Fringe Box



Opinion: A Tale of Two Meetings

Published on: 6 Sep, 2014
Updated on: 10 Sep, 2014

By Martin Giles

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”

A Tale of Two Meetings 2Charles Dickens’ introduction to A Tale of Two Cities cannot be bettered to sum up my feelings this week, having attended another two meetings on plans for Guildford.

First came the ‘best of times’, the vision presented by Guildford Vision Group (GVG) and Allies & Morrison who had been commissioned by Guildford Borough Council following their bust up and then, surprisingly affectionate, make up with GVG.

Artists impressions can be dangerous, as many disappointed holiday makers can tell you, but the images of a traffic free town centre were beguiling. Surely this vision is the correct one. Traffic is the town’s major curse, creating nasty road barriers and preventing the development of attractive public spaces.

Victorian architecture, … shamelessly copied styles from previous times (psst – and Tunsgate is not really a Tuscan arch!)

Opinion Logo 2When the architect chap said that his firm was renowned for its modern architecture I did twitch, as I did when he spat out the word ‘pastiche’ as if it were the height of bad taste.

Victorian architecture, including our now much loved and appreciated Arts and Crafts houses, were designed using directly and shamelessly copied styles from previous times (psst – and Tunsgate is not really a Tuscan arch!). Those styles evolved because of a thorough understanding of what pleases our eye.

But he went on to make the right noises about congruity so I tried to calm myself down.

Of course, making pretty pictures and even coming up with ideas, many of them not original, can be the easiest phase of a project. But the best plans have to be based on good ideas and there seemed to be several on offer. A large degree of consensus was most definitely in the air.

I left the meeting more optimistic than I had been despite the realistically cautious remark that even if a plan is agreed the first construction work would be at least seven years away. As usual at these affairs, there were few in the audience who would not be drawing their state pension by that time, even if they were still drawing breath.

Then ‘the worst of times’ a meeting of my local St Catherine’s Village Association to discuss the Draft Local Plan. One of our ward councillors, Caroline Reeves, carefully took us through the issues and the process

There is talk of a ‘silent majority’ that support large scale housing development… Well they seem very, very silent.

As always, when talking about the plan, the need to satisfy a government planning inspector came up. The requirement to satisfy him or her seems more important than the requirement to draw up a local plan that most people in this borough want. Surely it is hardly ‘local’ if it does not tick that box.

There is talk of a ‘silent majority’ that supports large scale housing development, represented by the 652 houses per year in the current draft plan. Well they seem very, very silent. They could teach church mice a thing or two about keeping quiet. (Please write in to: and tell me I am wrong.)

How the 652 figure, frightening to me, has been arrived at remains a bit of a mystery, especially as the population projections provided by the Office of National Statistics seem so changeable.

In any case, as one of the few members of the audience who was under 50 observed, if whole new roads of houses are built how can we ensure they can be afforded and bought by our children.

The short answer is we can’t. Developers will, of course, sell to the highest bidders. Our proximity to London makes the demand for Guildford houses almost insatiable, yet satisfying the needs of our children is still put forward as one justification for the housing figure.

Then there is infrastructure. It can hardly cope with our existing population. More houses will mean more people, and more people will mean more cars. Where will they go? The town’s topography does not allow for major new roads even if we were not in a borough that is 89 per cent green belt.

Which brings us to the green belt itself and the proposal to build on some bits of it. It might seem okay to use just a very small percentage but it can only be used once. As Cllr Richard Billington, a member of the GBC Executive, said, a little while ago: “Land is a precious resource: they have stopped making it.”

So what will happen in 2030 at the end of the Local Plan period. Will we look to use another few per cent? Where will it end? Will it really be the “far, far better place” that we all hope for?

Whether we end up with a heavenly Guildford or we are all going ‘the other way’ seems to be in the balance. One thing is for certain, if we don’t individually make our views known we can hardly blame others. So get writing – fill in those council questionnaires…

PS My wife and I visited Dumfries in south west Scotland the other day. It seemed to us like a ghost town at 7.30pm on a lovely evening. We wanted a bite but there was not a single restaurant in sight. I suspect they are desperate for some economic growth, something our bed and breakfast hosts near Castle Douglas confirmed. Seems to be something badly wrong somewhere.

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Responses to Opinion: A Tale of Two Meetings

  1. Richard Wilson Reply

    September 7, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    Is the Local Plan really a far, far better thing that we do, than we have ever done?

    Big developers prefer to build on the green belt, because it is more lucrative than building on brownfield sites, and the Government’s central planning inspectorate demand we allow them to, against our will.

    A Tale of Two Cities describes how a population is pushed too far by injustice and sweeps aside their oppressors. In the book, the peasantry of France storm the hated Bastille.

    Following the analogy of this article, will the voters of Guildford send tumbrils to take the aristocrats of Millmead to the electoral guillotine next May?

    Richard Wilson is Guildford’s prospective parliamentary candidate for the Labour Party.

  2. John Robson Reply

    September 8, 2014 at 8:23 am

    Isn’t the “silent majority” the other seven members of the Executive from Ash and the immediate surrounding area, who are hanging onto the coat-tails of our council leader and his stated “trajectory”.

    We understand that the proposed local plan will seek to expand the green belt around Ash and Tongham whilst we carpet bomb the green belt around the urban area. This will have the well chronicled, catastrophic effect on the the local schools, hospitals, congestion, etc.

    Is this confirmation of the Executive placing a formal barrier between them and us? Good job “We’re all in this together”.

  3. Jules Cranwell Reply

    September 8, 2014 at 10:48 am

    Perhaps it is time for this discredited Executive to go to a “far, far better rest… than they have ever known”

  4. Bernard Parke Reply

    September 8, 2014 at 12:20 pm

    I did enquire, a little while ago, why there were so many councillors on the Executive committee from the outlying area of Ash rather than more from central Guildford where the main action is.

    The Executive is made up of 50 per cent Ash & Tongham members, some of whom hold more than one portfolio.

    I was told that ward associations were not a consideration when Executive appointments are considered; the most important issue is to pick the right people for the job in hand.

    Seems logical but is it right.

  5. Peta Malthouse Reply

    September 8, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    The bit they are adding to the green belt at Ash has all the benefits that the major road building of the A331 gave them with enhanced house values and ease of access to London Reading M3/M4 as well as Basingstoke and the South Coast.

    Access to the M3 with it’s 3 and 4 lane facilities far outbest the poor A3. It appears that green belt is so needed for Ash that down the road in Normandy, where we have no infrastructure, a chunk out of our greenbelt has to be taken back.

    The Local Plan has always described Ash/Tongham as the urban area along with Guildford. Normandy, Flexford, Wyke, Willey Green, Pinewoods and Christmaspie, the hamlet in which I live and which forms part of the huge area of farmland that is greenbelt, the so called Normandy Parish, which has always been green belt.

    There is no reason to change either. There have to be “exceptional circumstances” and very good planning grounds not just the idea that they can move things about a bit. The plan is flawed in so many ways. We all need to help Guildford Borough by pointing these things out to them.

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