Fringe Box



What does 2013 hold for Guildford?

Published on: 7 Jan, 2013
Updated on: 16 Jan, 2013


At the beginning of last week we reviewed 2012 but what does 2013 hold for Guildford?

Town centre planning
Unless the Guildford Vision Group make further legal objections preparation for the construction of the new Waitrose store will get underway this year. Preparations will include demolition of the youth Centre and the Live and Let Live pub in Haydon Place.
Promises by the council of better engagement with interested parties such as the Vision Group, the Guildford Society and Residence Associations will be closely scrutinised. Early signs might be promising but suspicion and some bitterness still exists on all sides and acceptable compromise might not always be easy to agree.

Green Belt
Despite the Conservative party being the traditional protectors of the Green Belt they now seem to have joined those who say that some Green Belt land will have to be used for development, primarily to meet the insatiable demand for extra housing. This is likely to cause dissent, even amongst Conservative supporters, in those areas affected already perhaps disillusioned by their party’s apparently hollow promises to stop ‘garden grabbing’ planning applications which are still, apparently, difficult to refuse.
Meanwhile, some brown field sites, e.g. the old CEGB plot at the bottom on the Portsmouth Road, remain empty. Perhaps pressure will increase to use such plots for housing rather than offices. plastic coatings site in Woodbridge Meadows.

The will be no quick fix for traffic congestion in Guildford. The accident prone stretch of the A3 by the Cathedral is likely to remain choked in busy periods. Construction of the Onslow Park & Ride by The Holiday Inn will commence and, if early signs can be relied on the new traffic layout in Egerton Road will continue to ease congestion locally.
The results of council traffic surveys should be made known and debate over a significant traffic reorganisation scheme, which all parties now accept will be necessary as a precursor to major town centre redevelopment, will continue.

Pub closures
Pub closures nationally continue at a rate of over 50 a week. In the last year Guildford has seen the demise of the Live and Let Live and a decision to convert The Forresters into flats. Given the social trend for younger drinkers to go to the big bars, the overall economic situation and pressure from some breweries to squeeze licensee profits further pubs might follow suit. One piece of good news for pubs might be minimum alcohol pricing but how effective that will be remains to be seen.
At the time of writing rumours are circulating that The Ship in Pitch Place might close. An earlier article in The Guildford Dragon NEWS identified 18 pubs that have closed in Guildford Town since 1960. At one time, it is said, there were thirty pubs on the High Street alone. Currently there are 19 pubs open for business in the town centre.

Guildford might see more empty shops in 2013. Commercial landlords seem reluctant to drop rents despite the economic downturn and business rates can be critically unaffordable for existing and proposed businesses. As internet sales increase their market share we remain in the midst of what could even be described as a ‘shopping revolution’. It is no surprise that goods that customers still want to see and feel before purchase e.g. women’s clothes and foodstuffs are showing more resistance to internet shopping and there is an opportunity for entrepreneurs to capitalise on the healthy even expanding cafe culture, something that should be factored in to any new town centre plans.

Borough Council
When a party is in a such dominating position, as the conservatives are on Guildford Borough Council, it can be more prone to internal strife. Council Leader Stephen Mansbridge (Con, Ash South & Tongham) appears keen to allow individual councillors to have their own voice on matters such as planning, which might relieve some tensions, but politicians are often schemers by nature and the recent leadership coup will have undoubtedly left bruises. Meanwhile the Lib Dems are probably hoping that their unpopularity at a national level can be limited locally in 2015 when the next Borough Council and general elections are due to be held. The Lib Dems together with the two labour councillors, will be looking for weaknesses in Tory policy and unity to exploit but there is no sign of independent or resident association candidates emerging, as they have in some other areas of Surrey. The next GBC election is not until 2015 but the odd by election is always a possibility but if they occur they will not be critical.

