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St Mary’s Wharf Developer Bows to Pressure By Reducing Proposed Building Height Again

Published on: 13 Aug, 2022
Updated on: 14 Aug, 2022

By Hugh Coakley

The developer of the former Debenham’s in Guildford town centre has reacted to pressure and again cut the contentious height of the proposals for the new private and affordable homes, shops, cafés, and bars on the site.

The latest proposals show the St Mary’s Wharf Town Centre building cut to seven storeys.

The now named Town Centre building is reduced to seven storeys from the nine storeys proposed in October 2021. The proposal, which includes the demolition of the existing Debenhams building, had been set at eight storeys a month ago with the developer saying as late as July they had “achieved the very best development for Guildford through the latest revisions”.

The cut in height has resulted in the number of homes coming down from the original 215 to 185. Developer Native Land said it was “a proportional reduction in residential accommodation” but the allocation for affordable homes has been slashed from ten to five. The Riverside building remains at eight storeys high.

See St Mary’s Wharf Cuts Building Height But Still Too Big Says Objectors (July 2022)

See Town Split Over St Mary’s Wharf As Hstoric England Accuses Developer Of ‘Flawed’ Conclusions (January 2022)

Historic England, who had savaged the original designs calling them “flawed” and “out of keeping” in the conservation area, have not yet formally responded, said a spokesperson for Native Land which has completed acquisition of the site.

She explained that the development company’s decision to reduce the height, was “following consultation with the council and stakeholders”.

Before and after views down the High Street with St Mary’s Wharf blocking out a view of the downs (October 2021). It is not clear whether the new proposals have been modelled for this view but it would appear the downs would still be obscured.

But the plans, particularly the building height, still divide’s opinion in the town.

Shona McConnell in an objection to the latest proposals said the changes were minimal and “do not change the fundamental issues that this is an overdevelopment of a key, town centre, sensitive site, the buildings are excessive in height, scale and mass and are damaging to the surrounding heritage, conservation area and riverside environment.”

CGI of St Mary’s Wharf viewed from Millmead (October 2021). The Town Centre building would be one storey lower.

While Joe Reed, in support of the proposal, wrote “the revised plans would regenerate this prime, town centre location” with a “wide range of benefits for the local area”.

Bill Stokoe

Bill Stokoe, chair of the Guildford Vision Group (GVG) said: “I don’t have a problem with the height as some of my colleagues do.

“I want the development to go ahead as soon as possible. The much-improved riverside public access and the linking bridge [to the Yvonne Arnaud] is just the sort of regeneration GVG has long been advocating.”

Alistair Smith for the Guildford Society said the proposals were 50 per cent to 60 per cent higher than the existing Debenhams structure. He said: “Are we destined to have a wall of high buildings along the Wey due to lack of agreed planning policies for the town centre?”

He added: “The suspicion must be this is the last offer from Native Land as, judging from the submission of amended documents, they appear to consider they have met concerns expressed by the GBC planners and other bodies.  It will be interesting to see if the GBC planners recommend approval or rejection to the planning committee.”

Native Land said the plans would deliver the significant public benefits in the original proposal including opening up the River Wey with “wide, open and biodiverse, publicly accessible spaces”, a new civic square at the end of the High Street, sustainable housing, a link from Millbrook to the river and the creation of a new vista to St Mary’s Church from Millmead.

The developer said there would be “more than 415 construction jobs and up to 83 jobs in retail on site, which will contribute an estimated £1.7 million a year to the local economy”.

The developer cast doubt on whether a bridge to link the riverside development to the Yvonne Arnaud would be included in the construction contract. They would not be drawn on who would fund the bridge.

Their statement said they would include “landing points for the future provision of a pedestrian footbridge to the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre” and that they were “undertaking some initial design work which will be discussed with the council, along with the delivery mechanism”.

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Responses to St Mary’s Wharf Developer Bows to Pressure By Reducing Proposed Building Height Again

  1. H Trevor Jones Reply

    August 13, 2022 at 2:15 pm

    It all sounds good to me. I’m not worried about the height. We need the housing, and more height (within reason) means more housing. I look forward to a nice new riverside walk with shops and cafés etc overlooking the river.

  2. Roger Main Reply

    August 13, 2022 at 5:00 pm

    This is dragging on too long, yet again as did my proposal back in 2001 when we wanted to bridge the road to the store.

    Everywhere we turned we came up against the various societies who objected just as they currently are.

    The developers are bending over backwards to reach a compromise but again the same people are objecting,

    As to a bridge to the theatre great idea good luck with that.

    Let’s hope common sense prevails, but based on my experience I very much doubt it.

    Roger Main is a former manager of Debenhams Guildford.

  3. M Durant Reply

    August 14, 2022 at 12:47 pm

    Isn’t it dangerous to have such a high building in an area that has flooded regularly?

    Yes, the site needs regeneration but will the shops on the site remain open in hard times? A lot of shops have shut down in Guildford and they are trying to regenerate White Lion Walk at the same time.

    A lot of housing has been built in Guildford, Woking, Farnham, and Godalming recently. Could it be that the council will be left with surplus housing that nobody can afford to buy in a sudden recession?

  4. Sara Tokunaga Reply

    August 14, 2022 at 12:59 pm

    It’s surprising that no one has commented on the paltry number of affordable homes being included in this development. 10 was bad enough, but cutting them down to 5 is farcical.

