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Opinion: Will New Vet School Slow Down Accommodation Construction?

Published on: 17 Dec, 2013
Updated on: 17 Dec, 2013
An artists impression of the University of Surrey's new vet school that was recently given the planning go-ahead.

An artists impression of the University of Surrey’s new vet school that was recently given the planning go-ahead.

By Rob Burch

Well “hooray” for the University of Surrey are the cries.  A new £45 million faculty and a series of smart buildings for the anticipated 500 additional students to study in, 100 academic & support staff, plus facilities for animals. 

There is significant disagreement within the veterinary community around the need for a new school. The British Veterinary Association and the British Equine Veterinary Association both say there is already a shortage of graduate jobs. But this shouldn’t concern Guildford residents much, except that £4.9million of the cost is being funded by the taxpayer.

What we should be concerned about is the location of the vet school on the university’s Manor Park site.  The main two buildings of the school will go in an area that is designated for student accommodation according to the master plan for the site that was agreed with the council.

Opinion Logo 2When questioned about the location and the fact that this will prevent construction of two accommodation blocks (for which detailed planning permission has been given), the university’s architects response was basically, don’t worry, there’s plenty of room on this site. While this is true, this does not give a sense of comfort around the university’s accommodation plans for the Manor Park site.

The original plans agreed between the university and the council allowed a maximum of 4,790 residences to be built of which only about 1650 have been built so far.  This was to facilitate an expansion in student numbers from about 9,000 to 12,500 of whom 60% would live in university provided residences. 

The phasing for construction envisaged up to 3,300 residences being built by 2010. Even allowing for a delayed start to overall development of the site, the university must be at least five years behind schedule.  Together with the 3,350 residences at Stag Hill and Hazel Farm, the residences intended would meet the 60% on-campus accommodation target the university set for itself.

“Why should we care about this?” I hear many residents ask.  Well, this lack of accommodation building by the university has a major impact on our communities.  If the university complete the residences they were given permission for over 10 years ago, this would free up between 500-1000 homes in the borough for young families and others who, according to the council, are in great need of housing. 

The university would also be able to vacate Hazel Farm, as committed to in the masterplan, which could be used by the council to build much needed affordable housing.  To date, no additional planning applications for student residences have been made according to the council’s website.

All this has been going on at the same time that the university are lobbying the council to move the green belt boundary in the Manor Park area to allow a massive green-field house and office building programme that would bring further traffic chaos to the west of Guildford area, whatever weak promises are being made by the university to prevent this.

What angers me most about this situation is that planning permission for the vet school and the challenges this causes to building residences at Manor Park was decided by planning officers and not by our elected councillors who form the Planning Committee.  This is not the fault of council officers, who are following the correct delegated powers procedures, but demonstrates a lack of oversight of the university’s plans by those we have elected to represent us.

I hope that our councillors will now be prepared to take a more resident-focussed approach to their dealings with the university, as has been the case in Oxford, where university expansion is only permitted once the additional accommodation required has been put in place.  This protects communities for the long term without unnecessarily hindering valuable university expansion.

Rob Burch is a member of the Save Hogs Back campaign.

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test One Response to Opinion: Will New Vet School Slow Down Accommodation Construction?

  1. Jeff Hills Reply

    December 23, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    The University of Surrey seems to be more interested in the green field sites and using them as a cash cow. They should be stopped in their tracks now and remember they are guests in Guildford, not a money making business.

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