Fringe Box



Opinion: Guildford – A Town On The Brink

Published on: 17 Apr, 2015
Updated on: 23 Apr, 2015

By John Rigg

John Rigg, GVG Chairman

John Rigg, GVG Chairman

John Rigg is a founder and chairman of the Guildford Vision Group (GVG) who have released, exclusively to the Guildford Dragon NEWS, their masterplan and election manifesto. Here John explains why he feels Guildford is on the brink of some critical decisions and says how he feels they should be faced.

Guildford is at a critical point in its history. It is crucial that as a town, as a borough and as a community we make the right decisions so that Guildford can become an even better place to live, a town that retains its historic heritage and wonderful setting but also improves and becomes equipped for the rest of the 21st century.

It is well known that Guildford has severe constraints. There is little development land available. But society’s needs and market pressures continually generate the need for growth .Opinion Logo 2

There are clearly strong feelings about the amount of growth, especially in terms of the number of new houses that are really necessary, or acceptable. While it is perfectly understandable that everyone has an interest in what goes on in their back yard, there will be some tough decisions to face up to if necessary planning objectives are to be met.

Those in the villages want them to remain attractive places to live with all the best things preserved but some sympathetic development could help maintain or even improve the life of their communities, especially by providing some extra homes for younger families.

I believe that most of us accept that some growth might be absorbed if, and it is a major if, the necessary infrastructure changes are made. I think we can all agree that brown field sites should be used first and that our green belt setting should be protected. What we don’t want is mayhem, uncontrolled development, Woking style high rise and even more congestion.

The government’s instructions to councils requires local authorities to deliver an approved Local Plan, with sensible growth for homes and jobs, through delivery in the first five years, then in the second five years and so forth until the target is reached. If a council complies the planning inspector will approve the plan and with it the planning restrictions and controls incorporated for the whole area.

If Guildford Borough Council (GBC) does not produce a credible plan for growth or if their plan is rejected then in the absence of an approved Local Plan developers will be given planning consent on a presumption of growth.

Nationally, it does not appear likely that the Labour Party or the Liberal Democrats will be very different from the Conservatives in their wish to increase the supply of housing. And irrespective of whether we favour growth or not, pressure on the South East will continue – the private sector, with land owners, will bring forward proposals.

Guildford is already facing the two largest proposals in its history.  A large retail scheme on North Street for three quarters of a million square feet of shopping and a high rise block on the station, for three quarters of a million square feet.

There are countless proposals close behind and they appear unlikely to include any material infrastructure or environmental improvements. So if you or employers thought current congestion was not good it is not about to get better.

Vision group logo2What does the Guildford Vision Group believe?

GVG are local residents, mostly with a background or career in planning, architecture, development, transportation or related areas, plus other Guildfordians passionate about a better Guildford.

With the current debate of where to develop – town or country – we believe ‘absolutes’ are wrong and unnecessary. Everywhere is capable of absorbing some change and with good planning and design; we really believe change can be for the better.

The big threat is bad, uncontrolled, ad hoc development. This is likely with the lack of an adopted Local Plan for the whole Borough, or if we do not have a bold “masterplan” for our town centre and riverside .

Worse still would be a weak masterplan which fails to address the big issues such as removing traffic from the centre and allows schemes which will prohibit transport and other solutions in the future.

One of the masterplan versions produced by architects Haskoll for the Guildford Vision Group. Please click on the image to see an elarged version.

One of the masterplan versions produced by architects Haskoll for the Guildford Vision Group. Please click on the image to see it in detail. Key – The circular symbols represent trees. Colours indicate: blue – existing; purple – leisure (restaurants, cafés etc); green- anchor retailer; yellow – pedestrian priority; light blue – new retail.

Above all, we believe Guildford town centre needs to remove the all pervasive “gyratory”. It is bad on every measure. A four lane gyratory crossing the River Wey, not once but twice, is bad traffic management, bad planning and bad land use. Environmentally it blights one half of our town centre.

Equally, we recognise every successful town or city needs to be a successful transportation hub.  Once it is, then our town needs to be a proud home for community and visitors alike with markets, shops, cafés, squares, entertainment, culture and education.  It  must also be a successful place for business.  It must not be a ghost town after 6pm.

A GVG public consultation event held in 2014 public consultation

A GVG public consultation event held in 2014

GVG believe all of this is possible by bold masterplanning with community support.  There is a need to understand the possibilities and to consider the options, then have the leadership to select and deliver the optimum solution.

