Fringe Box



The Hot Topic – Local Parties Asked What Is Your Building Height Policy?

Published on: 13 Apr, 2023
Updated on: 14 Apr, 2023

The profile of how the refused proposal for North Street would have looked, according to the Guildford Society.

By Martin Giles

Building height policy has emerged as a major topic in the GBC election debates.

The Guildford Dragon NEWS asked local political parties three relevant questions:

  1. Do you regret that a more restrictive building height policy was not included in Part 2 of the Local Plan?
  1. What is your party’s policy on building height control now? If in control after May 4, how, and how quickly, would you put it into effect?
  1. How would you ascertain what styling town centre developments should have and how could the council guide developers regarding style?

Joss Bigmore the leader of Residents for Guildford and Villages responded: “R4GV commissioned an independent planning consultant to respond to public consultation on Part 2 of the Local Plan. This response called for prescriptive limits on height and density. In discussions, we lost the argument to the officers and the Lib Dem Planning policy lead who claimed the harm came from the impact on character and views to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

“In hindsight, that was a mistake. We now have a mess. North Street was refused, the Lib Dems pushing hard for a nine-storey tower block on Guildford Park Road, only 30cm lower than the 13 storeys on North Street.

“Work on the development document for the town centre masterplan is well underway. That will contain a height policy ASAP. Regarding style, we are pledging to set up a Local Design Review Panel, of residents that live, work and visit our town, to help ensure design responds to local opinion.”

A Liberal Democrat spokesperson said: “What the North Street saga has shown is the need for a heights policy in Guildford.  Tall buildings are not necessarily “bad”, but it is important both to preserve key views of local landmarks, and also to understand the acceptable scale of building in the town centre.

“The Liberal Democrats would review a heights policy as part of the Local Plan review in the next council term, seeking public consultation as to what scale is appropriate.”

Sue Hackman, Guildford Labour campaign manager commented: “I think the quality and nature of the built environment is just as important as securing a good proportion of affordable homes. For me, we need developments yes, but they need to be of good quality, in keeping with the prevailing style of architecture, sensitive to any historical context and we need full consultation with local communities.

“We also need good quality, adequate infrastructure – that arrives before or alongside a new development, not after.

“Regarding height limits, the best compromise is probably a series of height zones reflecting the nature of different parts of the borough. The council writes excellent guidelines and arguments for new developments – these could be used to ensure congruous development. This is a matter on which the parties need to take heed of public opinion and reach a joint compromise for the benefit of the town centre. Let’s get on with it!”

Christian Holliday former Conservative borough councillor, said: “Guildford Conservatives would certainly welcome a more tightly worded planning policy/SPD on building heights. It’s a shame the Lib Dem/R4GV coalition didn’t take the opportunity in Part 2 of the Local Plan to address this matter in more detail.

“We support height controls to protect our town centre. If we find ourselves in power after 4th May, we will ensure existing policies are applied properly and would instruct officers to prioritise the preparation of a stronger SPD on this matter, which would of course be subject to community consultation.

“New development should always respect the existing character of an area. We would expect this to be reflected in all applications. Development proposals that differ considerably should be truly ‘exemplar’ schemes that have been formed following full and genuine consultation. Design guides will have an important role in shaping the future of development.”

Leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group Ramsay Nagaty responded: “I was the only one who spoke at all the GBC DMP policy meetings for a height standard and at the Inspection of the Local Plan Part 2.

“Too tall buildings are not appropriate.

“GGG would start an immediate review of the “Sights and views” supplementary planning document and work for a robust new Local Plan with stronger DMP policies to include a height policy.

“A wide consultation incorporating style and character for North Street and the Town Centre Master Plan to commence. Clearer, stronger sets of policies will be required.”

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Responses to The Hot Topic – Local Parties Asked What Is Your Building Height Policy?

