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Opinion: The Council Must Stop Ignoring the Community on Planning

Published on: 30 Nov, 2022
Updated on: 1 Dec, 2022

Gavin Morgan

By Gavin Morgan

Founder of the Guildford Heritage Forum

Are we losing control of our town? We need to unite around a plan that delivers what Guildford needs rather than what developers want.

The town’s lack of enthusiasm for granting planning permission to “St Mary’s Wharf”, formerly Debenhams, was very apparent. It was passed by one vote (six votes to five) but only a minority of the GBC Planning Committee was in favour due to two abstentions and two unsubstituted absentees.

See: Single Vote Decides Debenhams Plan Following Wide-ranging Debate

The chair was inadvertently heard to call it a “bloody awful building”, the Guildford Society and Guildford Residents Association objected. Even Historic England objected saying: “We recommend that the application is refused consent” due to the harm that would be caused to St Mary’s church (Grade I) and St Nicolas Church (Grade II*), as well as more broadly, the town centre conservation areas. (See letter here.)

…what developers offer is what is in their interests – more height to yield more profit”

But the town is divided on this issue. I think The Guildford Dragon NEWS neatly explained the probable reason why when Martin Giles wrote “clearly no one wanted an increasingly derelict building to decay slowly for decades as we have seen happen elsewhere in the town”: North Street has been an embarrassing wasteland for decades. Many letters to The Dragon have stressed the need to get on with something.

The model of the proposed North Street Regeneration, “The Friary Quarter”.

The problem with the “something is better than nothing” approach is we end up accepting whatever developers offer. And what developers offer is what is in their interests – more height to yield more profit.

Guildford needs a better strategy than just hoping for the best”

So what needs to be done? There is no point trying to push back the sea. As we saw at the station, the government appeals process will support development in the town and will support tall buildings. There are housing quotas to be fulfilled, the town centre needs revitalising and residents want to protect the green belt by building on brownfield sites.

But Guildford needs a better strategy than just hoping for the best. It must prevent developers dreaming up massive schemes and believing they can force the council’s hand by appealing to a government inspector.

I believe Guildford can remove their “trump card” by showing the government that it is tackling the need for more housing and is open to developers for business. This can be achieved through a proper, well-thought-out plan that shows how these objectives can be met and what Guildford will allow.

Developers will still come because there is profit to be made but their ambition for excessive profit will be curtailed because the likelihood of them being able to successfully appeal will be reduced.

Is such a plan possible? Guildford is investing £3 million in a Master Plan. There is clearly the money to get the right people on the job. The Guildford Society which has many experienced architects has explained what needs to be done

“The society believes it is imperative to show how major schemes will impact and interact with each other; and more importantly the rest of the town centre.  This needs to cover both distant views and as experienced at ground level within the town. Large bulky buildings can make for very hostile street environments. The council have tools to enable this and use a computer model and VU.City. This should be made public so schemes can be made visible.”

How many more letters will it take to get the council working with the community on this. Guildford Borough Council must stop ignoring them and show it is capable of taking control of Guildford’s future.

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test 2 Responses to Opinion: The Council Must Stop Ignoring the Community on Planning

  1. S Callanan Reply

    November 30, 2022 at 2:48 pm

    I’m puzzled by a number of aspects of this whole thing.

    First, I don’t really see how planning can be a political matter at local level, so I don’t see how voting can divide on party lines.

    Second, I certainly don’t see how a councillor can abstain – either a project is worthy of planning permission or it’s not. It’s not a matter of conscience, after all. If a planning committee member isn’t prepared to use their vote they can always stand down.

    Third, if a member of the committee is unable to attend and there’s an important matter under review they must, surely, arrange for a substitute to attend in their place. Had this happened here we might have had a different (though not necessarily the right) result?

  2. Harry Eve Reply

    December 1, 2022 at 11:36 am

    The Government must also stop ignoring the community on planning. The Local Plan has not established the principle of development for its sites or green belt removal because it was based on false evidence – and knowingly so. There are many dark clouds hanging over the borough – including Berkeley Homes in Effingham, Taylor Wimpey at Wisley and East Horsley, and several others in the Horsleys.

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