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The Debenhams Site Is in a Conservation Area for a Reason

Published on: 20 Aug, 2021
Updated on: 20 Aug, 2021

St Mary’s Wharf as it would look from Millmead car park.

From: Gavin Morgan

Founder of the Guildford Heritage Forum

The attraction of Guildford is that it is a modern, prosperous town that retains a lot of historic character and is set in beautiful countryside. Maintaining a balance between these is not easy.

My concern is that we seem to be at the mercy of developers. Solem forced a long chain of nine or 10-storey blocks on the town and Native Land have gone for the same.  I don’t believe they need it but it is the maximum height they think they can get away with.  They are, after all, developers and not benevolent town planners. But if we let this happen every developer will expect the same.

We must remember that Debenhams site is in a conservation area set up to preserve the character of the town. That does not mean that there cannot be more height but the scale of buildings must complement the area and not just be what yields the greatest profit.

I find it worrying that Guildford Borough Council has no planning restrictions on height and if we compromise this conservation area there is a precedent that could be applied to any part of the town centre.

Of course, we don’t want to turn developers away and have empty sites for decades like North Street but we do need strong negotiators who can get the best deal for the town.

The developers hope to walk away with handsome profits but we have to live with their creations. We need to get this right.

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test 4 Responses to The Debenhams Site Is in a Conservation Area for a Reason

  1. Paul Tarry Reply

    August 20, 2021 at 10:11 pm

    I agree wholeheartedly with Gavin Morgan.

    Once oversized, out of place developments have been agreed in the town it will open the floodgates and the character will be changed.

  2. Chris Holmes Reply

    August 21, 2021 at 6:54 am

    Gavin Morgan has put the case very well. Nobody can or should blame developers for trying to maximise profit from the site, or using various strategies to achieve that (carefully constructed and worded consultations being just one). Successful developers are smart.

    I am no expert, but it seems Native Land will be open, at least with the council on the commercial aspects of the development to justify certain design aspects. This would include the desired profit (this seems to be on average 20-25% of the gross development value).

    It then requires an equally smart and robust response from our planners to ensure the correct balance is achieved to maintain the long term “character” of the town. Is this “character” or long term vision defined and documented anywhere? If not, how can it be maintained?

    I personally see the biggest threat long term as being precedent. Already Solum is being used as a precedent and it hasn’t been built yet.

    Nobody should fear development. The fact so many do suggests there is a lack of trust and confidence in our decision-makers and negotiators.

  3. Michael Forster Reply

    August 21, 2021 at 7:43 am

    The existing Debenhams building has no merit and there seems no sense in thinking of this location as part of a conservation area.

    The new development would breathe life into what is a rather shabby-looking site – especially when viewed from the far side of the river.

    Why not eight and nine floors? It is a low lying site. The impact would be minimal.

    Guildford needs a shake up – the town is faltering as a commercial centre and the oversupply of retail is clear. New, fairly high-density residential on the Debenhams site seems appropriate. Walking distance to transport and the town centre. Surely Guildford should embrace such proposals rather than resort to thinly disguised Nimbyism?

  4. Mike Forster Reply

    August 21, 2021 at 3:58 pm

    There are two Michael Forster’s in the Guildford area both with a long-standing interest in property matters, so just to clarify, as Mike Forster, I have already made comments on the current proposal for the Debenhams site agreeing to a total redevelopment but one that has less bulky buildings and is architecturally more in keeping, design-wise, with the heritage of our fine town.

    I trust that the local planning authority will seriously consider all comments both for and against this and other proposals for future redevelopment within the town and ultimately support and recommend for approval only something that we can all be proud of for years to come.

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