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Rejection of Second Planning Proposal Leaves ‘Financial Challenges’ for Guildford Cathedral

Published on: 28 May, 2024
Updated on: 30 May, 2024

Guildford Cathedral on Stag Hill.

By Hugh Coakley

An appeal against GBC’s decision to refuse permission for 124 houses to be built adjacent to the cathedral on Stag Hill was rejected on Friday (May 24). The decision marks the end of the second controversial attempt by the cathedral to obtain planning permission to build houses on the hill whilst claiming the survival of the cathedral depended on the development.

Revised masterplan for the proposed 124 homes on the cathedral slopes.

The Interim Dean, Stuart Beake, was disappointed with the outcome. He said “significant operational and financial challenges are now faced, and it is likely that the Cathedral will be unable to operate in the same way that it has done previously”.

But Friends of Stag Hill (FOSH), who have opposed the scheme, thanked GBC for defending Guildford’s interests. A spokesperson hoped “the Cathedral now realises that the harm to Guildford outweighs any potential minor financial benefit.  It should manage its operating expenses rather than waste more money pursuing development.  Surely now enough is enough:  Guildford deserves better.”

The cathedral and the developer, Vivid Housing Ltd, launched the appeal in October after their planning application was rejected by GBC in March 2023.

See also: Cathedral and Developer Partner to Appeal Planning Refusal to Build on Stag Hill

The interim dean, Stuart Beake, said “the Cathedral will be unable to operate in the same way” after the housing appeal was rejected.

The planning inspector, Tom Bristow, ruled against the cathedral plans saying the main issues were the “special interest and significance of heritage assets, with reference to design and landscape context”.

In his 26 page judgement, he scotched the disputed claim by the cathedral that the project was necessary for the survival of the landmark building. He said the endowment from the sale of the land to the developer could provide only 23 per cent of what was needed saying: “Therefore, irrespective of the outcome of the scheme, the Cathedral will continue to be predominantly reliant on other sources of funding for upkeep.”

He was also critical on the lack of financial detail provided by the cathedral, saying there was a “significant evidential shortcoming” on the details to create an endowment and noted the appellants had not advanced the argument that a smaller scheme “would be unviable or otherwise undeliverable”, possibly referencing that the Local Plan had allowed for 100 homes at that location, not the 124 in the proposal.

Memorial stone on the cathedral to the sacrifice by Canadian soldiers in the First World war.

The inspector also disagreed with the cathedral’s stance on the memorial stone to the sacrifice by Canadian soldiers in the First World War that the “commemorative significance of the site is confined to that stone”.

He cited correspondence in 1942 – 43 between the Bishop of Guildford and Lord Bennett, the former Prime Minister of Canada. The Bishop said he had “a vision of part of that hill being acquired by Canadian gifts and remaining as a permanent memorial of Canada’s many associations with us during these war years”.

The planning application for the housing has been fiercely opposed by local residents. An initial proposal was rejected in 2017 despite the Bishop of Guildford saying that it was probable the cathedral would close if planning permission was not granted.

We have contacted GBC ward councillors and the Guildford Society for comment.

See also The Dragon Says: Guildford’s Isolated Cathedral Made a Major Misjudgement (April 2023)

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Responses to Rejection of Second Planning Proposal Leaves ‘Financial Challenges’ for Guildford Cathedral

  1. Richard A H Vary Reply

    May 28, 2024 at 1:32 pm

    It was good to see that Guildford Cathedral has finally disclosed the Viscount Bennett correspondence. The Bishop asked Viscount Bennett to give the money so the Cathedral could buy the land and stop it from being developed and create a green space for the people of Guildford.

    The Friends of Stag Hill argued that if the cathedral had asked for the money on that basis, it should not now go back on that, and develop the land itself. The planning inspector agreed.

  2. Harry Elson Reply

    May 28, 2024 at 5:34 pm

    At last a glimmer of hope. This will preserve a precious green space when so much is under threat in our beloved borough and the preservation of the of the land that was given in perpetuity to the brave Canadian soldiers who gave so much for us all.

  3. Valerie Thompson Reply

    May 28, 2024 at 6:27 pm

    The Cathedral needs to be used more for commercial activities such as antique fairs, craft days, meetings, social activities for the elderly and lonely.

    Concerts, of course, will not be practical or popular until the cathedral authorities employ a sound engineer to improve the acoustics. The removal of the asbestos plaster ceiling rendered the acoustics (not brilliant in the first place) completely awful.

    I have, in the past, suggested plain canvas, padded banners, to be hung on the pillars facing towards the altar, so as not to damage, as the previous response to this suggestion, commented, the “integrity” of the building. However, if the Cathedral fails to bring in funds then it will have to be sold off for some other purpose.

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