Fringe Box



Zero Carbon Guildford Forced to Quit North Street Premises as Lease Ends

Published on: 8 May, 2023
Updated on: 8 May, 2023

By Hugh Coakley

Zero Carbon Guildford, after successfully operating in their premises at the bottom of North Street for the last 18 months, have been given notice to quit by their landlord by September 2023.

The Zero Carbon centre in Friary Street

The award-winning charity will be consulting with their members on options to continue their work as a climate change action body, with one possibility being to move to new premises in the town.

Trustee Mark Stamp said it had been a “brilliant home” but it was “a great opportunity to build something new as a community, using all that we have learned from the past three years”.

The huge building, of a size which has been difficult to let as a retail concern in the declining high street environment had, Stamp said, been on a short-term lease from landlords Legal & General. They also own Friary Street and Phoenix Court. It is not known what plans L&G has for the building.

Zero opened to the public in November 2021 after volunteers transformed the former New Look shop into amongst other things, a cafe, a zero waste shop, a stage for talks and environmental events with comfortable sofas and tables for socialising.

Since opening, Zero has been active on projects including with the University of Surrey, local businesses and with Surrey County and Guildford Borough Councils. There was widespread praise for the charity when it won an award by the Climate Coalition and was mentioned at Prime Minister’s Questions in March 2023.

“It is a real community space,” said one visitor.

Zero Carbon Guildford trustee Mark Stamp.

The lease arrangement was known by both parties to be short term with the landlord getting business rate relief by letting the premises be used by a charity.

The risk they could be asked to move on if the landlord found a tenant was fully understood but it still came as a shock to members. “Gutted with the news even though we knew it could happen” said a member of the charity’s team.

Inside the Zero community hub

Continuing the current work and looking to the future was a priority but this had to be done with the support of the large volunteer team built up since launching.

Stamp said: “We want to consult as widely as possible with our members and volunteers on the next steps for Zero Carbon Guildford. There will be an event on Thursday, May 18 at 19:30 to start that discussion to which the members are all invited.”

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Responses to Zero Carbon Guildford Forced to Quit North Street Premises as Lease Ends

  1. Julian Lyon Reply

    May 8, 2023 at 5:03 pm

    So let’s see if we can get the Old Orleans Restaurant back in use for a Zero Carbon Guildford drop-in centre – what else it being used for after all?

    • Julian Lyon Reply

      May 9, 2023 at 7:01 pm

      Owned by Guildford Borough Council and sitting empty for some time (circa 12 years?). It was previously held on a long lease from GBC but I do not believe that lease still exists.

      Land Registry does not indicate that there is any lease on the property now.

      Wouldn’t it be great to allow Zero Carbon, with a suitably ethical café or bar, spill out onto Bedford Square where Old Orleans once enlivened the area?

  2. Frank Emery Reply

    May 9, 2023 at 1:05 pm

    Just another GBC waste of money. New Orleans has been stood empty for god knows how long?

    It’s a perfect spot for a restaurant or bar by the river.

  3. Gina Redpath Reply

    May 9, 2023 at 2:22 pm

    Former [R4GV] councillor John Redpath (my husband) says, “The problem with the New Orleans premises is that it has been completely stripped of all services and needs a complete refit, rewire and re-plumb Etc – not really a practical site for Zero to take on.”

    John also informed me that there is a lovely cottage in the Castle Grounds that is certainly worth a look at.

    He added, “Although it’s a shame the wonderful Zero Carbon Project has to move, it is great to see the town centre getting back on its feet,” something, he says, the council has been working towards for the past four years.

    • M Durant Reply

      May 10, 2023 at 12:01 am

      The cottage in the Castle Grounds might be a contentious spot, it’s been empty for a while, you would think with so many people in need of a home that it would be better for a family to live there. I am not sure why it has been uninhabited for such long time.

      I have also heard that the shed area for the Castle Grounds’ gardeners might be moved there from the top bit of the Castle Grounds to where the cottage is.

    • Pete Bennett Reply

      May 10, 2023 at 7:59 pm

      So if the New Orleans is completely stripped and unlikely to be of interest to anyone commercially, then maybe the council would be open to a 10-year peppercorn lease if Zero Carbon Guildford could organise a crowd-sourced / mainly volunteer staffed refit?

