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Opinion: We Must Take This Opportunity to Improve Riverside Routes

Published on: 10 Nov, 2022
Updated on: 11 Nov, 2022

Cllr John Rigg

By John Rigg

lead councillor for Regeneration and R4GV borough councillor for Holy Trinity

Shaping Guildford‘s Future is the forward looking plan for much of our town centre. It envisages, similar to many towns across the UK, the opening up our riverside with parks, walkways and cycle routes.

It envisages, a “GreenWey’ following the river from Millbrook in the south to Ladymead in the north. This route can then connect with the existing tow path which leads north at Ladymead past Bellfields to Slyfield further improving accessibility to and from the town.

There have been decades of Guildford planning policies and council reports encouraging a riverside park and walkways but sadly no real action, even the 2019 Local Plan was silent on the Wey.

This time however our councils new draft master plan identifies a route on the town side from Guildford Wharf leading both north and south. Some of the route can be delivered as part of the planned flood remediation works which are necessary to protect the town from flooding.

A riverside walk can rarely be delivered in one project. It is a jigsaw puzzle. Whenever a site is developed we must create a further piece of the route ideally paid for and delivered by the developer as required by hopefully new adopted planning policies.

However we must start on the journey sooner rather than later .

Guildford has amazingly missed over a half a century of opportunities as other towns have planned and delivered their riverside walks. We now have our first opportunity to hand.

The developer of the Debenhams site, Native Land have agreed to provide a riverside walk for us to start our journey south. This new public realm opportunity will start at Town Bridge and head south by the proposed new development fronting the River Wey.

This new proposed walkway follows the waterside but currently will put pedestrians back on to the busy Shalford Road . However because GBC own the basin of water between the Debenhams Development and Yvonne Arnaud this offers the opportunity to continue a riverside walk via a footbridge to the Yvonne Arnaud and then beyond

Click to enlarge.

The theatre is very supportive. It wants better connections with the town centre and appreciates the excitement that can be created here, for instance if the basin were to be dredged to allow barges to moor here once again.

There are two planned footpaths around the Yvonne Arnaud one following the river requiring an open sided bin store to be relocated and the other leading past the theatre entrance. Both will also connect with the existing footpath which leads across Millmead Lock to the west side.

However a new route could continue further on the town side of the Wey Navigation past the Thames Water pumping station over a smaller bridge to Millbrook carpark.

Yet again the riverside walk can then be extended along the entire river frontage to Millbrook car park . It will need to lead back to the Shalford Road to pass by the pinch point which is the Weyside Public House. This though is only for 100 yards or so before the route can connect with the Green Route south to Shalford. The attached plan shows how this could work.

Whilst people may have mixed views on the proposed development of St Mary’s wharf I would ask they set these aside and support this first real opportunity to start delivering a riverside walk in what is our most attractive riverside.

This is our first such opportunity and needs your support now. Whilst I acknowledge there will be some who may not be interested in opening the riverside for active travel, well-being is increasingly recognised as of fundamental importance to mental health and to the community.

This developer is offering to provide and install the bridge from their S106 contribution if a workable proposal can be found. Both theatre and developer welcome the excitement and extra footfall the route can generate past the restaurants and the venue.

The Debenhams project will come to the planning committee on the November 22. It does not include the bridge proposal and the St Marys Wharf scheme will be considered purely on the merits of that application. However the developer has confirmed they will standby their offer to assist with the bridge if there is support for the riverside proposal .

We will see what happens but this may be a once in a hundred years opportunity for us all.

Tumbling Bay Weir with its closed footbridge

Separately GBC are committed to the reopening of the footpath across the Tumbling Bay Weir. It is is not the council’s river, land or bridge and its replacement has a greater complexity and cost at a time of financial constraint for the council.

But we know how much it means to the community and will be trying to find a way forward working with the National Trust. This also includes investigating if an alternative footpath can be created on the west bank, in front of the council offices at Millmead leading south through the meadows to rejoin the towpath.

Whilst we have 30 years of failed planning policies to open our riverside I hope we will not miss these opportunities to create something our community can be proud of and enjoy for generations.

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