  1. Liz Hogger Reply

    April 13, 2023 at 6:45 pm

    R4GV planning councillors voted to approve an 8-storey-high replacement for Debenhams; Lib Dem planning councillors voted to refuse.

    R4GV planning councillors voted to approve a 13-storey-high building in the North Street scheme; Lib Dem planning councillors voted to refuse.

    So presumably R4GV’s proposed height policy would allow 8-storey buildings in the riverside conservation area, and 13 storeys in the heart of our town?

    I’m sure many Guildford residents would agree with Historic England, the Guildford Society and other local community groups, as well as Lib Dem councillors, that both schemes were too high and out of character with our historic town.

    The Lib Dem approach to review a heights policy in the light of a thorough public consultation is the way to get the best policy to protect our historic environment.

    Liz Hogger is a Lib Dem councillor for Effingham who is standing down at this election.

    • Craig Ellis Reply

      April 15, 2023 at 12:13 am

      Once again a Lib Dem candidate, in particular, chooses to distinguish themselves by attacking others. Liz Hogger makes her party sound like great coalition partners but it strikes me that they’ve blocked things for political gain rather than any opportunistic retroactive reason they now give such as “height”.

      Imagine what her party could have achieved if you had put your political ambitions behind you and simply worked together for the good of the town.

  2. Peter Mills Reply

    April 14, 2023 at 10:10 am

    Are we focusing too much on height? I know height and density are linked, but who cares what the town centre looks like if the housing density is so high that our infrastructure collapses?

    We have ridiculously high-density housing springing up all over Guildford, including the site on the Portsmouth Road that is so high density many of the units share living space. Where will these people park and what will the impact be on our roads? Will commuter trains get back to pre-pandemic crush levels?

  3. Harry Eve Reply

    April 14, 2023 at 2:55 pm

    Thank you to the Guildford Dragon team and its helpers for organising their GBC election hustings.

    It was great to hear the answers from each panel members’ perspective and to see them sitting side by side rather than bickering in the press and social media.

    A special thank you to Claire Whitehouse for mentioning biodiversity – a crisis closely aligned to climate change and, locally, the pressures placed on our green spaces by over-development under a Local Plan that cannot be regarded as having been based on genuine evidence.

  4. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    April 15, 2023 at 1:09 am

    Height and density are of course related. By having to retain the bus station in its current location, the developer, I assume, had to opt for high-rise buildings to make the profit that they anticipated.

    The assessment of viability depends on the assumed value of the land, cost of infrastructure and the cost of building. The cost of infrastructure is probably not directly proportional to the number of units whether it be 500 or 700. However, by attributing a higher value to the land and using a much higher building cost than prevailing cost indices, the profit margin can be shown to be a lot less than it really is.

    If the bus station area were included and used for building units, both the density and height could be reduced if the number were kept under 500 or so units. It would ensure a safer construction site without an active bus station. Also, emergency services would have better access to the redesigned layout of the various blocks.

    The saving of £4 million pounds not spent on refurbishment could have been used towards relocating the bus station on Bedford Road, possibly with an underground car park. Pedestrian-friendly conversion of North Street would not have been affected at all.

    Contrary to popular belief, the above solution would not degrade the services to the town centre for the bus users. I have explained this option before whereby bus users from the north and the east would be dropped off near the current bus station and returning passengers picked up. Also from this development, people, instead of walking, could take a bus to the relocated bus station or the railway station via the new Walnut Bridge. This would help to liven up Bedford Wharf and truly become part of the town centre.

    What the council needs are solid and honest proposals for improving Guildford’s housing, transport and necessary infrastructure and deliver results, not spend millions on producing yet another Masterplan. GBC should consider spending funds on capital projects not on endless consultant reports.

    Nearly five months on from the approval of the planning application, Native Land, the developer of St Mary’s Wharf, is still sorting out pre-commencement conditions. Why? Is it because the developer has not examined the complexities of demolition within the site constraints before going ahead with their proposal to demolish and rebuild? Are they unable to find a demolition contractor willing to take on the job?