      Or maybe I am underestimating the cost of just the materials required for that.

  4. Keith Parkins Reply

    May 9, 2023 at 7:27 pm

    No great loss.

    On the rare occasions I have looked in, always empty, the volunteers were neither friendly, helpful or knowledgeable.

    They offered unfair competition to coffee shops. If I wanted a coffee I would visit Koja or Krema.

    They also offer unfair competition to Solar Sisters zero waste shop, where at least they are knowledgeable on what they are selling.

    Zero supports Experience Guildford, odd for a community group to support an unaccountable entity that is killing struggling local businesses with the BID Levy.

    • Mark Stamp Reply

      May 10, 2023 at 10:56 am

      Our aim is not to compete with coffee shops and provide a barista experience which is why we don’t charge much for coffee. We also have a good relationship with Solar Sisters and will often direct people to them as we only have a limited range. Our shop and cafe are only intended as a means to engage the community and cover running costs.

      Our involvement with Experience Guildford is to encourage them and town centre businesses to become more sustainable through our sustainable business network as well as being a voice on the board for independent businesses.

      We saved 13 tonnes of food waste last year through our community fridge, did almost 200 free residential energy surveys and have more than 50 water testers regularly testing the Wey and tributaries. None of this would have happened without our town centre space so I’m sorry that Mr Parkin doesn’t think it would be a great loss.

      Mark Stamp is a trustee of Zero Carbon Guildford and a member of the board of Experience Guildford

  5. Keith Parkins Reply

    May 11, 2023 at 7:50 pm

    Oh dear, BID board member defending Experience Guildford and fails to address what I have raised.

    Zero may have some viable projects, these I have not mentioned, let alone criticised.

    Were Zero paying rent, business rates, staffing costs? If not, then they are unfair competition to local businesses.

    He acts for local businesses. Really? It will be news to local businesses. Did they ask Mark Stamp to act for them? Maybe he’d care to explain when they have tried to raise their concerns with him, he has turned his back and walked away.

    We don’t have sustainable local businesses when the BID Levy is killing them, not only in Guildford but across the country.

    As a board member, is he happy that the BID CEO refuses to answer legitimate questions on expenditure for example around two hundred people attended the consumer service awards free drinks all night, missing ballot papers for the BID Ballot, BID misusing the BID Levy to campaign for a Yes vote, count held in secret behind closed doors, refusal to answer questions at the BID AGM, unlicenced unregulated unaccountable BID private security roaming the streets.

    At the Experience Guildford AGM, did he question how can the AGM approve the annual accounts when no one had sight of them? Did he object to questions not being answered and the AGM shut down to prevent further questions?

    Across the country zero waste shops are closing, those that remain are struggling. How generous, direct customers to Solar Sisters for items you do not sell. If he really wished to help he would not be engaged in unfair competition.

    If I want a coffee, I would visit Koja or Krema, people who care about coffee. Not only will I get an excellent coffee, I am supporting local businesses and keeping people in employment.

    If Mr Stamp was helping local businesses, he would keep them informed by reporting BID meetings on the Zero website. Better still, resign from the board and campaign for Experience Guildford to be wound up.

  6. Chloe Sutcliffe Reply

    May 12, 2023 at 3:27 pm

    I think Zero has been a huge asset to the area, and really hope another equally central space can be found.

  7. Susan Kay-Attwood Reply

    May 13, 2023 at 2:18 pm

    The Odeon put in a planning application to expand into the Old Orleans site in 2020 20/P/00774 but I suspect Covid stopped that.

    I will be sad too if another location is not found.

    The Terracycle recycling is brilliant and the cafe is handy if you want a drink while you are there for an event. Volunteers are friendly and if they don’t know can find someone who does.

    I usually go to Solarsisters for refills but if you don’t fancy going up the hill it’s there and they sell some things solarsisters don’t. The more refill and zerowaste shops in Guildford the better.

    Guildford Seed Bank has had some great Seed Swaps there and our stand is popular with people too.

  8. Keith Parkins Reply

    May 13, 2023 at 8:46 pm

    ‘The more refill and zerowaste shops in Guildford the better.’

    Sounds good doesn’t it? Only it ignores market fundamentals.