With the low birth rate 1.75 per woman in Guildford (source Office of National Statistics) well established and the decrease in household size largely behind us (increased wealth has meant that far fewer married/partnered children live with parents as was common in the first half on the 20th century, in fact singleton households are commonplace) the main driver demanding more housing is migration, both international and from other parts of the UK. The relative prosperity of the South East and its employment opportunities, quite naturally, continues to attract those seeking work and better prospects.
The eastern European community in the area is now significant and will probably attract others. Sainsbury’s in Godalming has had a specific Polish goods section for a few years now. Would you have imagined such a thing a decade ago?

Guildford will main one of the safest towns in the UK but, of course, that does not mean to say that it is crime free. A number of violent assaults that we have reported over the last months clearly show that this kind of crime, some of it possibly drug related, has not gone away. The concentration of the larger drinking establishments into one area, Bridge Street also might be a contributory factor.
The year will be the first with the newly elected Police Commissioner and it will be interesting to see what effect his appointment has. one area that some say needs improvement is the quality of communication between the police and citizens, including neighbourhood watch, who are keen to support them. Anti social behaviour also remains a problem but one advantage of wet weather might be a decrease in such crime as perpetrators are less keen to spend time out of doors.

‘Big Society’
Our current Prime Minister David Cameron is the one credited with creating the term Big Society. Some are annoyed that it can partly at least be a way of the government delegating it’s own responsibilities and costs to volunteers. However, as cut backs bite deeper and deeper frustrated communities might, rightly or wrongly, take on more and more as frustration increases as tasks previously thought suitable for council workers.

Local economy
Even if we have seen the worst of the recession here is no sign that the economy nationally or locally will return to its former vigour. We are more resistant to the worst of its effects I this part of the country but not immune and empty shop premises and the prevalence of low cost shops, sometimes taking advantage of short leases in empty premises so that it is a challenge to retail businesses which will have some knock on into the service sector.
House values are standing up though. Intact last year they increased in Guildford presumably because demand from those moving into the area continues.
The importance of the technology and scientific sector to Guildford’s economy is becoming better appreciated. Fortunately this is a sector that remains relatively healthy. Planners are showing that they understand the need to keep Guildford an attractive location for such industry. It has been said that traffic congestion and lack of affordable housing are the two most important factors in more firms rejecting Guildford as a location so we are less likely to see major locations into our town this year despite the being more than enough empty office space.

Local culture
Music – Will there be a rock music festival in Stoke Park this summer? Although the business behind GuilFest went bust last year after the poor weather and rising costs hit ticket sales at both the 2011 and 2012 event, many hope there will be some kind of festival. Guildford Borough Council wants to see a summer music festival, but it remains to be seen whether someone comes in to organise a one-off festival, or take on the mantle for the long term. Whatever, it better be decided soon as the multitude of other festival organisers around the UK will soon be snapping up the best bands on the circuit for 2013. The outsourced Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra or whatever it is to be called will also be closely examined. considerable bitterness still exists over the demise of the old organisation and if the new arrangement fails there will be many saying ‘I told you so’. The accounts of G Live are likely to be closely scrutinised by its critics towards the end of the year. The ported loss was expected for it’s first year of operation but will be less tolerable in future.
Sporting events – The success and popularity of sporting events such as the Olympic torch lay and the Tour of Britain bicycle race have not gone unnoticed. the council will be keen to hold more events which can help build community spirit and give a feel-good factor. The Tour of Britain it has been reported has already been signed up for the next two years. but perhaps other opportunities might be discovered.

Climate change
All reports seem to indicate that we can expect more extreme weather conditions. In Britain the main consequence over the last twelve months (the previous year was unusually dry) is increased rainfall, sometimes delivered in short periods. This increases the risk of flooding but fortunately, severe flooding in the town of 1968 proportions has not occurred.

What do you think? Do you agree with the predictions above? Perhaps you have others that you would like to share? Please use the Leave a Reply feature below…

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