Fringe Box



Opinion: Waiting For Waitrose

Published on: 1 Aug, 2013
Updated on: 1 Aug, 2013

Further delay of the Waitrose development in Guildford now seems inevitable.

As expected, M&G Investments, the new owners of the Friary centre and linked sites, withdrew its legal challenge, an application for a judicial review, as soon as the council gave it a partnership role in the North Street development.

There was speculation that the Guildford Vision Group (GVG), might show some magnanimity, and follow suit, withdrawing its application too.

The site near York Road where Waitrose hopes to built a store.

The site near York Road where Waitrose hopes to built a store.

Its reward might have been an improvement in its relationship with councillors and even its level of influence. There might have been an understanding that a quid deserved a quo.

But not a bit of it. Even while acknowledging that two of the three grounds on which its application for judicial review have been made were redundant, The GVG has dug its heels in and, in the face of a refusal High Court judge, has requested an oral hearing, unlikely to take place for another three months.

For some this might seem a principled stand, to paraphrase Kipling GVG could be said  to be “keeping their heads when all about them others are losing theirs and blaming it on them”. For others it might be seen as stubborn or, even worse, arrogant.

Many have complained that the GVG is unelected. This is obviously true and a definite handicap. We don’t have the chance to vote for someone else.

Opinion Logo 2But before we condemn too quickly we should remember that GVG’s  highlighting of the irregularity of previous council planning documents might have done all of us a big favour, not least the council. If the documents had been pushed through and later successfully challenged it could have led to a planning fiasco, something the council should acknowledge.

It is also true that there has been considerable support for the group’s sustained stand on the need for an overall masterplan for the town, drawn up by experts.

It would be a shame if despite this well supported argument, now pretty much conceded by the council, many in Guildford lose all patience with GVG.

GVG says, in its recent press release, there were more who wrote to object against the plan (120) in the three wards closest to the Waitrose site than those who wrote in support (52).

But whether the majority of those most affected still, or ever, supported the GVG position on Waitrose is more questionable. Even those who might not like every aspect of the scheme, the closure of the underpass, the effect on York Road traffic or the style of the development itself, might still now wish to see the project progressed.

The progress is desired because derelict sites are not only visually depressing they can drive down property prices, cause planning blight and, more importantly, attract antisocial behaviour, even crime.

Artist's impression of how the planned Waitrose store may look from The Bars.

Artist’s impression of how the planned Waitrose store may look from The Bars.

The Guildford Dragon NEWS has consistently called for compromise on the future plans for Guildford. No single party, individual or organisation can have exactly what they want, compromise is always necessary in planning matters.

Far better for agreement to be voluntarily reached, locally, between the involved parties representing those of us who live in Guildford, than a decision, whatever it is, imposed by a judge as part of a very expensive legal process.

GVG’s remaining ground for objection and its basis for its judicial review application is the council’s application of the ‘sequential test’, something few understand and even fewer can simply define.

But even if the group persuades the judge in October that it is right it will prove to be a pyrrhic victory if it costs the GVG its authority and its right to be listened to.

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Responses to Opinion: Waiting For Waitrose

  1. Nikki Ackerley Reply

    August 1, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    You simply can’t compromise on something that will affect the future of Guildford for generations to come. Until there is a masterplan in place, who knows whether a right and left junction opening onto York Road will work or not and, whether in the big scheme of things, a Waitrose in this location, rather than, for instance, within the North Street development, is the best place.

    Personally, I still believe housing is a much better option for the site especially first time buyer homes, affordable housing and some form of sheltered/care home/retirement as it’s a level walk into town from there and within walking distance of the station.

    Whichever way you look at this, Waitrose will create a huge volume of new, all-day traffic feeding into the gyratory and this piecemeal approach to development is to be avoided at all costs until a masterplan for the town centre and traffic management plan is in place. Any delay that enables time for a better solution to be reached is to be applauded. I hope the new development partnership of GBC and M & G maximises this opportunity and finds a better solution to which everyone can agree, and we still get the Waitrose that I, just as so many others, want in Guildford; just in a better place.

  2. Pete Knight Reply

    August 2, 2013 at 11:31 am

    In response to the above comment (from a Guildford Vision Group member) a delay should not be applauded at all. This unelected group who are not representative of the town are costing the taxpayer thousands of pounds. GVG argue that there were more people against this scheme than for it but what they fail to understand are that many people do not comment either way. I know my brother lives in one of the adjacent roads who were pleased to hear that Waitrose may take this site. Did he comment on the planning application? No, as he assumed that no town in the country would turn someone like Waitrose away.

    These plans have been scrutinised by Surrey County Council’s Highways and I believe at least two other independent traffic assessors. I think Highways who manage the county’s roads are capable of understanding a simple road network in a relatively small town better than GVG.

    I am surprised Nikki Ackerley, who writes in so many local magazines, has not read any of the damming published articles about our town including ‘Guildford has stopped growing and needs to expand’ written in June this year on the BBC website! I have already been informed that Guildford’s retail expansion is five years behind Woking who seem to be progressing and improving their offer. It won’t be long before people bypass Guildford completely and go to other regional centres and it’s because of this type of arrogant behaviour exhibited by the GVG who seem to be under the illusion they are acting for everyone.

    I hope this appeal is thrown out and this group pays heavily for the damage they are causing by restricting economic growth in our town. I expect it won’t be too long before this group are throwing their unwarranted weight around when the new owners of the Friary submit plans for North Street.

    Why doesn’t GVG ask the people of Guildford if they want them to appeal or simply just to pipe down, I think you’d be surprised by what you hear on the streets which belong to all of us not just you.

  3. Bernard Parke Reply

    August 3, 2013 at 7:14 am

    I served many years on the planning committee and during that period of time I was never aware of the Highways Authority turning down a planning application on the highways issue.

    Perhaps Green Lane is a recent example of that.

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