    – supply and demand
    – a fair and level playing field

    In Athens I find many shops selling loose nuts and dried fruits. The quality far higher than find in the UK. They don’t have a special name because they are commonplace, the norm.

    In UK many zero waste shops are struggling to survive, many have closed. There is not the demand in Guildford for several.

    It is not a level playing when one a commercial operation, faces unfair competition from a competitor not having the same costs when classed as a community venture.

  9. Sam Neatrour Reply

    May 13, 2023 at 10:22 pm

    What a shame to lose this amazing community resource. Hope a new site can be located soonest.

  10. Karen Worcester Reply

    May 15, 2023 at 4:39 pm

    So sorry to hear that Zero has to find new premises before September. It is such a worthwhile entity, created by volunteers.

    Their range of events, meeting spaces and the support they give to other local organisations is unique in Guildford, and probably unique in Surrey and wider afield.

    Zero is a real asset to Guildford so if any landlords or owners of premises can step up here to help that would be fantastic – I’m sure they would love to hear from you!

  11. Keith Parkins Reply

    May 16, 2023 at 11:06 am

    End of last year and the previous year, end of November and early December, street by street, I carried out photo surveys of the number of empty premises in the centre of Guildford.

    I was shocked by what I found. Nowhere other than somewhere like Aldershot, have I found town centres this bad. Made worse by Experience Guildford fly posting empty properties.

    If this is what Experience Guildford success looks like, I hate to think what failure looks like.

    To bring empty properties back into use through letting to community groups is a concept known as ReSpace. It not only recycles empty properties, it recycles people and their skills.

    Thus Zero or any other community group spoilt for choice.

    I have no objection with Zero using ReSpace to run the projects they are proud of. Where I have a problem is Zero abusing ReSpace to engage in unfair competition with existing local businesses. This is no different to Starbucks dodging tax to gain a competitive advantage.

    I also object to Zero supporting Experience Guildford and falsely claiming this is helping local businesses. To help local businesses would be to end the BID extortion racket.

    Amanda Masters, CEO of Experience Guildford responded: “I’d like the opportunity to talk to Keith Parkins about what Experience Guildford actually does. Would he be prepared to meet for a coffee and a chat about his ideas for the town centre?’

    And a spokesperson for Zero Carbon Guildford said: “ZCG is a registered charity, which is legitimately making use of a business rate relief model which has enabled a group of local volunteers to use an otherwise empty building to run dozens of projects which benefit the Guildford community. ZERO is a not for profit charity and the income received from our shop and cafe has been important in helping ZCG meet the running costs of our projects.”

  12. M Bonnici Reply

    May 17, 2023 at 9:03 am

    Sad news. They made a valuable contribution to Guildford. Can the location of the new Zero shop be publicised when it is known please? Hopefully it will be somewhere just as central and accessible.

  13. Keith Parkins Reply

    May 17, 2023 at 2:56 pm

    As a registered charity Zero receives a business rates reduction for the large retail space they occupy in the centre of Guildford. They are remarkably coy about the rent and BID Levy they pay. Are they paying a reduced BID Levy?

    Maybe the Charity Commission should investigate, is Zero abusing its charitable status to engage in unfair competition with local businesses?

    For any future premises I would recommend a clause in the lease that they cannot use the premises to engage in unfair competition with local businesses.

    On my last visit, as always empty, they were very vocal in their support of criminal damage by Stop Oil. Is this official Zero policy?

    A spokesperson for Zero said: “We will discuss our rental arrangements with anyone who asks and are happy to state that we pay the full BID levy. As an organisation, we do not condone illegal activity.”

  14. Dave Fielding Reply

    May 19, 2023 at 7:51 pm

    If Keith Parkins thinks Guildford is a run down town centre he needs to get out more. Here’s my starter for 10 towns in a worse state, Kenilworth, Rugby, Stoke, Derby, Dorking, Bangor, I could go on. I travel a lot for work.

    Guildford is by some way one of the better town centres only beaten by that jewel of the East Coast Skegness.

  15. Keith Parkins Reply

    May 21, 2023 at 8:22 pm

    Did I say Guildford was run down? No.

    Based on published photo surveys, street by street, two years in succession, I was shocked by the number of empty premises.

    I travel around, I do not see this level of empty premises elsewhere. The three exceptions:

    – Aldershot
    – Market Rasen
    – Worksop

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