Fringe Box



Opinion: The Lib Dem Cop Out is Costing Guildford

Published on: 9 Feb, 2023
Updated on: 10 Feb, 2023

Bill Stokoe

Bill Stokoe is the chair of the Guildford  Vision Group but writes here in a personal capacity to give his view of the situation in the wake of the borough council Planning Committee’s decision to refuse the application for the major redevelopment of North Street.

I certainly hope that Berkeley Homes sticks with Guildford, despite the expensive rebuff it suffered at the hands of the Lib Dems and Tories who decided at last month’s Planning Committee to turn down its North Street application.

See: Cllr Rigg Says ‘If the Developers Walk Away It Will Be A Disaster for Guildford’

But what was very clear from the recent Dragon interview of R4GV’s Cllr John Rigg is that, because of the actions of some Guildford councillors, Guildford’s reputation as a place not to do business is reinforced. This is despite John Rigg’s undoubted expertise and best efforts on behalf of those that want improvement and changes in the town centre.

It is so disappointing, tragic even, that Lib Dem councillors, in particular, could not get their act together (but they have form in that respect – witness their lack of opposition in the 2019 Local Plan vote).

See also: Lib Dem Planning Chair: ‘Current Policy Doesn’t Work for Local People’

They had numerous opportunities to establish whether or not they were pre-disposed to support the comprehensive development of North Street, the ninth attempt on a brownfield site that has lain fallow and derelict for 30 years or more. It appears they made little effort to do so, so just copped out on the day.

A developer’s impression of how the scheme might have looked. Image St Edwards.

What has been attempted in four years by the lead councillor for Regeneration and the co-founder of GVG, is notable by any standards. Guildford Vision Group lobbied with some success for the riverside to be opened up for wider public access and enjoyment. It has promoted wider pedestrianisation of the town centre and reduction in congestion on the gyratory with the concomitant health and safety benefits.

In the course of his time as Regeneration lead, we have seen the Debenhams development set to deliver new homes and a rejuvenated riverside experience, while at the same time helping the Yvonne Arnaud connect even better with the town centre. Provided, of course, that the Lib Dems do not seek to block the subsequent bridge application.

We also have the launch of the “Shaping Guildford’s Future” masterplan. This is on track to deliver a proper, structured and comprehensive planning policy framework that can help ensure our town’s regeneration and sustained economic vitality. This is another initiative for which R4GV should take credit. Will the Lib Dems block this as well?

Cllr John Rigg

And in the case of North Street, it took four years to shape a development with the developer that, when inherited in 2019, contemplated 750 homes at height, with a large and unrealistic retail element (the latter another example of the dreadful 2019 Plan). And it included an expensive and unpopular move of the bus station to Leapale Road.

The scheme the Lib Dems turned down last month was also subject to machinations by the Tories, masterminded most likely at local and county level, sadly with backing from our MP and Secretary of State Michael Gove.

Their collective purpose can only have been to thwart R4GV. Not surprising perhaps, given the progress the new party has made.

The consequence of this Lib Dem-Tory action saw Guildford reject the developer’s offer to put £5 million much-needed cash into the council’s coffers, deliver 473 new sustainable homes, pedestrianise North Street (£2.1 million), create 1.6 acres of public realm and green space and refurbish the bus station at a cost of £4.2 million – a revamp that would take hundreds of bus journeys away from the gyratory and North Street.

When it comes to building heights there’s still little, if any, protection for us…”

The re-routeing revamp would eliminate the Russian roulette of buses threading their way through vulnerable shoppers crossing the roads around the Friary centre. Then there’s £6.2 million of S106 compensation contributions to local education, a health centre etc fallen by the wayside.

When it comes to building heights there’s still little, if any, protection for us post the 2018 Solum decision that is allowing 10 storeys in a continuous line along the tracks at the railway station.

The unfortunate success of that application at appeal can be traced back directly to the lamentable lack of an appropriate policy for town centre development by the last Tory council.

The consequence of muddled thinking is here for us all to see.”

The current irony regarding building height concerns will now be played out in Guildford Park Road.

Here, the Lib Dem leadership is pursuing a scheme, long in the making, that hopes to deliver 40 per cent affordable housing. Most notably it reaches nine storeys on probably one of the higher locations in town and interferes with cathedral views. This is will be the same height as North Street, which they have just refused as too high!

The consequence of muddled thinking is here for us all to see. How disappointing for Guildford. How disappointing for R4GV and Cllr Rigg. He is on record for supporting a zonal height policy, on record for supporting an architectural competition for large, important schemes, on record for supporting homes in the town centre, opening up the riverside, widening pedestrianisation and dealing with the safety and health hazards of a congested gyratory.

How much longer can the Lib Dems continue to just block whilst not offering a single, pragmatic idea of their own?

If Guildford wants to see regeneration, difficult planning issues addressed and our town’s economy revitalised, it had better try to make sure it supports those that want to make a difference and not those that just want to block.

No more sticking plaster coalitions, please. It’s too expensive!

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Responses to Opinion: The Lib Dem Cop Out is Costing Guildford

  1. Ben Paton Reply

    February 10, 2023 at 10:03 am

    Isn’t it marvellous how all that GBC Councillors can do is blame each other?

    R4GV says it is the Lib Dems’ fault. The Lib Dems say that it is R4GV’s fault. They all blame the Guildford “Conservatives”.

    The blame game does not serve the public. The Public thinks: “A plague on all your houses!

    Instead of blaming each other why don’t these “public servants” serve the public by fixing the problem – starting with the Local Plan?

  2. Nick Wyschna Reply

    February 10, 2023 at 11:20 am

    A fantastic letter from Bill Stokoe. Brilliantly put as always.

  3. RWL Davies Reply

    February 12, 2023 at 2:16 pm

    Sound observations from Bill Stokoe.

    Another commentator referred to GBC councillors as being a combination of “young political wannabes and stale old time-servers, devoted to attacking each other by any means possible”. Harsh, but not without merit.

    Perhaps the councillors could learn from studying the Congress of Vienna in 1815 which took nine months to reorganise Europe after the defeat of Napoleon.

    Like many I look forward to the 30th anniversary of the Millmead footbridge repair negotiations.

  4. Alan Cooper Reply

    February 13, 2023 at 5:11 pm

    An excellent letter from Bill Stokoe highlighting the inefficiency of GBC and why Guildford is not only becoming (or already is) a mess.

    The incessant dithering may well deter further proposed investment.

    Just how long is this nonsense going to go on? It is detrimental not only to the town and its businesses but residents. We obviously require a major change in the local councillors.

  5. Keith Francis Reply

    February 15, 2023 at 8:44 am

    When was the last time that the GBC councillors who voted down the North Street proposal went on a bus to or from the Guildford bus station? To experience what it can be like they should be compelled to use the buses to get to GBC meetings.

    And SCC councillors must use the buses to go to Reigate for 10am meetings so they can all try what many residents would find impossible, ie to get there in time from their homes.

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