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Opinion: The GVG Plan – It Is Time For Councillors To Properly Engage With Us

Published on: 9 Feb, 2017
Updated on: 11 Feb, 2017

Opening up the riverside in Guildford is a central plank of the GVG plan and is also an objective of the council

By Bill Stokoe

Director of Guildford Vision Group

It’s a shame that some councillors have so quickly taken agin our proposals as presented at the public meeting last week.

We invited all councillors to a pre-launch event where they could have questioned us closely. Indeed there’s been an open invitation to them to attend our weekly meetings ever since we started five years ago.We haven’t seen many.

We recognise the scale and ambition of what we propose and the need to engage with as wide a community as possible. But we struggle when it comes to councillors and the council, although the leader, Paul Spooner, did invite us to present to the Executive last week.

Last Wednesday was a big step forward for us. More than 400 attendees were invited to complete a questionnaire. Around half did. Only 3% did not like our plan. 77% were in favour of most or all of it. When it came to the new crossing, 94% were in favour with 92% supporting the new cross town route.

As a group of local residents, it is absurd to suggest we could somehow commit our town to the plan. So I don’t understand the question in one comment, ‘When will it start?’

We would like it to start tomorrow but persuading councillors of its features and benefits will inevitably take time, even before any formal planning and development process begins.

And therein lies the challenge. There has been no significant, ‘big win’ development within Guildford over the last 20-30 years. What have successive elected council administrations and councillors done?

Yet the population, business and visitor traffic has grown and is set to grow by another 20-30%. Businesses are voting with their feet over congestion. Other towns are eating our lunch.

Where has been the new infrastructure? Where has been the 30-year plan and leadership?

All we have is a Local Plan from 2003, a Masterplan that is ‘approved’ but not adopted, and now a Town Centre Regeneration Strategy (interestingly published just days before our Feb 1 meeting) that is ‘aspirational’ and clearly stated as not forming planning policy.

Piecemeal developers are going to love that, not least Solum as they go to appeal over their much opposed plan for the railway station.

On one side of town we have a university, hospital and research park where world-leading space, health and digital technology, among other great stuff, is being developed.

We should be proud of that.

On the other side of town we have traffic congestion, serious accidents (another this week) and pollution that puts us in the top 3% of the country, not enough town centre homes and a town riverside strangled by a concrete traffic collar and blighted by carpark tarmac along its length.

We should be ashamed of that.

And our plan, while quite detailed, despite our very slim, self-funded resources, is the result of engaging with the public over five years. Our public meetings have drawn large audiences, typically 200 people or more.

We have collected quite a volume of contributions since we started. Our vision document ‘Guildford on the Way’ incorporates a wide selection and helped shape our approach to reinvigorating our town centre.

I can quite understand the concern of residents nearby possible development sites. Those in Rupert Road made objection to the council’s plans for homes and a tall multi-storey car park (MSCP) on their Guildford Park Road site, recently approved by the Planning Committee.

Our plan does away with the MSCP and moves parking closer to the platforms on two levels underneath the new road on the western edge from the crossing to (a new) Farnham Road bridge.

A new bridge or crossing taking north-south traffic over the river and railway line, then alongside the station before re-crossing, if necessary the line and river again over rebuilt bridges, is at the heart of the GVG plan to free large areas of the town of traffic.

Whether one chooses to call our crossing a bridge or a flyover, its height needs only to be around that of the current pedestrian bridge at the station.

At a slope of 1:40 from York Road onwards, its gentle gradient is much less than many roads we use in and around Guildford quite happily. Its impact will be shielded by new buildings either side.

Obviously the design is not yet on the drawing board but we see plenty of scope for through access underneath it that will prevent it being any sort of barrier.

If the Solum station scheme gets built, you certainly won’t see it from the centre! Our plan would deliver a much more user-friendly station, including better access for those with disabilities. It would be a properly integrated transport hub, with more platforms to help cope with demand.

“We want the riverside to be much more accessible and attractive.”

Our starting point is making our town more pedestrian friendly, safer and less polluted in the centre. We want the riverside to be much more accessible and attractive. We want to see a much more pleasant car-free route from the town to the station, and beyond to the cathedral and university.

We have respected our heritage and setting. We have concentrated development on areas where the town is tired, and with an unappealing juxtaposition of residential, commercial and light industrial.

There will be people affected by our plan, as there are by most major developments within a built up area. We have set out to minimise the impact while securing the benefits of our goals. We have compromised.

We accept that there must be a debate about what is to be in the town centre – be it our five new squares, two acres of open realm and 1500 metres of revitalised riverside or some other approach. And not to forget the nearly 3,000 new homes.

As for architecture and design – yes, let’s have the debate. Surrey vernacular, crisp, new modern or something else? We certainly won’t be supporting more of council-approved Waitrose-style building or inappropriate use of town centre space that could be used for much needed housing.

