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Council Appoints Master-planners To Help Shape Future Town Centre

The ongoing saga of developing a vision for Guildford town centre has taken a new step with the council announcing its appointment of a team of master-planners.

A team of master-planners will help the council and the people of Guildford shape the town centre for the near future.

A team of master-planners will help the council and the people of Guildford shape the town centre for the near future.

Guildford Borough Council has announced that it will be working with architects Allies & Morrison, while inviting local people to help create a framework to shape the town over the next 20 years.

Council leader Cllr Stephen Mansbridge said: “This is an exciting step forward for our town centre. The vision will provide an overarching direction and will help us understand the future development of central Guildford.

“It will consider the key issues, infrastructure needs and challenges we face. We have listened carefully to local residents and will continue to engage with them throughout this process.”

The council adds that the visioning work will identify areas for transformation, look to integrate new developments with their surroundings and build upon the existing strengths of the town. It will consider key issues including traffic and transport, the quality of public spaces and the built environment, making better use of town centre land and enhancing local heritage.

The lead councillor for planning and governance, Monika Juneja, added: “Guildford is a vibrant, attractive and distinctive place and we want to make the most of its unique characteristics. The vision document will help bring together our ambition for the future of Guildford, including making the most of the River Wey. We will talk to local people, businesses and stakeholders to help develop this document and secure the future of our town centre.”

Bob Allies, a partner of Allies & Morrison, said, via the council’s statement, the vision will: “…protect the town’s unique assets – its structure of lanes and alleys, its historic buildings and the River Wey, but also deliver improvements where they are most needed.”

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10 Responses to Council Appoints Master-planners To Help Shape Future Town Centre

  1. Mary Bedforth Reply

    March 17, 2014 at 9:40 am

    May we be told the amount of consultancy fees payable in this case? Since the 90s I have read countless times of outside organisations employed by GBC to advise on town planning matters. The sums expended must be in £hundreds of thousands by now. And nothing has happened.

  2. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    March 17, 2014 at 10:25 pm

    I came across this illustration by the appointed architects. I was not able to spot any of Guildford’s landmarks except what looked like River Wey. So I assume a wholesale demolition of the town would be required to make way for this ‘Disneyland’ like place complete with its artificial waterway (doubling as a flood relief channel no doubt). Not sure this is what GBC had in mind or for that matter what any sane resident of Guildford would make of this!!

    http://www.thisisourtownguildford.co.uk/allies-and-morrison-to-develop-town-centre-vision-for-guildford/

    It would be interesting to see the brief for the architects’ appointment or have I missed some important announcements by GBC?

  3. Susan Parker Reply

    March 18, 2014 at 9:53 am

    I think the link above is to an image of the Olympic park, which Allies & Morrison were involved with. They were also involved with the Kings Cross redevelopment.

    It think it is important to avoid scaremongering about town centre redevelopment. It is incredibly important to protect our beautiful landmarks (the Castle, the High Street, the views out to the hills).

    We should however note that much of the area from North Street towards and around the bus station is semi-derelict and scheduled for redevelopment in any case, and this must be planned very carefully in order to get it right. Scrappy surface car parks are not the best use of our town centre. Better to get the planning right – this is the job of planning, after all.

    But we do need to know what the planners have been told as part of their proposals.

    I think we do need engagement from the public with the town planners. Cllr Juneja has said: “We will talk to local people, businesses and stakeholders to help develop this document and secure the future of our town centre.”

    GGG has asked to be involved with that public involvement.

  4. Andrew Backhurst Reply

    March 18, 2014 at 10:00 am

    Well done Bibhas Neogi for spotting this, Guildford City FC seem to have done very well out of the new town with our very own Olympic stadium. Great Stuff!!

  5. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    March 18, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    OK, those who have failed to notice that the illustration was of Stratford Olympic Park, rest assured that mercifully this was not of a ‘vision’ for Guildford. But what is the relevance? Obviously it was to draw attention to the fact that the architects are no back street outfit but they have done grand jobs. However, Guildford’s problems and challenges are nothing like that was at Stratford.

    The architects assure us that the vision will: “..protect the town’s unique assets – its structure of lanes and alleys, its historic buildings and the River Wey, but also deliver improvements where they are most needed.” Let’s wait for some concrete proposals at last from GBC aided by the appointed architects.