We have set out our manifesto for those that are interested in our ideas for the rebirth of Guildford. Residents may wish to use it to quiz their candidates about their appetite for change.

GVG 2015 Manifesto public final

GVG has met some councillors and leaders. We have had a permanent open invitation to all councillors for some time to meet with us, sadly only a few have responded.  Nonetheless, our invitation stands to all candidates to meet us for discussions and an explanation of our ideas and options explored in the attached plan.

It is hoped that any historic lack of interest in meeting to discuss the town centre will change with new candidates after the council election.

We recognise that councillors may not have an understanding of delivering the “built environment” let alone how to achieve a quality built environment but voters can still ask candidates: why they are standing; what they think can be achieved for the town and the countryside, both so important; what they know of the town’s needs; and their appreciation of the potential to deliver a truly “stellar” town – something I know is possible.

Delivery – What is required?

1. Release the town environmentally from heavy traffic.  This will be transformational for the existing sites and new ones which can be created from dual carriageways.

Guildford's Wharf viewed from the west. GVG's vision is for this to be redeveloped as a riverside leisure area.

Guildford’s Wharf area viewed from the west. GVG’s vision is for this car park to be redeveloped as a riverside leisure area.

2. Reunite Guildford Wharf on the riverside with the town, High Street and North Street.

3. Create a better town centre, more homes, more business space, more cultural and leisure activities, town squares and boulevards and pull together the eleven or so sites which could be available for this transition.

4. Create a better transportation hub at the station for passengers, buses, cyclists and motorists.

5. Create a new green environment throughout the town, extending along Walnut Tree Close and the River Wey to Ladymead with new homes and schools.

How do we achieve this financially? Where will the money come from?

All types of development, retail, office, leisure and business space are profitable in Guildford due to its strong local economy and position in the South East. But to deliver this project we need a major new crossing from York Road to the west side of the station crossing  the railway.

This would unite the west and east of Guildford and enable traffic to be diverted away (as can be seen in our outline plans).  Without this, we fear any solution will be a missed opportunity .

We need infrastructure funding through CIL (Community Infrastructure Levy) and to take advantage of other means to pay for the crossing. Thirty years, or so, ago this same cross route was on offer and could have been constructed, instead they went for the gyratory.

You will still hear the same negative arguments today that were put forward at the time. ‘Walnut Tree Close can’t be freed from flooding’, ‘anything to do with rail bridges is impossible because Network Rail will be unhelpful, even obstructive’, ‘this will create major delay and massively increase cost’ .

Undoubtedly some developers will tell you this is their expectation. However, Guildford’s proven importance to the UK economy and its unique problems as a gap town need unique solutions. This is why we need to be bold.

Importantly we need Guildford’s new MP, once elected, to be on side and assisted by those from surrounding constituencies the residents of which also stand to benefit from a better county town. Together we will all need to help fight the battle.

Crucially we will need strong, visionary leadership of the borough council and cooperation and support from the county council.

GVG’s plans are only illustrative possibilities; we are pleased to say that the council are preparing their own ideas through Allies & Morrison. We are looking forward to seeing them.

Whatever options are presented, this will be a once in a lifetime opportunity for us to open up the river, provide new homes to relieve the pressure on green belt and deliver a wonderful town centre with improved transportation.

Guildford could be on the brink of making this a great town, a great community and a great place to live and share with visitors. We must grasp the opportunity.

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Responses to Opinion: Guildford – A Town On The Brink

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    April 18, 2015 at 8:58 am

    While the Guildford Vision Group is always at the forefront of excellent ideas they have missed out on several points which could go some way to solve the log jam of housing and development in the borough. Their proposals are very town centre centric and not borough wide.

    Firstly attempting to move the most important piece of infrastructure, sewage to a site which fails to tick all the boxes, as the present one does, needs to be seriously re-considered. A more rational understanding of the implications should be put forward.

    The site is not ‘brown field’, it is in use for a most fundamental reason. Simply seeing it as a riverside condominium, a rich man’s new residence for the few, while the most important piece of borough infrastructure is shoved out the back with no consideration to the consequences, is unacceptable.

    Suggesting building on the river banks simply moves the flood waters down stream to Burpham and Riverside Nature Reserve already at present is under threat by damming the flood plain with the proposed Slyfield link road.

