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Tories Object After Council Calls Halt to Town Centre Upgrades

Published on: 1 Aug, 2020
Updated on: 1 Aug, 2020

Chapel Street

By Martin Giles

A borough council decision to axe upgrades of Swan Lane, Chapel Street and Castle Street in the town centre has been attacked by the Guildford Conservative Association (GCA).

A GCA spokesperson said: “At the critical time when our High Streets and retail centres need the continued investment and support it is unacceptable that the Guildford Borough Council Lib Dem and Residents for Guildford and Villages (R4GV) coalition is letting down our retailers and shoppers as we restart the economy.”

The projects were planned under the previous Conservative administration. Cllr John Rigg (R4GV, Holy Trinity), GBC’s lead councillor for Regeneration, announced the axing on July 30 at a closed Guildford Joint Committee sub-group meeting.

Cllr John Rigg, R4GV lead member for Major Projects.

He said later: “I freely admit I am against waste when projects do not represent value for money, but with the fall in council reserves due to Covid-19 anything that can be reviewed, should be reviewed, certainly until we are through the worst of the pandemic.

“These particular works would normally be the responsibility of Surrey County Council, our highways authority, and at their cost. The county council has a budget of more than £1 billion of which £62 million is allocated for highways and footpaths.

“Guildford has no budget for highways or in fact the resources or expertise to take on these obligations, especially at a time of cuts. The previous Conservative-run Guildford council took on many projects which ought more properly to be at the door of Conservative-controlled Surrey County Council.

“These inherited projects are now putting the council finances under pressure. We know Surrey County Council in 2018 was in some considerable financial difficulty with £100 million cash crisis so could probably not take on such projects at the time.

“I am as disappointed as anyone… but our reserves have taken decades to accumulate for a crisis such as we face today and delivering food parcels will come first.

Cllr Matt Furniss

“Now, with the extra £92 million for roads announced by SCC recently, l would be delighted if Cllr Matthew Furniss, the SCC cabinet member for Transport, can now take forward these projects.”

But the GCA press release was critical: “As Conservative-run Surrey County Council is investing hundreds of millions of pounds into communities, education, adult social care and infrastructure, while leading on the Covid-19 response for Surrey, this shows Guildford Borough Council under the Lib Dem/R4GV coalition is no longer focused on investing in our local economy.”

Lib Dem borough council leader Caroline Reeves backed her R4GV Executive colleague. She said: “It is obviously disappointing to have to review any project that has been undertaken to benefit our residents and community. The impact of the Covid pandemic on our finances cannot be ignored and we quite rightly are reviewing a number of projects.

Cllr Caroline Reeves

“We are not saying these projects will never be revisited, but they were at a point where we could stop without incurring further costs. There was ongoing dialogue with local residents in relation to the design aspects of part of the plans.

“Swan Lane is an adopted highway and as such Surrey County Council, as the Highway Authority, is responsible for the improvements to and maintenance of this pedestrian area, which is looking very run down and in need of maintenance.”

The new leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group, Cllr Ramsey Nagaty, said: “GGG are supportive of the decision to postpone the planned work to the town centre.

Cllr Ramsey Nagaty

“The works would have caused substantial disruption to the retail sector as it struggles to return to normal trading. Pavements would have been dug up to install the cobblestones and new curbs.

“The council has invested heavily in supporting local businesses especially the retail sector and will bring forward town centre upgrades at the earliest opportunity.

“This postponement of the town centre upgrading saves the council additional expenditure at this tough time and alleviates disruption which would have deterred shoppers just as the hoped-for increase in footfall would be developing.

“GGG hope the work can be done as soon as practical. Completed, this will improve the attractiveness of some of our key retail and historic areas.”

But Hon Alderman Gordon Bridger and others have been vocal in their criticism of the work planned for Chapel Street which he felt was unnecessarily expensive and would damage the historic character of the street. (See articles here.)

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test 8 Responses to Tories Object After Council Calls Halt to Town Centre Upgrades

  1. Valerie Thompson Reply

    August 1, 2020 at 6:17 pm

    So glad that this historic area of Guildford will not be ruined with unnecessary so-called improvements. Tunsgate’s fake setts were a complete waste of money.

    • K White Reply

      August 2, 2020 at 11:15 am

      Hear, hear!

  2. Jim Allen Reply

    August 1, 2020 at 8:23 pm

    If its Surrey County Council’s responsibility then let them do it.

  3. Frank Phillipson Reply

    August 1, 2020 at 9:16 pm

    At this time, would retailers really want months and months of disruption? The thoroughfares are publicly adopted highways which are the responsibility of Surrey County Council to maintain.

    It seems that GBC stepped in pre-Covid-19 crisis to assist in making improvements (although I am not sure that they were going to be a change for the better) to assist in making the town centre more attractive for shoppers.

    Now, in the Covid-19 crisis, the money is gone and there are other more pressing needs. What a stupid, ill-considered and impractical objection to make.

  4. Ben Paton Reply

    August 1, 2020 at 11:07 pm

    A fitting end for a vanity project.

  5. David Smith Reply

    August 2, 2020 at 8:22 am

    Whilst I agree works are not needed to Chapel Street and even Swan Lane, surely it’d be nice to make Castle Street, currently tarmacked, more pedestrian-friendly? But at least these projects will be revisited.

    I have no idea why the few still criticise Tunsgate – how are the setts fake? Are they made of plastic? The pedestrianisation of Tunsgate has encouraged new eateries with their tables and chairs – Gails Bakery has still committed to moving in, which will only add to the cafe culture which is so much better than parked cars. It was completely the right thing to do.

  6. Gordon Bridger Reply

    August 2, 2020 at 10:24 am

    The council was absolutely right to abandon this scheme which, in the case of Castle Street, was a very expensive traffic “improvement” proposal, a SCC responsibility.

    I hope however that a few thousand Pounds can be found to re-bed some of the setts on Chapel Street. They only need some TLC, as Cllr Furniss promised.

  7. Valerie Thompson Reply

    August 3, 2020 at 12:17 pm

    The setts were not traditional granite but smooth stone, hence “fake”, which quickly got damaged with spilled oil.

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