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St Mary’s Wharf Cuts Building Height But ‘Still Too Big’ Says Objectors

Published on: 4 Jul, 2022
Updated on: 4 Jul, 2022

By Hugh Coakley

Developers for the St Mary’s Wharf proposal at the former Debenham’s site in Guildford town centre have bowed to pressure from opponents to the scale of the building, cutting the height of one building down from nine to eight storeys high.

Those critical of the design say it’s “still too big” and claim the mass and height within the town centre conservation area is still inappropriate.

St Mary’s Wharf before and after the proposed revisions. Key: 1) one floor removed, 2) brickwork colour revised, 3) roof detailing revised, 4) planters and greening added, 5) floors set back, 6) parapets removed, 7) proposed pavilion removed.

Native Land said its revisions were responding to local consultation and feedback, saying the plans include “reducing building heights and massing, increasing publicly accessible space, and including new affordable homes”.

The number of homes is now 194, down from 215, and includes 10 “affordable” homes. A Native Land spokesperson said: “We anticipate our offer [on affodable homes] would be welcomed by the council as it goes above and beyond policy expectations.”

Robert Harris from Native Land said: “We believe we have achieved the very best development for Guildford through the latest revisions.

“The introduction of affordable homes, a new bridge to the [Yvonne Arnaud] theatre, wider walkways next to the river and a meaningful reduction in height and massing show that we have listened and responded.

“We believe these revised proposals allow us to deliver the many benefits of the development while remaining sensitive to Guildford’s heritage and urban context.”

Before and after views looking down the High Street from the planning application in late 2021. Amanda Mullarkey asked if Guildford wanted the “town’s downland setting obscured from view” by St Mary’s Wharf.

The planning application for St Mary’s Wharf in October 2021 had been savaged by Historic England who called the design “flawed” and “out of keeping” with the conservation area.

Native Land said it was awaiting a response to the revised proposals but “we anticipate [Historic England’s] position will have moderated given the reduction in scale and associated design changes”.

See Town Split Over St Mary’s Wharf As Historic England Accuses Developer Of Flawed Conclusions

The developer wouldn’t be drawn on who would pay for the new bridge to the theatre only saying it was “committed to delivering a bridge for Guildford as part of its proposals”.

Predicted sale prices for the original 215 homes at St Mary’s Wharf (BNP Paribas viability assessment for Guildford Borough Council June 2022). Construction cost was estimated at £83 million.

The option of reusing the existing building rather than demolishing and rebuilding was again ruled out by Native Land. It said: “There is a critical balance required between the construction works and the significant improvements our proposals will make to the operational performance of the new building over its lifetime – and we are confident that the proposals provide the best outcomes”.

Native Land did not comment on whether it had carried out embodied carbon calculations for retaining the existing building but said about construction carbon: “Detailed calculations will be progressed as the structural and construction design is developed in the next stages”.

The government has ordered an inquiry into plans to demolish and rebuild the Marks & Spencer flagship London store “due to concerns over carbon emissions from bulldozing the building”.

Views appear to be divided in Guildford with many happy to have a high building in the town especially if a site, which could become long-term derelict like the North Street site and the Plaza site on the Portsmouth Road, is not developed. Others fear St Mary’s Wharf is another example of a Woking-type high-building approach creeping into the prized heritage character of Guildford.

Bill Stokoe appeared to have predicted the developer’s revisions when he wrote in January 2022 (in a personal capacity and not as chair of the Guildford Vision Group): “One or two less storeys, with general setback of the uppermost, would be beneficial but if it was a straight choice between this development or no development then my vote would be to accept, indeed embrace, this development.”

Gavin Morgan from the Guildford Heritage Forum said the ninth story was only there on one small part of the site so that it could be removed later as a compromise, adding: “The horse bolted a long time ago. The council should have managed expectations from the start about what was acceptable in a conservation area.”

Amanda Mullarkey, chair of Guildford Residents’ Association, said: “Still too big. We should not be looking at anything above six storeys along the river corridor.

“Is this what we want: a string of tower blocks along the river and the town’s downland setting obscured from view?”

Alistair Smith, chair of the Guildford Society said: “We still have fundamental issues in that the height and mass is inappropriate for this site and damaging to the surrounding Guildford town centre heritage, views and environment.

“The latest iteration is basically the same scheme with very minor changes to mass, scale, and design.”

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test 2 Responses to St Mary’s Wharf Cuts Building Height But ‘Still Too Big’ Says Objectors

  1. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    July 5, 2022 at 10:57 am

    I welcome redevelopment provided in the process the public is not forced to endure undue delays, loss of time and loss of earnings due to traffic restrictions and disruptions adding to the congestion on the A281.

    The public needs to know what Native Land would be doing to deal with traffic adjacent to their site when safely carrying out demolition and carting away the debris. The same applies to bringing in materials to the site for the construction and access to and exits from the site of delivery lorries and plants. How would the safety of the pedestrians using the crossings so close to the site be maintained?

    I would like to be assured that since the site is very restricted that there is room for a tower crane, if one is going to be used, to be located safely away from the road.

  2. Camilla Gosden Reply

    July 5, 2022 at 4:25 pm

    I agree with the Guildford Residents Association and the Guildford Society, still much too big and inappropriate for a riverside setting.

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