    This leads on to the second point, insetting villages in the green belt. If the villages of the borough were all inset then small parcels of building land could be brought into use, with no detriment of the overall green belt, and reduce the pressure on the borough’s urban areas.

  2. Bernard Parke Reply

    April 18, 2015 at 2:02 pm

    There is no doubt that the Guildford Vision Group (GVG) should be given some credit for their contribution to the possible redevelopment of out town.

    However, in the preamble I notice the two words “Election Manifesto”, I find them a little difficult to understand for, unlike the Guildford Greenbelt Group, these people are not seeking election to drive their policy forward.

    With so much experience in these matters there is much they could do to be an asset to the future quality of life of the people of Guildford. The GVG are knowledgeable people who would undoubtedly raise the quality of debate in the council chamber, something much needed.

    When one hears the word “vision” one tends to think of dreaming. I hope that this is not the case in this instance.

  3. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    April 18, 2015 at 7:38 pm

    I am a bit puzzled as to why the Guildford Vision Group (GVG) is putting forward its own ideas of how the town centre should be when their website says – “We will continue to lobby Guildford Borough Council (GBC) and all other relevant bodies, not in favour of any particular solution, simply to get a process under way in which you can all have your say in much more depth in the debate about Guildford’s future.”

    GVG has done very well to get Allies and Morrison on board and then got them engaged by GBC for developing the vision for Guildford. So why did GVG need to engage Haskoll, the architects, to produce yet another pretty picture of ideas not very dissimilar to Allies and Morrison’s, except that traffic is shown diverted over the Town Bridge on to Park Street and Guildford Park Road with a link over the railway and the river to Woodbridge Road.

    This is what the Guildford Society has already suggested, so nothing new there. What is needed now is to translate Allies and Morrison’s ideas into practical solutions that deal with the traffic, pedestrians, cyclists and bus routes satisfactorily. It is much more than planting trees in the middle of the road.

    John Rigg says – “Above all, we believe Guildford town centre needs to remove the all pervasive “gyratory”. It is bad on every measure. A four lane gyratory crossing the River Wey, not once but twice, is bad traffic management, bad planning and bad land use. Environmentally it blights one half of our town centre.”

    Shifting traffic to the west of the railway tracks is only transferring the problem to another area. Traffic still crosses the river twice and Farnham Road Bridge over the railway needs to be widened to four lanes at a location where building over the tracks would be well neigh impossible given that there is only a few hours of night time closure possible and it would be a near impossible task to maintain adequate Health and Safety during construction.

    The proposal for a dual carriageway means massive demolition of properties in Mary Road area and along Guildford Park Road although the sketch fails to illustrate the latter issue. I think it is unethical for GVG to publicly announce this as this would now blight properties along the proposed route.

    GVG further says: “Equally, we recognise every successful town or city needs to be a successful transportation hub.” What hub? Bus facilities are shown dotted all over the town. How do they interconnect and how are they part of the transportation hub with the railway?

    The list of what is wanting and what is desirable has been already aired on various meetings. Do we need more of the same? I think not. It is time detailed workable options are developed by the councils’ consultants and the pros and cons of preferred options discussed, analysed, revised and refined to produce what is best for Guildford.

  4. Gordon Bridger Reply

    April 20, 2015 at 7:33 pm

    Congratulations to the Guildford Vision Group (GVG) for promoting several new ideas which will oblige planners to give serious thought to what is best for the future of Guildford.

    Due to past inadequate planning we have lacked a comprehensive plan for the borough for some years. Logically, of course, a plan should be a first step in establishing the framework for the town centre.

    Such a plan would have identified the growth sectors of the economy and this would assist to establish policies and projects which would be prioritised for the borough.

    It should indicate that the economic growth sector has moved away from retail and the town centre to professional and educational services in a cluster outside the traditional town centre – around the university and research park.

    It should also identify priority for housing for the young skilled workers who are our future but who can no longer afford to come and work in Guildford due to high house prices caused by land planning restrictions and opposition by so many householders.

    The town centre plan produced by GVG seems light on housing in the town. The riverside may be a good idea but I suspect that the Environment Agency will object.

    The original Westfield plan had 175 housing units in the centre – now with a huge increased demand for housing and a diminishing demand for retail I hope that the town centre plan will give much higher priority to housing.

    Otherwise well done GVG.

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