accurate to point the finger at migration for the need for much more housing in the borough, it is very inaccurate to point the figure at immigration.

          • Adrian Atkinson

            November 9, 2015 at 4:44 pm

            I refer Mr Potter and others to my reply above on November 4, 2015 at 1057pm.

  12. Sue Doughty Reply

    November 3, 2015 at 2:29 pm

    I agree. You only need to look at Bradford Road in Shalford which has a culvert releasing water through to Shalford Meadows.

    The whole area is a catchment for flooding to hold back water from Guildford but the road very rarely floods and only in exceptional circumstances.

  13. Jenny Procter Reply

    November 4, 2015 at 7:33 am

    It is quite obvious that there is a huge drive to nationally open up all possible spaces for development and that the majority Conservative body within GBC are on board to take this forward. No areas, town or country will remain untouched if reports we are seeing daily are to be believed.

    Fracking will be undermining national parks and wildlife preserves, green spaces will only need to pass rudimentary planning regulation, green belt will become a distant memory as we all join up in one big linked up urban sprawl.

    All the ‘consultation’ will be a mere sop to this end and no matter that the plans put forward are full of holes, misconceptions and conclusions based on very shaky evidence.

    Of course it is complicated and of course there are many obstacles to be overcome but covering the cracks and pushing it forward anyway is not the answer. There is room for much more open discussion and less defended positioning. We will all be the richer if we can preserve what is good whatever the pressures to do otherwise.

  14. Ben Paton Reply

    November 4, 2015 at 9:06 am

    Cllrs Paul Spooner and Caroline Reeves seem to have a lot in common:

    1) a tendency to condemn anything that GGG says without examining its content ie play the man and not the ball;

    2) a desire not to scrutinise housing need in any detail or to apply rational constraints. They clearly want to achieve a great deal of new building in the borough. But neither has a coherent plan to correct the shortage of council houses – which their policies created;

    3) a desire to make sure that the new building does not take place in their own wards – the definition of NIMBY.

    Bernard Parke asks if this is the basis for a new coalition between the Tories and Lib Dems. Past performance shows that their policies with regard to the draft local plan have been indistinguishable. They both want to build as much as possible and consider that the green belt and the countryside is something they are more than happy to sacrifice in pursuit of this untested dogma.

  15. George Potter Reply

    November 4, 2015 at 12:53 pm

    As far as I’m aware Caroline Reeves supports hundreds of new homes being built in her ward – hardly NIMBYism.

    And anyone who’s compared the GGG manifesto, the Guildford Lib Dem manifesto and the Conservative administration’s plans and record (I don’t think they published a manifesto) will see that all three differ very widely on several issues.

  16. Lisa Wright Reply

    November 4, 2015 at 8:56 pm

    The SHMA figure depends entirely on which data set GBC chose to use when doing their calculations. However, without having access to all the info, it is impossible to agree or disagree with their choices.

    What we do know is that Guildford has big choices to make. Do we build a good amount of housing for our kids, key workers and elderly or do we prefer large country houses in the green belt to attract the high earners from the city?

    Depending on the constraints that GBC apply to the housing number and what the CIL figures are we could see both, either or a mix of the two. That, together with traffic/travel issues, infrastructure and the likely environmental impact, will guide us to make the personal decision of whether we want to stay in Guildford, move away with our families or grin and bear it.

  17. Adrian Atkinson Reply

    November 4, 2015 at 10:57 pm

    Mr Potter is wrong – the summary doc does indeed talk about Migration as a net figure with no reference to internal or international – correct.

    But in the detail here:, it clearly shows, on page 50, that the projected and historic net international migration for Guildord shows a positive figure of around 1,300 people per year. The net internal migration forecast is an increasingly negative growth number (i.e. a reduction) of between -500 and -1000 people per year over the period.

    The net of these two figures is a net increase in migration totally driven by positvie international migration number offestting a -ve internal migration number. The table on page 51 shows this in detail.

    With this detail (see table 15 on page 48), which shows natural change as c+7000 for the West Surrey HMA (births minus deaths) and a net migration increase of a similar number, it is quite correct to explain 50 per cent of the increase in population growth attributed to Guildford and driving its housing need is from international migration.

    As I said in my original post, it was others who raised this relating to the draft SHMA – and doing some digging, it seems that these figures are also shown in the WSHMA – these are ONS figures so cannot be manipulated.

    As Mr Potter and the WS HMA are clear (Im)Migration is largely responsible for the housing need and “it is very accurate to point the finger at (im)migration for the need for much more housing in the borough” – albeit the “I” word is hidden in the detail.

    These are facts not opinions, views or beliefs for the record.

  18. Mike Hutnik Reply

    November 6, 2015 at 11:27 am

    I am amused at the GGG’s response to the Guildford Masterplan and am completely unclear about what they envisage as an alternative. Are they suggesting the construction of multi-story rabbit hutches for those not living near the green belt?

    Clearly a great deal of thought has gone into the plan; I only hope the council is able to realise its ambitions in these adverse times, as it will come further under the cosh from unnecessary austerity in the coming years.

    I, for one, would love to see the riverside developed in the way the plan suggests.

    Maybe the council’s mantra should be, “Nimbyism is a disease, not a cure”.

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