  6. Susan Parker Reply

    March 19, 2014 at 11:40 am

    Guildford is enormously different from Stratford, I agree. Having looked at their website, these consultants do seem to have a track record of work in urban regeneration and integration with historic landmarks,and did some good work round King’s Cross.

    However, some of us think that the public consultation process should start soon, rather than waiting for the formal proposals. This is after all as Cllr Juneja has suggested. That’s a legal requirement under the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework) anyway, especially given the new NPPG (National Planning Policy Guidance) recently published (see GGG open letter to councillors for details).

    Guildford Council does seem to have a track record of publishing documents (e.g. the Green Belt and Countryside Study (GBCS), or the Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA – see other discussion) and it then seems very reluctant to revise these documents. The “public involvement” in the scrutiny of the Green Belt and Countryside Study was a general workshop with no formal scrutiny going on. For example, Pegasus Group (GBCS consultants) seemed only to wish to justify their work (despite its many flaws- such as thinking that trees didn’t belong in the Green Belt) rather than enter into any reappraisal, as had been previously proposed and agreed at the Council meeting.

    As a result, many people in Guildford feel that public consultation should start BEFORE the documents are drafted (i.e. to agree the basis on which they are prepared), not after they are in the public domain.

    We know that the brownfield sites within Guildford are vitally important to the future of the town and of the borough as a whole. We also know that if they are used inappropriately there will be consequent increased pressure to develop on the Green Belt which surrounds the town. So town centre planning is of fundamental concern to the people of Guildford Borough as a whole.

    There is much brownfield land in Guildford, but the current Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessement (SHLAA) uses astonishingly low housing densities for most of the proposed sites. (Average housing density in the borough was proposed by GBC in the Issues and Options consultation to be at around 40 homes per hectare in the town; Notting Hill has 200 homes per hectare; but despite this, the SHLAA estimates that the largest brownfield sites should only be utilised at 11 homes per hectare or less). This is partly because that study has “earmarked” much of that brownfield land for commercial development, against the requirements of the NPPF (have the consultants concerned seen how much empty commercial space is available for rent recently?).

    Developers find it more profitable to build 4-5 bedroom executive homes on greenbelt land (which we don’t need) than build affordable two bedroom flats in the town centre (which we probably do). I’m not sure that I am convinced that profit for the builder is a factor that should influence the planning decision. Many of us feel that we need to use the brownfield land available as efficiently as possible.

    GGG (Guildford Greenbelt Group) has written to Cllr Juneja and formally asked to be involved in the public consultation process concerning the town and use of brownfield sites. We have not yet had a reply.

  7. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    March 24, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    I agree that public consultation is important and that it should be carried out but it helps to give a direction if preliminary proposals and alternatives are prepared and offered for consultation. Starting from a point where public has many ideas may not be the ideal start because they may not all be feasible, practicable or affordable.

    There have been many years of talking, of expressing views, workshops, presentations, seminars and visions but precious little actual proposals concerning a holistic approach to solving Guildford’s issues. Housing and development of North Street are newer issues while persisting issues of traffic congestion, bus station relocation, alterations to bus routes and of creating a transport hub at the railway station are all interconnected matters. Finding ways to keep through traffic out of Guildford would be essential in achieving the objectives. Arup’s recent seminar on GTAM Study was disappointing in that they had not considered the issue of through traffic! We may know more when Arup’s report, due to be submitted at the end of February, is made public by Guildford Borough Council.

    Brownfield sites are and should be the first to be developed for housing but there are also light industrial areas that could be relocated to outer areas of the town thus leaving these for new homes. These would benefit from being closer to the town and its amenities and there would then be less demand on road space for cars. The council could only initiate incentive for relocation of light industries under a much wider plan.

    The way forward, I think, would be for the council aided by Allies & Morrison, to prepare scenarios for brainstorming and public discussions rather than start with a totally unstructured public consultation process.

  8. Susan Parker Reply

    March 28, 2014 at 9:13 am

    We all know that there are limits on how many more homes Guildford and Guildford Borough can support – we have limited building land constrained by the Green Belt, we have poor infrastructure, and we are already suffering from severe congestion with the homes and population that we have.