    I have flagged up the constraints of the site as the building occupies almost 90 per cent of the site area with only a small open space next to Town Bridge. The near-triangular site is bounded by the river on two sides and a busy road on the third. There is very little room to place plant, cranes etc. Access to and exit from this site are problematic because of the busy road and a pedestrian crossing close by.

    Since the basement and the foundations are to be retained, the demolition method cannot possibly use explosives. The building has a steel frame and reinforced concrete floors, so the demolition has to be piecemeal. It would be a slow and expensive process. Carting away of demolished material would also be difficult due to poor access.

    Maybe it is time for the developer to review their approach and consider re-purposing the building?

    It makes sense to conserve energy and go for greatly reduced demolition required instead of alterations and upward residential extensions. The overall aim should be to minimise carbon emissions for the project.

    Finally, a Town Centre Masterplan and regeneration of the riverside cannot be achieved without removing the gyratory. Therefore Guildford needs a new east-west crossing over the river and the railway from Woodbridge Road to Guildford Park Road.

    Regular readers may have already seen my document on ‘keep and share possible solutions to Guildford traffic’ – it can be found by searching the Internet.

    The west entrance to the railway station and access to GBC’s development of the previous car park site and Guildford Park Road alterations (cycle lanes etc.) could be done in a comprehensive manner.

  5. Alistair Smith Reply

    April 18, 2023 at 8:28 am

    Bibhas Neogi in his comment raises the point that the developer should consider repurposing the building.

    The Guildford Society did propose this back in the Autumn of 2020 ( We said that a repurposed building could provide a vibrant multipurpose site with housing but also civic facilities.

    Sadly, the council and developer didn’t consider this a serious option. The then chief executive of Guildford Borough Council, almost as Debenhams announced closure, was quick to state the site should be used to provide flats, with no thought to energising the Town Centre for the general good.

    The citizens of Guildford now have decades of an “identikit” development to look forward to, impacting the town centre.

    The council declared a Climate Emergency but is still content to see large quantities of concrete poured to satisfy developers’ aspirations.

    Yesterday the Daily Telegraph published a wide-ranging interview with a grandee of the development community Sir Stuart Lipton. I was struck by one of his comments: “In my book we’re an outdated industry, building outdated buildings with outdated technology and we know things have got to change.”

    Sir Stuart is correct.

    Maybe even at this late stage, as Mr Neogi proposes, there could be a rethink for the site, using new and innovative building techniques. What about a well-designed timber building on the existing floor plate?

    Approved recently there is a development in Bayswater London using a timber frame for a mixed-use scheme designed by Foster + Partners which shows what can be done. There are many other innovative schemes around the country to learn from.

    Alistair Smith is the chair of the Guildford Society

    • Bibhas Neogi Reply

      April 18, 2023 at 10:46 pm

      In January last year, I did refer to Guildford Society’s idea on re-purposing the building in

      I have commented, on other related articles, on the need to rethink the approach to the redevelopment of this site.

      We have to wait to see what Native Land says about the programme of the proposed work.

      Not being a resident in the GBC area, my main interest is in traffic through Guildford. I have a website that can be found by searching for “revamp guildford gyratory”.

      Maintaining reasonable traffic flow during the demolition and construction is also an important consideration. There is a separate document summarising my idea and that can be found by searching for “New Solutions to Gfd traffic Revised 13 June 2022.pdf”.

  6. Jim Allen Reply

    April 18, 2023 at 6:35 pm

    My major disappointment of all commentators on “height” was Guildford Vision’s Group’s failure to take up the opportunity to complete a Neighbourhood Plan which they did in all but name, thus it had no statutory leverage. it was a lost opportunity which would have removed half the stories and letters in The Dragon!

    Please everyone, change your viewpoints to concern for the lack of infrastructure, not future development in concrete bricks and glass.

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