Fringe Box



Opinion: The Masterplan – GGG say Too Little, Too Late

Published on: 24 Oct, 2015
Updated on: 29 Oct, 2015

By Andrew Procter

writing on behalf of the Guildford Greenbelt Group

Allies & Morrison Masterplan Report 2015Guildford stands at a critical point in terms of its future development. There are some very exciting opportunities for kick starting long awaited regeneration.

But the Masterplan prepared by Allies & Morrison is on the whole a disappointment and a great deal of work still needs to be done.

It is unbalanced, too cautious and self-limiting and many of its development proposals are not supported by clear evidence of demand.

Crucially it concentrates largely on retail and office development for which there is no clear evidence of demand and fails to exploit the full potential of brownfield residential redevelopment.

There is an urgent requirement for more housing units in the town yet the plan allows for just 2,500 additional units. There is untapped opportunity to provide many more units at a number of locations including: Woodbridge Meadows, Walnut Tree Close, the Station (which could be decked over), existing Guildford Borough Council (GBC) car parks (which extend to 25 acres) and sites unnecessarily zoned for retail and office development.

A surprisingly large site brownfield site in Walnut Tree Close.

A surprisingly large site brownfield site in Walnut Tree Close.

Making full use of existing brownfield sites could provide as much as 6000 additional housing units and 40% of these could be affordable.

Guildford should be the residential accommodation hub for the borough. Effective residential expansion could facilitate a modal shift away from the car and provide accommodation close to existing transport hubs.

The increase in population would provide the necessary economic impact and spend that the town’s existing retail and leisure units desperately need. Changing demographics have led to a shift to smaller households and this need is not adequately reflected in the Plan.

There are already enough large houses around Guildford and its catchment area. Smaller units make more efficient use of land. They can be delivered more cheaply at higher density allowing building nearer to the centre.

Platform 5 at Guildford Railway Station where the fatal incident occurred.

Guildford Railway Station – “could be decked over”

Walking to the station, places of employment and easy access to shopping and entertainment would all become possible. It could considerably reduce journey times, improve air quality and make more efficient use of infrastructure and services.

GBC are in a strong position to fast track the brownfield development process and the complete lack of urgency shown in the Masterplan to make use of this is very disappointing. Many of the proposals are over 10 years away. This is too late and the wait is simply not necessary.

GBC hold all the cards. They are the planning authority…

GBC hold all the cards. They are the planning authority and can provide agreed development briefs with detailed guidance on surrounding infrastructure proposals. Developers can respond with confidence to make early planning applications that can be fast tracked.

In many cases GBC are the majority land owner and can avoid the long delays and problems of site assembly. Where land needs to be acquired GBC have compulsory purchase order (CPO) powers for the better planning of the area.

GBC are also in an excellent position to facilitate relocation to other sites they own and to fast track any new planning consents required. All they need is the determination to see it through. This should all be quite enough to make development of brownfield happen within 5 years. Why wait?

The concentration in the Masterplan on massive expansion of the retail core is a voice from the past. Retail centres in the UK are currently fragile. They need to be maintained, not over expanded. Over the last 10 years high street margins have shrunk in the very real “clicks and mortar” war.

Guildford is no exception to the national decline in retail. Retail rents have been flat lining since the recession.

The concentration in the Masterplan on massive expansion of the retail core is a voice from the past.

Opinion Logo 2This plan fails to show real evidence of demand. There is an apparent lack of understanding of the realities of today’s property market. 500,000 sq ft of extra retail space is proposed and is equivalent to one department store and 250 standard size shop units. Five existing charity shops in the High Street do not suggest a particularly healthy retail core.

Land Securities who were trying to line up John Lewis as an anchor have recently turned their back on Guildford. There is no sign of another replacement anchor store. The reality is that the Masterplan support for retail expansion is aspirational and the recent Retail Study updated for the town by Carter Jonas is big on optimistic conclusions based on flimsy threads in mainly gloomy forecasts.

The Masterplan support for an expansion of 500,000 sq ft of office space is equally, if not more, aspirational. The plan does not contain a single statement that demonstrates actual demand for offices. The commentary in the Masterplan is clear: “take up in Guildford is at historically low levels”.

The reality is that rental levels and demand for office space do not support such an expansion and existing vacant office space is already undergoing conversion to housing. Building offices will not magically produce tenants. Instead, both retail and office occupancy would be likely to benefit from residential expansion.

Pushing residential development, as this plan will do, into the countryside may be an easy and immediately lucrative option in the short term but the constraints of ever more overcrowded roads and an infrastructure that cannot cope will not encourage economic growth in the town.

Traffic is already a factor in restricting the attraction of Guildford as a venue.

Access will become more and more difficult and the whole area less desirable to live in. Traffic is already a factor in restricting the attraction of Guildford as a venue.

We further believe opportunity will be lost if Guildford does not strive for high quality definition and its importance as a visitor attraction hub is not exploited. This could be much better articulated in the Masterplan.

Guildford has great potential to become a “must see” destination for tourists and visitors. It is surrounded by the natural beauty of the Surrey Hills and already distinguished as an historic county town.

Guildford Castle

Guildford Castle – central in Guildford’s historic quarter

The historic part of the town has potential to become a centre with a real sense of vibrancy and atmosphere. The attractions of the museum, the Castle, the Wey and the High Street, including its views of the Hogs Back should be creatively linked. Perhaps a ‘Pilgrims Trail’ could be marked with footsteps from station to river and up through the historic heart of the town.

Looking to examples such as Bath, Chester and York could be instructive. The economic impact would create big advantages for both the leisure and the niche speciality retail sectors in the town.

The historic part of the town has potential to become a centre with a real sense of vibrancy and atmosphere.

It would be a great mistake if Guildford were to opt for large impersonal department stores and dull high street chain stores at the expense of exploiting its uniqueness and character which would afford greater benefits. Guildford the historic “Gateway to the Surrey Hills” has far more potential than Guildford just any other stereotypical boring centre found anywhere around London.

We sincerely hope that GBC will listen and facilitate the rewriting of a more practical, imaginative and workable plan.

More can be read about the Guildford Greenbelt Group’s response to the Masterplan here.

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