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The plan to build a Waitrose supermarket on the Bellerby Theatre site is facing two applications for judicial review*. Cllr James Palmer, lead councillor for the town centre, says Guildford Borough Council (GBC) will defend its decision.
One of the judicial review applicants is the Guildford Vision Group (GVG), the other is Hermes, asset managers with funds of £27 billion sourced initially from the British Telecom/Post Office pension funds and owners of the Friary centre.
Planning permission for the Waitrose development, which included 48 homes, was granted by GBC, that owns the Bellerby site, in December, after the Secretary of State for Local Government decided that it did not require intervention by him because it was only of local importance.
In a press release, GVG said: “We believe that GBC, amongst other things, has incorrectly applied a crucial planning test – the ‘sequential’ test. In layman’s terms, the assessment of the planning application by the planning officers has to determine that more appropriate sites for town centre uses, taken in sequence, do not already exist, such as the redevelopment planned for North Street and the Friary.”
Other grounds for a judicial review, they say, include: “…poor assessment of conservation and environmental aspects.”
Hermes are the the sole owners of the Friary centre after Westfield sold it its interest last year. Owning the majority of the land for the proposed North Street development, Hermes has been long-term major investors in the town but have announced a decision to sell its Guildford interests to PRUPIM, the property arm of Prudential.
John Rigg, chairman of GVG said: “We do not take the judicial review step lightly.” [It has been done] “more in sorrow, in fact. It all comes down to the lack of a sensible, professional masterplan for the town. Where is the logic in a traffic-busy, trolley format foodstore outside the main retail envelope of the town centre and, indeed, just outside the extended primary retail area anticipated by the North Street development?”
Three other leading community groups also challenged the planning decision, asking the Secretary of State to call in the scheme: The Guildford Society; The Guildford Residents’ Association (an umbrella organisation covering numerous residents associations in Guildford) and the Guildford Environmental Forum.
Michael Jeffery, chairman of The Guildford Society, said: “We support GVG’s judicial review request. The Bellerby site should be retained solely for housing, as originally planned.”
The previously agreed housing role for the Bellerby site delivered 75 affordable housing units against the 18 provided under the new scheme. GVG says believes the site could accommodate up to 250 homes if it were given over entirely to housing. The newly approved scheme manages just 48 homes in total.
A GVG spokesperson said: “GVG is pro-growth and supports plans to develop both North Street and the Bellerby site, provided the development is in the context of a masterplan that looks at the broader picture, especially the traffic implications.
“A good masterplan will deliver a finer Guildford. If Guildford is to flourish well into the 21st century, the importance of a beautiful town, and of people over cars, has to be acknowledged, with much improved public space for the community, arts and entertainment, as well as for attractions such as the established street markets.”
A GBC spokesperson confirmed knowledge of the two applications. She stated: “Guildford Borough Council has received notification of two potential legal challenges to its decision, to grant planning permission for a town centre mixed-use scheme submitted by Waitrose.
“The plans to regenerate the site include 48 new homes, 18 of which will be affordable, a new community centre and a medium-sized retail store accompanied by 168 parking spaces.
Lead Councillor for Town Centre and Transport, Cllr James Palmer, said: “We firmly believe our decision to grant planning permission supports the principles of the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework, which favours and encourages town centre development.
“The project is a great opportunity to regenerate a part of the town centre and at the same time introduce a long-awaited top brand foodstore to Guildford. We will of course defend this decision.”
GBC and GVG are known to have been in dialogue over development plans for Guildford. GVG have been allowed by GBC to hear presentations from the short-listed developers for the North Street development project. The impact of GVG’s action remains to be seen.
PRUPIM declined to comment on this story. Hermes was invited to comment but no reply has been received.
In August, Hermes’ asset manager Ben Tolman said: “We remain committed to Guildford, having recently purchased Dominion House, which now gives us ownership of some 60% of the wider Guildford town centre expansion site.”
* A judicial review is a procedure in English administrative law by which the courts in England and Wales supervise the exercise of public power on the application of an individual. A person who feels that an exercise of such power by a government authority, such as a minister, the local council or a statutory tribunal, is unlawful, perhaps because it has violated his or her rights, may apply to the Administrative Court (a division of the High Court) for judicial review of the decision and have it set aside (quashed) and possibly obtain damages. A court may also make mandatory orders or injunctions to compel the authority to do its duty or to stop it from acting illegally. Source Wikipedia.