Fringe Box



Opinion: Ten Blocks of Flats in North Street Would Overwhelm the Townscape

Published on: 29 Aug, 2022
Updated on: 1 Sep, 2022

By John Harrison

I attended the Friary Development exhibition you recently reported on (see: 15 Storeys High But People At North Street Exhibition Say It’s ‘Good For Guildford’) but the report did not give the full story.

The developer is budgeting £6.9 million on marketing and PR (source: Savills’ viability study) so should be able to mount a convincing exhibition. But a lot was left out.

The image on the St Edwards’ site – surely not the actual North Street scheme?

This is the first page I saw on its website with an image next to the “Support the proposal” button that is surely not actually of the scheme. How many people pushed the button thinking this is what they were going to get? The Dragon needs to add some balance.

Below is the view from the Hog’s Back and the North Downs to the west of Guildford, showing how the outline of the ten blocks of flats would overwhelm the townscape. It gives a good idea of just how big and out of place the scheme would be.

The view of the proposed North Street buildings from the Hog’s Back.

Another view (this time full CGI) from Swan Lane again shows how large the scheme is. These two-dimensional views do not give the same impression as you would get walking along and seeing the view unfold in 3-D. Compare the height of the window openings on the left and right-hand parts of the CGI to get a sense of scale.

The left-hand half is twice as high though set a little way back from North Street. And the much vaunted Town Square is largely invisible, even with the fountains going, proving it will be too small to be of any real benefit.

The envisaged view (CGI) of the view from Swan Lane.

Also note how small a gap there is either side of the replacement Woodbridge Road that divides the two halves: imagine the overbearing canyoning effect that will be created.

The developer blames the lack of affordable housing on the £10 million it is spending on a bus station facelift and paving a bit of North Street, but this is nearly as much as its PR exercise.

We did not have to tolerate a huge block of flats in order to get the High Street repaved; why should we do so to see North Street pedestrianised? What are the highway authority and our council tax for?

Like supporters of the scheme, I also want to see something done and utterly condemn the council for vacillating over this site for the last 25 years. But these flats are to be sold on 999-year leases so if we cram too many on at the proposed density we will have a very long time to suffer the visual and societal fallout.

The Guildford scheme is 473 units on 6.4 acres (2.6 hectares) [Savills’ viability report] giving 74 units/acre (183/ha). This compares to the same developer’s recently started scheme in Southall at 42 units per acre (104/ha) based on the Wikipedia site area.

The design is remarkably similar but there is much more greenery around in newly created parkland.

At the Southall density we would get 269 units. Let’s therefore try and get it right, refuse overdevelopment, and recognise that if the negotiation is protracted it is because GBC does not have a proper plan with clear parameters as most towns do.

Meanwhile on the Mount, adjoining the Downs from where the photograph was taken, 5-bedroom, 5-bathroom mansions are being built at a density of about one unit per acre.

Proper planning would help ensure that something in between the two extremes, appropriate for Guildford and its residents, was actually being built.

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Responses to Opinion: Ten Blocks of Flats in North Street Would Overwhelm the Townscape

  1. Barry Williams Reply

    August 29, 2022 at 5:54 pm

    A great comment from John Harrison.

    Might it be helpful to our councillors and the GBC Planning Committee to see that photograph with a wider viewpoint that incorporates the outline view of North Street and the Friary Quarter, together with the already approved 10 storey Solum station development and the proposed former Debenhams, now St. Mary’s Wharf, edifice?

    Such large schemes that affect the town centre should be viewed as a whole and not as individual sites. GBC have the resources to provide such views – what have they got to lose?

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