    The quality of life – that is the main draw and attraction of the area for us all – could easily be destroyed by uncontrolled development. How much development we want, and how much control, is a matter for debate. But it must be public debate, and not be decided behind closed doors, and not by vested interests. The Master plan is a welcome development, although it should involve formal public consultation. GGG has requested involvement in that process, and certain other groups have been invited to participate in that process, but not GGG. Is this because we are perceived as critical of the Council, and harder to influence?

    We think it matters when our Council publishes a key strategy document. We should know about it and have a say in it.

    The Council has a poor track record when it comes to listening to the results of consultation, and also of recognising that this is an obligation.

    When GBC published its Corporate Plan on 21 November, just at the end of the Issues and Options consultation, had residents seen it or had a say in its development? No. It has never been subject to any public consultation. If you want to read it, it is summarised in the leaflet that accompanied the council tax documents for all borough residents and is also available on the GBC website http://www.guildford.gov.uk/media/15695/Corporate-Plan-2013-2016/pdf/CORPORATE_PLAN_2013-16.pdf

    It is now part of the evidence base for our Local Plan, and informs council decisions. It is pro housing development, without any relationship to need. It contradicts the local Conservative manifesto – there is no reference to protection of the Green Belt which was a key pledge for the Conservative majority in the Council at the last election. Our local corporate plan is not just a matter for councillors. This is our locality, and it is OUR local plan. So we should be able to comment on the Corporate Plan.

    Our Local Plan and our Corporate Plan are substantially influenced by the strategic views of our regional LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership). The LEPs are a shadowy group – part replacement for the previous development agencies, or maybe the regional planning authorities (ie like SEEDA or SEERA), holding the purse strings for government infrastructure contributions (but not very much). Our LEP is the Enterprise M3 LEP covering all of Surrey and Hampshire – Basingstoke to Gatwick. There is no democratic accountability at all.

    The board of this quango includes council members, representatives of the University of Surrey, and local company representatives. It has enormous influence. We have come to know that Surrey University is very involved in planning – advised on the SHMA, sits on the LEP board and was the author of the Guildford Economic Strategy 2009- and of course is now proposing to develop 3000 homes. And it’s clear why Crest Nicholson would want to be involved (a house builder, who has permission to build a large number of houses in Cranleigh – http://www.crestnicholson.com ) or Wilky Group (property investment – see http://www.wilky.co.uk ) Crest Nicholson is on the main LEP board and both Crest Nicholson and Wilky Group representatives sit on the Land and Property Committee, together with other developers and builders, and are involved in influencing local and national strategic policy decisions. (See http://www.enterprisem3.org.uk/uploads/fde2a979807eae56a8386707b1d74264148f7d84.pdf )

    These are commercial companies answerable only to their shareholders, but they are helping to determine national policy without reference to the electorate. The target strategy of the LEP (stated) is to “seek support for housebuilding” and “ to influence planning and economic policy at both the strategic level and through the local delivery process”. No self-interest there, then. Minutes in January 2014 propose that “a relaxation on the use of Green Belt land could be included in the Government asks”. See http://www.enterprisem3.org.uk/uploads/66968558ead226d6fd47e47c685d44649b330811.pdf

    Once this would have represented a conflict of interest – why not now?

    Susan Parker
    GGG

  9. Mary Bedforth Reply

    April 3, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    Thanks for that info Susan Parker. Very illuminating.

    Here are the board members of the Enterprise M3 Group. There are some familiar names and faces.
    http://www.enterprisem3.org.uk/board-members/

    There are eight separate sub-groups and divisions within those. Where is the accountability?

    Returning to the appointment of Allies & Morrison, I would still like to know:

    Was there a tendering process?
    Who chose them?
    How much is their fee?

    We are constantly told to expect ‘transparency’ in civic affairs. Little locally it would seem.

  10. Nils Christiansen Reply

    April 16, 2014 at 10:26 pm

    Great that we appear to be making some progress on starting a vision document, but it is critical that:
    1. It is developed quickly to ensure that the various development projects such as North Street can be aligned to the vision (not vice versa)
    2. It results in a set of principles and guidelines which can inform all future development
    3. The community involvement is most intensive in the centre of town (Friary & St Nicolas and Holy Trinity and lower Onslow) which will be most impacted.

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