    How is this going to improve Guildford’s housing crisis? There are going to be more than five names added to the housing list by the time this development is finished.

    Guildford does not need more overpriced elite housing. It needs housing for the lower salaried Guildfordians who are continuously being forced to move out of the area because there is no housing available that they can afford.

    This development is going to cause major upheaval while it is being built and, when it is finished, will provide nothing for the local community other than a walkway by the river and (maybe) a bridge across to the Yvonne Arnaud.

  5. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    August 14, 2022 at 2:00 pm

    Debenhams building occupies almost 90 per centof the of site area. The only vacant space is to the north by the Town Bridge where I assume, to start with, plants would be located.

    I would be interested in finding out how the demolition and safety of the public on adjacent road and pedestrian crossing would be managed.

    Assuming the job would last for several years and considering lorries and plant would have to access the site and emerge back on to the road quite close to the pedestrian crossing, what traffic management has been proposed? Would both northbound lanes be available throughout the construction period?

    Maybe these points have been covered in the planning application and the councils would be appraising them. It would be reassuring to know what their views are.

    For new housing here, in the North Street scheme and elsewhere in Guildford, it is not too difficult to upgrade electricity, gas and water supply but how would the old sewage system cope?

  6. Bruce Penson Reply

    August 14, 2022 at 7:23 pm

    Couldn’t agree more with the previous two comments from Roger Main and H Trevor Jones. This is dragging on too long and creating yet another eyesore and wasted valuable land. We should add as many new homes there as possible to reduce the need to build on green belt and reinvigorate what is looking an increasingly abandoned town centre.

  7. Julian Cooper Reply

    September 4, 2022 at 11:12 am

    The photo-realistic image with the proposed height of St Marys Wharf I think looks better as it continues the street scene from the perspective shown. Currently, the flats at the base of The Mount are an eyesore.

  8. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    February 14, 2023 at 12:44 pm

    Shortly it would be now nearly three months since Native Land’s Planning Application has been approved.

    It would be interesting to find out how the planning for the demolition is progressing and if indeed any work has started.

    Has any traffic management proposals for the adjacent road, the A281, been submitted or approved?

    An update from Native Land would be appreciated.

    Editor’s response: We have contacted Native Land who have responded as follows: “We are working behind the scenes ahead of satisfying any pre-commencement conditions, including those relating to demolition and traffic management.”

  9. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    April 3, 2023 at 10:10 am

    It has been more than a month since Native Land said they were working behind the scenes.

    Are they in a position to give an update on their plans regarding if and when they are likely to start work on site?

  10. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    July 24, 2023 at 10:15 am

    Any update on Native Land’s previous response of February 2023 reported above – “We are working behind the scenes ahead of satisfying any pre-commencement conditions, including those relating to demolition and traffic management.”

    Are they still working or have they abandoned their scheme? I had raised doubts about the feasibility of safe demolition of this building that is on a site with very restricted access around it. Is a repurposed building becoming a reality?

  11. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    August 4, 2023 at 9:43 pm

    Nearly seven months on from receiving planning consent, Native Land is still very quiet. Would Native Land care to give an update of their programme please?

  12. Roger Main Reply

    August 14, 2023 at 3:05 pm

    Could I suggest that Bibhas Neogi, due to his numerous concerns, becomes a consultant for the council?

    He needs to recognise that now planning has been given, all the other factors need to be considered, especially when dealing with Guildford council and other agencies like SCC Highways in they are not the fastest in in dealing with planning issues. May I suggest he is little more patient on his part and others.

  13. Ramsey Nagaty Reply

    August 14, 2023 at 10:36 pm

    I ensured a comment was made within the planning approval, that serious consideration should be made of the use of barges on the river to remove the demolition waste and for bringing in construction materials so as to minimise disruption and pollution on the A281 and the Guildford gyratory.

    Last time I checked no contact with the Wey Navigation had occurred. I asked them if they were in favour and the Wey lengthsman answered that was what the navigation was originally for and they were in favour.

    I pressed GBC officers on this whilst still a councillor. Lorries arriving via Broadford road bridge and leaving through the Gyratory will traverse two if not three declared Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs). Without a suitable traffic management plan, including use of the river, will add to congestion and pollution. Native Land’s director told me they would consider this seriously. I wait to hear they have.

    Ramsay Nagaty is a former GGG borough councillor.

  14. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    August 28, 2023 at 10:58 pm

    Thanks to Mr Main for recommending me for a job of a consultant with GBC but they are a bit cash-strapped at the moment. Anyway, I have given my views free of charge on many aspects of traffic management and redevelopment issues in Guildford and the councils are welcome to use them.

    Dragon NEWS readers who have accessed my various documents on the Internet are aware of my suggestions based on my engineering experience of what I consider is achievable.

    If Native Land are unable to satisfy pre-commencement conditions after eight months of deliberations, maybe it is time to go back to the drawing board and think about re-purposing the building.

    I quote the links of a few of my comments here on the process in consideration of the Planning Application. In particular the method of substantial demolition and traffic management for the roads close to the site should have been part of the planning application as stated in various documents on planning.

  15. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    November 8, 2023 at 8:30 pm

    Any response from Native Land or Guildford Borough Council yet?

    Maybe Mr Roger Main can help Native Land in repurposing the building since he has extensive knowledge of it from his days as the General Manger of Debenhams.

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