Fringe Box



Opinion: Positive Change for Guildford’s Town Centre Is Our Priority

Published on: 9 Jul, 2022
Updated on: 14 Jul, 2022

The debate on the redevelopment of the Debenhams building and North Street continues. The Conservatives in Guildford have reservations and even the Residents for Guildford & Villages ruling partners at GBC seem luke-warm, at best, about the plans.

Here in response to a letter from a town centre Conservative representative (‘Something Must Be Done’ Is the Worst Approach to Decision Making) John Rigg, the R4GV lead GBC councillor for Regeneration further explains his position and objectives including his view on the controversial issue of building height control…

Cllr John Rigg

By John Rigg

Richard Mills, chair of Guildford Town Centre Conservatives, is a brave fellow to own up to his title.

Let’s be clear, the Conservatives bear the responsibility for the current condition of Guildford town centre after years of their do-nothing approach.

Previous councils failed miserably to bring forward any improvements or environmental wins for the benefit of the community. Today this is plainly evident, whether you are walking from the station to the town centre, or to the bus station or attempting to walk along the riverside.

By contrast, within the ruling R4GV/Lib Dem coalition at GBC, R4GV has, in the short time it has had since September 2020, seized the opportunity and is making a difference.

St Marys Wharf before and after the proposed height reduction.

The Masterplan and Shaping Guildford’s Future proposals are committed to improving the town centre, the beating heart of the borough.

These proposals address flooding, pollution, accidents and congestion. They target active travel, environmental, low carbon and sustainable improvements. These are all much-needed changes previous administrations put in the “too hard to tackle” box.

With support, the proposals will turn the tide on the years of neglect. Even the government inspector in the 2019 Local Plan Inquiry used the word “appalling” to describe parts of the town centre.

So I strongly disagree with Richard Mills’ view that  “Something must be done is the worst possible approach to decision-making”. Instead, my party has made positive change a priority and I am committed to trying to make a difference and stop the general deterioration of our town centre.

I prefer, when we need homes so desperately, to build them on derelict sites in the town centre.

I prefer, when we need a new neighbourhood to help the High Street, to create one far less dependent on cars than the previous council’s preference for building car-dependent homes on the green belt.

And I prefer, when it comes to building heights, to have a limit. But, historically, no planning policies have been in place to set a fixed maximum height. My group remains in favour of changing this, if it can secure support from other parties.

Aerial view of the North Street regeneration site as it is.

As for the North Street development, it varies from four stories behind North Street to 13 storeys, sandwiched between the bus station and the BT Building, at the lowest part of the site. I think this approach works well.

The planning application has yet to be submitted. It will be subject to planning policies put in place by the Tories, which in terms of the town centre are not just inadequate but, in so many areas, wholly absent.

Faced with this, we negotiated additional protections with the North Street developer (such as reducing the original 735 units to around 500) and before it goes to the council planning department.

We will effect changes to this situation, and these policies, as part of Shaping Guildford’s Future, which will set a course for a better Guildford.

Illustrative view of the proposed North Street development, The Friary Quarter.

The height comparison with Woking is invidious and scaremongering. At this particular time of political turmoil, the charge of “gloss, hype and evasions” from the chair of the town centre Conservatives also brings to mind the old adage “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”.

I am delighted with the latest proposals, particularly with the way the developer has set out to understand the views and concerns of residents.

I want the site developed, not derelict. I want the bus station refurbished. It is awful.

A CGI of proposed plans for the Friary Quarter in North Street.

Working with the developer is the only way we will achieve the wins we want. There are no other offers on the table. The bus station, for instance, is never going to be refurbished by either the county council, responsible for bus services, or the bus operators.

So the option is no planning gain, no bus station wins and only further deterioration.

I want a pedestrianised North Street to be an accident-free and pollution-free destination with a better market place and a lively cafe culture to reflect well on Guildford. I want North Street to help attract visitors to the town, as well as serving the new residents in the development.

See also: St Mary’s Wharf Cuts Building Height But ‘Still Too Big’ Says Objectors

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Responses to Opinion: Positive Change for Guildford’s Town Centre Is Our Priority

  1. S Collins Reply

    July 9, 2022 at 5:21 pm

    Will building height restrictions be an issue if some people get their way and Guildford becomes a city?

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