Fringe Box



Opinion: Why Guildford Needs Heights Control Policies

Published on: 1 Mar, 2024
Updated on: 3 Mar, 2024

Dwarfing all around it the lift column of the second Solum block, as seen from the station entrance, clearly reveals the impact the development will have on Guildford’s skyline.

By Nic Allen

The Guildford Society

We can now see the reality of the Solum Guildford Station redevelopment and the inappropriateness of high buildings in Guildford Centre.

The first part of the Solum redevelopment has now been completed as the north block of dwellings on the station car park. This block is of undistinguished design and is easily visible, notably on Madrid Road.

The second main part is now appearing and as many predicted is totally out of scale with its surroundings and excessive in height. The lift tower that has been built can now be seen dwarfing the Bishop’s Wharf and other buildings in Walnut Tree Close and other parts of the town.

When seen from The Mount and other vantage points around the town, the new building’s dominance, because of its incongruous height, can clearly be seen.

Most buildings are just 2-4 floors high. The new lift tower is nine storeys but this is lower than the sections of the development that are going to be built to the south, replacing the current station entrance. So there is even worse to come.

The Great Wall Block 2 is growing and the new tower shows how it will eventually dominate all around it and impact views of the town.

The ‘Great Wall’ is being built

This small section of the development will soon be integrated into the extensively long “wall” of buildings in this development, stretching 300 metres North to South, all at this or similar height.

Another view, this time from Walnut Tree Close.

This “Great Wall” of buildings will scythe through Guildford’s townscape and be overpowering to Walnut Tree Close. It will definitely dominate the town in views from many points within the town and from the surrounding hills as shown in the photographs.

More to come

This massive and insensitive development is just a starter and is going to be followed by the Plaza development, at the bottom of Portsmouth Road, North Street, and St Mary’s Wharf (Debenhams redevelopment) parts of which are still higher than this lift tower. Guildford’s townscape, views and skyline will be changed for ever.

Inadequate planning policies

These excessively large and high developments are surely perfect examples of how to destroy a town which is loved for its history, historical town centre, heritage buildings but most of all the quality of its streets, scale, skylines, views and townscape.

This is compelling evidence of the urgent need for a Guildford planning policy now, to control heights of new buildings.

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Responses to Opinion: Why Guildford Needs Heights Control Policies

  1. Helena Townsend Reply

    March 2, 2024 at 10:30 am

    I’m glad this piece is described as an opinion. My opinion is that the first block that has gone up looks good and a concrete core will always look horrible to start with – let’s review the scheme when it’s complete. So easy to criticise and manipulate view points to try and make things look worse – if you’re outside the station it doesn’t look inappropriate at all.

    Also re the Guildford Plaza site let’s remember what was there before.

    • J Holt Reply

      March 2, 2024 at 2:55 pm

      Can Helena Townsend explain what can be done if there is an unfavourable review after a scheme is complete?

  2. George Potter Reply

    March 2, 2024 at 10:59 am

    It is worth bearing in mind that this dreadful development (with almost zero affordable housing) was rejected by the council but approved at appeal because the lack of a Local Plan meant the council couldn’t demonstrate a five-year housing supply, causing the planning inspector to apply a “tilted balance” in favour of approval.

    So is this awful building the fault of a lack of height policies or is it just a warning of what happens when you don’t have an up to date Local Plan?

    George Potter is a Lib Dem borough councillor for Burpham

    • Ben Paton Reply

      March 3, 2024 at 9:49 am

      Is there any objective evidence to suggest that if the planning inspector were determining the Solum Development appeal today, under the current Local Plan, he would have reached any different conclusion?

      If height was a determining factor then, it still is today. And the borough council’s policies on height are exactly the same now as they were then – non existent.

  3. David Smith Reply

    March 2, 2024 at 6:16 pm

    It seems to me that there is an informal height of ten stories in Guildford – nothing has been approved above this height, including Native Land’s site at St Mary’s Wharf and St Edwards North Street site.

    This is considerably lower than Woking where some towers are in excess of 30 floors.

  4. Nigel Keane Reply

    March 3, 2024 at 2:00 am

    If Helena Townsend likes concrete so much, why live in Guildford?

    In reply to David Smith we are not Woking, thank goodness. I do not think that any building should be higher than a Fire & Rescue platform can reach. Think of the buildings in London and Manchester decimated by fire.

    I feel that if GBC had had the courage to take the inspector’s decision to the High Court it could have been overruled. Property companies are always selfish in what they need, even against local opposition, as they want to make a quick profit and move on.

    As to Cllr George Potter’s comments, for once I agree with him.

    We could easily have the necessary housing available if we insisted that the University of Surrey had in-campus student accommodation on their own land and not all over Guildford.

  5. Helena Townsend Reply

    March 4, 2024 at 8:27 am

    I think this is my point – instead of criticising a concrete core wait until the finished scheme. The first block which is completed looks good and is brick – no buildings planned are concrete.

    And to answer the unhelpful comments from Mr Keane – if he doesn’t like buildings or circa 10 floors why does he stay in Guildford? We have many more on the way and it could get quite upsetting for him.

  6. Nigel Keane Reply

    March 6, 2024 at 2:05 am

    I response to Helen Townsend’s comment, I am a resident of Guildford borough but am lucky to live outside the town centre within the remains of the green belt.

    The main point that really concerns me is the fire risk associated with tall buildings, we do not want another Grenfell Tower here. In my previous career I attended fires in far smaller buildings and the results are just as devastating for the residents

    When living in London I have seen too many tall buildings being erected in unsuitable places. In the City of London, The Bevis Marks Synagogue, which is as old as St Paul’s Cathedral dating back to the C18th, is under threat from a developer wanting to build a mini skyscraper immediately next to it totally ruining the aspect and blocking light etc.

    I admit I do not like the soulless designs of modern architecture unlike the amazing art-deco skyscrapers of Chicago and New York and Art Deco building in Kingsway Holborn.

    We just do not have the infrastructure to support a larger population within the town, we struggle with GP services as it is.The Royal Surrey hospital is having to expand. The sewage and waterworks are barely adequate. The drainage system needs improving and more needs to mitigate flooding in the lower parts of Guildford.

    I also repeat my plea to build socially affordable homes in the area, but not all over the green belt as Keir Starmer seems to favour in a recent speech.

  7. David Smith Reply

    March 7, 2024 at 1:06 pm

    Interesting letter from Nigel Keen again. I am sure he means to say that he has chosen to live out of the town centre and not that he is lucky to do so.

    Guildford is amongst one of the most expensive places to live in the country and people will pay a premium to live centrally to be close to the High Street and station. Those that do, do not consider it inferior or a compromise and therefore we are not “unlucky” to live here. Of course that will not always suit those seeking a quieter pace of life or less urbanisation and that is their choice.

    There are some, however, who have no choice and who are sadly priced out of either option which is why affordable homes are urgently needed.

    Mr Keen states he wants to see this affordable housing but doesn’t want them in the green belt and doesn’t want tall towers in the town centre. What is the solution then? As I said earlier, ten stories is not that tall in the scheme of things, and in order to make schemes viable (with high build and land costs) the days of two or three stories are truly over.

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