Fringe Box



Vision Group Reveals Its New Plan for Guildford Town Centre

Published on: 3 Feb, 2017
Updated on: 3 Feb, 2017

A new bridge taking north-south traffic over the river and railway line, then alongside the station before re-crossing, if necessary the line and river again over rebuilt bridges is at the heart of the GVG plan to free large areas of the town of traffic.

A new road layout for central Guildford, allowing more pedestrianisation and the creation of open spaces within the town centre and by the river, was at the core of a new plan presented by Guildford Vision Group (GVG) this week.

The main presentation, to an almost full Baptist Millmead Centre, on Wednesday, February 1, that seats around 500, was given by architect David Leonard of Leonard Design Architects. Visual presentation of how a redeveloped Guildford could look culminated in a virtual “fly through” (see below).

In a show of hands at the end of the meeting, there was almost unanimous agreement that Guildford Borough Council (GBC) should adopt the ambitious goals of the £2 billion scheme. There appeared to be a similar level of support for a new rail/river crossing, critical to the proposed layout.

Opening up the riverside in Guildford, a generally well received idea that has been central to proposals put forward by GVG and GBC, remains a central plank in GVG’s latest plan.

Central to GVG’s plan is creating a new east-west crossing, linking York Road with Guildford Park Road. The new link is central to deliver the objective of taking traffic away from the town centre, allowing much more of the centre, including the riverside and the railway station approach, to be better pedestrianised.

The plan would also deliver five new squares, two acres of open space, and 1,500 metres of revitalised riverside around a redeveloped Town Wharf.

One of the new open spaces in front of St Saviours Church that GVG’s plan could create.

John Rigg, GVG chairman, said: “The plan is a bold one, it’s ambitious. The new bridge, for instance, delivers huge benefits. At a stroke, it tackles the considerable infrastructure deficit in the town centre. That’s something the council, so far, are not planning to do in their Town Centre Regeneration Strategy, launched just days before our publicised event. We say Guildford needs determined, planned regeneration that addresses the infrastructure deficit of decades.

The GVG plan delivers significant development for the town. It creates nearly 3,000 new homes plus commercial, leisure and retail opportunities. In turn, GVG claims, this would result in a considerable increase in business rates and council tax revenues for the local authorities, as well as more employment opportunities from new businesses and activities.

A pedestrianised Onslow Bridge and open car free square in front of the Electric Theatre

According to a GVG press release: “The plan area is mostly away from the historic core and poses little threat to the town’s heritage. It respects Guildford’s well-loved setting and views. Indeed we claim that our plan brings much need investment to tired areas which have unexciting mixed use, along with unappealing design and architecture.

“These areas are occupied mostly by ageing government buildings and surface car parks. Network Rail also could frustrate the £2 bn regeneration project if it is not open to cooperation with the town.”

To date, councillors have been sceptical about the prospect of a new bridge spanning a live railway on the grounds of cost and practicality but John Rigg said that the Vision Group had spoken to Network Rail who had confirmed that utilising modern techniques the installation of a new bridge was possible and that they would have no objection.

John Rigg

Mr Rigg went on to explain that GVG had also spoken to all the current owners or occupants of the land required, including the law courts and the police station who agreed that their current buildings were already becoming inadequate for current needs, new premises would probably be required, so they were not necessarily set on staying put.

The National Trust, which owns the River Wey Navigation, could also foresee no reason that would make it object to the proposed plan.

The next crucial stage will be the council’s reaction to GVG’s proposals. The relationship between the council and the group has fluctuated over the last five years. It was the GVG that successfully challenged a draft Local Plan when Cllr Tony Rooth was leader of the council.

A coup was soon mounted by Stephen Mansbridge who took control of GBC and his relations with the group gradually improved until they became quite close. Some felt too close but it was in this period that GBC accepted, for the first time the need for masterplanning, or a holistic approach.

But more recently, with Paul Spooner as the new council leader, there seems to be more distance but continuing dialogue and recent meetings have taken place. It is likely that the reception given to the GVG’s plan will strengthen, to some extent, their position in talks with the council.

But some councillors are known to be resistant to any move that could indicate that their control, as elected representatives, over town planning has been weakened and GVG will need to tread carefully.

Numerous councillors were in the audience at the meeting including: Matt Furniss, deputy leader and lead councillor for infrastructure; Geoff Davis, lead councillor for asset management; Nikki Nelson-Smith, lead councillor for culture and the arts; but absent was Paul Spooner who carries the planning brief in addition to his leadership role.

Cllr Caroline Reeves

Cllr Caroline Reeves (Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas) whose ward includes most areas that would be affected by the proposals, commented: “I welcome the ideas put forward by the Guildford Vision Group for the town centre and I know that these along with many other suggestions are being studied by the major projects team in planning.

“We all know that we have to resolve the congestion problems for through traffic as well as local residents. Until we can get more frequent and later running bus services, public transport isn’t always a viable option and as there’s no government support for bus services in this country this is a chicken-and-egg problem. We also know it is exceedingly difficult to persuade people that owning a car is the only option.
“I have been contacted by residents who are concerned that the GVG vision is the de facto plan and will go ahead without consultation. This is not the case, any plan has to go through consultation with many stakeholders before work can begin. Much of that work has already been started by GBC but it is a long progress and we need to hold onto the vision – whoever it belongs to – as well as working within the restrictions imposed by bodies like the Environment Agency.
“Meanwhile we need some short term answers but they must be part of the master plan. The progress towards a viable Masterplan will be tortuous but we have to do it, and we must use all the best parts of all the visions.”

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Responses to Vision Group Reveals Its New Plan for Guildford Town Centre

  1. Guy Sutlieff Reply

    February 3, 2017 at 1:31 pm

    It all looks rather lovely in a dreamy sort of way, and I suppose this is all rather hypothetical as I imagine it will never happen. But two things spring to mind immediately.

    Firstly, I’m amazed by all those low rise colonnaded buildings that are going to be built, seemingly replacing the entirety of Guildford town centre. Who, what, when & how are my misgivings here.

    Secondly, and more importantly I think, is concerning this obsession with huge pedestrian plazas, squares and streets. Now I have no wish to spend my time in fume filled, streets surrounded by cars, but all these lovely pedestrianised areas are always portrayed on a sunny, Saturday evening in summer when everybody is out doing lovely “Mediterranean Café Culture” type things. However, as experience has taught in many towns planned in the 60s and 70s with pedestrianised areas, what you get for the vast majority of the year in our climate are large windswept areas that ordinary people don’t frequent, which often leads to anti-social behaviour which leads to a bit of a spiral.

    I think you need some traffic (in the widest sense of the word) just to have some throughput of people, which gives some atmosphere and security.

  2. Carole Davis Reply

    February 4, 2017 at 2:30 pm

    It all seems very interesting. It addresses the issues explanation of how: short term development, traffic congestion, and the need to build more houses in the area. But, as I’ve mentioned before, what are the plans for the fast flowing river Wey through Guildford centre and the risk of flooding?

    The need for improved flood protection was mentioned during the presentation. Ed

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