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The Dragon Says: A plan for Guildford? It’s Time For All Of Us To Step Up To The Challenge

Published on: 1 Sep, 2012
Updated on: 1 Sep, 2012

Whatever else the Guildford Vision Group meeting on Tuesday may have done it has certainly stirred up interest in GBC’s plans for our town. This is a good thing. We should all be interested. It will affect everyone and some of the effects will be long lasting. In fact, they will last longer than all of us at the meeting on Tuesday. (Sadly, as usual, the minority of those under 60 formed the ‘youth’ section.)

The council are absolutely right to want to develop the area to the north of North Street. It is a shame that the rather fine 19th century Bargate stone buildings were torn down in the 60s but they were and we can’t wind the clock back.

The big question is what what do we want there now? More shops? More housing? More car parking? A mixture? What about the style, appearance and lay out?

The Guildford Vision Group says before we decide on North Street we should decide what is wanted for the town as a whole. There seems an irresistible logic to this if the North Street development is to complement an overall plan and vision.

But even more fundamentally, many feel addressing our traffic problems must be the initial piece of work. Without that, it is argued,  new developments could make the traffic problem even worse which, in turn, could threaten the success of the developments and even the future of the town.

The obvious thing might seem to delay adoption of the two recently produced planning documents, but as Cllr Caroline Reeves points out in her letter to The Guildford Dragon NEWS, this is not a risk free option. The lack of a reference planning document might make interim planning applications, that no one would want approved,  harder for the council to resist.

It is too often forgotten that the council is not the final arbiter in planning matters. Like it or not, council planning refusals can be easily overturned with a brief visit from a planning inspector from Bristol who may never set foot in the town again and he/she can award costs that we all end up paying. But we must not allow this pressure alone to force the issue.

No one group, nor the council, has the monopoly of wisdom on a Guildford plan. Many fine words have been said about the need for all parties to work collaboratively. But words are not enough.

The council now needs to show that it really is prepared to engage with the community at large and with the  different Guildford organisations who have shown a keen interest to be involved. Essentially, consultations must be more than tick box exercises, carried out in quick time with small numbers of people. Such practice simply encourages views that the council is not really interested in the opinions of the residents at all.

Any desire to bully through proposals must be resisted. It will simply ensure dissension. There is no room for posturing or egos. It may be that the Executive has the authority to adopt the documents without referral to the full council but this would send entirely the wrong message. There is no real prospect that these documents would not be approved in full council a month later in October and it would allow a fuller debate. It could be one way to show a preparedness to listen.

The organisations, in turn, need to show that they fully appreciate and respect the size and complexity of the challenge the council faces. Criticism must be moderate in tone, impersonal and constructive. GBC, like all councils, have to work within the national planning law and policies which are not of their making. Politicians might not attract much respect, they can be easy targets but they are generally well motivated. They too want to maintain a successful town, why wouldn’t they? And they give many hours of their own time in public service.

Councillor James Palmer, who lives in the town, has been entrusted with the task of leading town centre planning and development work. To use a current phrase it is ‘a big ask’. He spoke well at the public meeting on Tuesday. He clearly recognises the challenge and is taking a collaborative approach. He deserves to be given support and to be given a chance. It is a big job and there is no guarantee of success. But without engagement and proper consultation, without collaboration, compromise and cooperation, and without the openness that the council claim to hold as a core value, there is almost a guarantee of failure.

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Responses to The Dragon Says: A plan for Guildford? It’s Time For All Of Us To Step Up To The Challenge

  1. Gerald Bland

    September 1, 2012 at 7:04 pm

    The interim Guildford plan, a completely new document, runs to 184 pages and was first made available to the public on 20th August. In the absence of the Council holding any meetings or producing literature explaining the Plan It’s unsurprising that the importance of the plan is only now beginning to be appreciated… See the remainder of Gerald Bland’s comment in ‘Letters’.