Fringe Box



Vision Group’s Leader Endorses Council Approach Of Tackling The Traffic First

Published on: 15 Dec, 2012
Updated on: 21 Dec, 2012

Following the interview with Cllr James Palmer, lead councillor for the town centre and traffic, on the North Street redevelopment project, The Guildford Dragon NEWS sought another view from an organisation that has not always seen eye to eye with the council, to say the least, on town planning. We spoke to John Rigg, Director of the Guildford Vision Group…

John Rigg, Guildford Vision Group

John Rigg, Guildford Vision Group

How did you find the short-listed developers/stakeholder meeting organised by the council last Monday?

Very constructive, very helpful. It certainly indicates a new approach by the council which we hope will be sustained. It is very early days of course but they [the short-listed developers] are clearly very competent contenders with good experience and track records. Each one of them has different attractions. It really depends on much more detailed scrutiny of their proposed approach.

And how do you think that scrutiny should conducted?

Well there is a challenge in that the council are both land owners and planning authority so that needs to be handled  very carefully but the main challenge is for the town to identify what it wants in the way of urban regeneration and what is potentially possible and I think that there is quite a bit of work to do with that as an early part of the process.

But they have mentioned the ‘M’ word – master-planning – so I think each of the developers has recognised the need to take an holistic approach to the plan within the town and not just the site in isolation. What you have to do is to scrutinise that very carefully and ensure that there is a process for the town centre partnership to bring together all the disparate views in a way that the developer has a chance of delivering a successful project and other associated improvements such as transport infrastructure.

On the subject of traffic, are you happy that James Palmer told The Guildford Dragon NEWS yesterday that addressing the traffic issue is going to be a fundamental first step of any new project?

I absolutely endorse and welcome that statement.

Are you satisfied that it will be the case?

I am satisfied that for Guildford to become a stellar town within the United Kingdom it has to take a radical approach to traffic.

In the past the Guildford Vision Group has been critical of the council for failing to engage properly or sufficiently with the townsfolk. How do you feel about that now?

I feel that it [the meeting] is a good start. It is a long journey. Most town centre redevelopments take between six and ten years to deliver and the risk is you can decide in haste and regret at leisure. We have some very competent developers who recognise that and who will know how to address these very important issues. They will want to do it carefully and part of that is their recognition that the community has an important contribution to make to the process.

Visitors to the Vision Group's event place stickers on a map to record their concerns and priorities

Tackling the traffic first was the top priority of those who attended the Vision Group’s ‘drop in’ event in September

Yesterday in the interview with James Palmer I talked to him about the trends of retailing and he confirmed that the premise for the project is that there is capacity for an additional 60,000 sq metres of retail space. How can the developers make sure the the project remains aligned with trends in the retail industry and economically viable?

Well that is a really good question. There is no doubt that retailing is going through a major transition and an oft quoted statistic is that the hundred largest shopping centres in Britain have never been as empty but  the ten largest shopping centres have never been as full. What that tells you is that there is a split between the towns that offer real excitement and a comprehensive offer and the rest – and the rest are the ones who are going to suffer considerably.

So you have to rejuvenate and change the quality of your retail offer and that can mean really exciting things like markets, open markets and very good food and leisure and a lot more theatre and entertainment than just the old fashioned Arndale approach to retailing. I think we can deliver some exciting things in Guildford, for example open public squares or enclosed spaces, suitable for all kinds of events. There needs to be a really serious scrutiny of what the town will need in the next century in order to keep it vibrant and I think these developers understand that.

You mentioned squares, what about public buildings? Should they be an ingredient too and, if so, how should they be paid for?

I think you want a mixed development that is lively and vibrant which includes commercial, civic and open space, and places for people to just come and sit and enjoy café culture. The developers will want to have those kind of attractions but only a certain amount will be affordable. Reaching that balance is a matter of expertise. But the number one objective should be to deliver a really high quality plan for the county town of Surrey and we and the council have all got to work together to produce something that we can all be proud of rather than just a repetition of the boring shopping centres that we see up and down the UK.

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