We readily accept our plan will bend and flex should it head toward implementation. But we are quite firm as to its ambition. Piecemeal just won’t do. Piecemeal, site by site development won’t win us the substantial community benefits. Piecemeal leads to individual jigsaws that will never fit together properly or effectively. You’ll never get to see a comprehensive big picture that way.

We are looking at holding a repeat of the plan meeting at a later time so commuters can attend. We also want to target a younger audience as we recognise the benefits of what we propose will fall to our successors.

Please look out for our announcement. In the meantime, please see the materials on our website guildfordvisiongroup.com or email us your comments and questions at: action@guildfordvisiongroup.com.

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test 2 Responses to Opinion: The GVG Plan – It Is Time For Councillors To Properly Engage With Us

  1. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    February 10, 2017 at 9:33 am

    It is normal practice to explore options before a preferred scheme is put forward. GVG’s presentation only centred on one option of taking traffic away from the town centre.

    Creating public squares and pedestrian routes are all very desirable but re-routing traffic in the way suggested must be able to cope with the volume of traffic including some increase that would come from new housing under the local plans of Guildford and Waverley Borough Councils. Currently a reduction through “modal shift” of some 27% is needed for their plan according to GVG and so there is no provision for future growth in traffic.

    The presentation only mentioned of two-way cycle route over the flyover and pedestrianisation but did not mention about how wide the new link needs to be.

    Pedestrianisation of the town centre could also be done without re-routing the roads if they are kept along their existing directions and made more direct. A viaduct over the A281 could achieve this but not considered as this would ruin the character of Guildford and would not be acceptable. A viable alternative is described as below,-

    1. Millbrook, the A281, could be taken under the existing route in a tunnel-like structure leaving the surface route free of traffic. It would achieve the same advantages as the GVG plan.

    2. Portsmouth Road northbound traffic could be taken through Walnut Tree Close, made one-way beyond the junction of Station View, and a new two-way bridge over river Wey to Woodbridge Road north of the York Road roundabout.

    3. The east-west traffic would use a similar Flyover, located at the northernmost edge of the station car park, but only two-lane wide plus cycle ways, as in GVG’s plan but terminated in Mary Road area.

    4. A one-way two-lane link from Woodbridge Road next to the Police Station would connect Mary Road and the Flyover and continue to Leas Road, also to be made one-way. Margaret Road would connect Leas Road and this one-way link.

    5. The southbound traffic heading for Portsmouth Road would use this flyover.

    6. Town Bridge would remain as it is but opened up for local traffic with weight restriction if necessary. Farnham Road Bridge would not require widening. Although it may need to be strengthened or replaced utilising the existing supports, this is a separate maintenance issue.

    7. All the above has been explained with sketches on my website that has been in the public domain since 2009 and has been periodically added to with ideas since then. Searching for ‘revamp Guildford gyratory’ would access it.

    8. The cost of this scheme is likely to be lower than GVG’s and less problematical as the shorter single span bridge over the tracks suggested by me could be launched safely without interfering with the running of the trains. GVG has not said whether they have consulted Network Rail and explored the feasibility of constructing their bridge over the tracks and replacing Farnham Road Bridge with a wider realigned bridge.

    9. The tunnel-like structure for the A281 could be built in two halves keeping one lane of traffic running whilst the southbound lane is diverted utilising Bridge Street or Quarry Street or Friary Bridge or the Flyover as necessary.

    10. A high level walkway from the railway station to the Friary would provide a direct and a safer route for the pedestrians. Existing routes would of course be retained and provide routes out of hours when the walkway may have to be closed to avoid anti-social incidents. In this connection, I would like to mention the added need for maintaining safety of users of the riverside tracks if they are extended as in GVG’s plan. A recent incident of assault adjacent to the river has taken place as reported in the media.

    11. Finally, Friary Bridge could be removed or used for pedestrian access/area that could be used, if so desired, to relocate North Street market.

    This alternative plan ticks all the boxes, costs probably a good deal less, the relocation of the buses need not wait until the Flyover is built and so North Street Redevelopment could proceed. The bus station could be relocated now in Mary Road area and the bus routes redesigned to connect the railway station and the town centre before going on to the bus station where all transfer connections could be made.

  2. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    April 28, 2017 at 4:23 pm

    Would GVG care to respond to my previous comments one way or another? They should either say that all points raised by me do not need any answers or there are no problems with their scheme.

    I would like to know to what extent has GVG liaised and consulted with Network Rail about the feasibility of their proposals. Realigning Farnham Road Bridge and taking a swathe of land to run a link parallel to Guildford Park Road and having a flying easement over the land on the east for the wide flyover will not be easy if my own experience of dealings with Network Rail during my professional career is anything to go by.

    Maybe GVG had better luck in persuading Network Rail to give up their land for the benefit of people of Guildford. Now that will be a very noble gesture but, I think, not very likely.

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