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Guildford Station – Planning Enquiry Into ‘Juggernaut’ Development Commences

Artist’s impression of how the Solum development would look.

The planning enquiry into an appeal from developers Solum Regeneration, against the refusal by Guildford Borough Council to allow their proposal for a major redevelopment of Guildford Railway Station, commenced yesterday (November 7, 2017).

The enquiry follows close on the heels of similar enquiries into development proposals at Effingham and Wisley.

Solum, a partnership between Network Rail and Keir Properties, has been formed to exploit the potential of land owned by Network Rail who have an objective to increase the financial return from their land assets.

Solum says the design would give 438 residential dwellings; commercial units for retail and a new station building with booking hall and concourse

The proposal is for a mixed-use redevelopment comprising: 438 residential dwellings; commercial units for retail and financial or professional services; station and general office floorspace and station improvements including a new station building with booking hall and concourse and office car parking, new residential car parking, cycle parking, and a Station Plaza.

The appeal is opposed by Guildford Borough Council (GBC), The Guildford Society, and Guildford Vision Group (GVG), which has described the proposal as: “…ten storey-high juggernaut mixed development alongside the tracks on the east side of the station.”

Morag Ellis QC, representing the council, said, in her opening submission, that there was no dispute about the principle of development on this site: “…but the enquiry will be occupied in scrutinising whether the appeal scheme would deliver [the required] significant next phase in the town’s development in the right way.

“The council’s case is that it would not because the design fails to respect elements of Guildford’s rich and striking built heritage and townscape, in ways that would cause significant harm, nor is it of a fitting standard of design in itself to justify such harm.

“…the appeal scheme is poorly designed as a mass of development between four and ten storeys in height which extends, largely unbroken, for the entire length of the site. The site is sensitive, adjoining a conservation area and being visible from a number of vantage points.”

According to the GBC submission, the development would be: “…a mass of development between 4 and 10 storeys in height which extends, largely unbroken, for the entire length of the site.”

In his opening submission on behalf of Solum, Russell Harris QC said that GBC: “…presides over a housing delivery record which is frankly unacceptable. The council falls very significantly short of a five-year land supply and has fallen far short for far too long. Thus, probably the most important imperative of the planning system is not being met. Guildford’s population is simply not being housed.

“Its county town station is insipid, bland uninteresting and demonstrably inadequate in operational terms. This inadequacy will be further demonstrated as passenger numbers grow and grow. It is a third class gateway to Guildford for which one really should be apologising.

“It also represents close to a criminal waste of inner urban brown-field land.”

Levelling further criticism at the existing station, Solum’s QC said: “Its linkages to the core of the town centre are vague and inchoate. The existing brick retaining wall, running for most of the length of the station and beyond – necessary to deal with level differences- constitutes a clear and unattractive physical and psychological barrier. It is a poor piece of townscape which harms the character and appearance of its adjacent Conservation Area.

But the proposed scheme would: “…provide a new station and public square for Guildford which befits the town’s status and role. It will do so in a built form which is of high architectural quality…”

According to The Guildford Society, the proposed scheme is the largest planning application ever received for the town centre.

The Guildford Society, in their opening submission, given by chairman Julian Lyon, claimed the “fundamental issue” was that Solum was: “…trying to fit too much on the site in too large a monolithic wall of building. At over 48,000 sq metres of floor area… this is the largest planning application ever received for the town centre, dwarfing the 1973 application for the Friary and the more recent application by Westfield to extend it…”

“In silhouette, this is longer than parking a ship the length and draught of one of the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers permanently alongside Guildford Station. It is 30% longer and 20% higher than the river elevation of the Houses of Parliament. It is a monster by any measure.”

The society is also concerned on the constraints Solum’s development would have on the future operation of railway services at Guildford and they noted plans to increase the number and frequency of suburban services to London terminals as well as developing plans for the Heathrow Southern Railway and perhaps Crossrail 2 to connect with Guildford.

Artist’s impression of the new development viewed from Walnut Tree Bridge. The existing Billings Warehouse can be seen in the foreground, just the far side of the footbridge.

This morning (November 8), it was the turn of the Guildford Vision Group to give its view. Presenting their submission was their chairman John Rigg. After promoting GVG’s own Masterplan for Guildford, Rigg said: “As a formidable north-south wall of 300+ metres the massive Solum development effectively blocks the most crucial area for the much needed second east-west crossing of the railway and river. This crossing facilitates the GVG town centre Masterplan and improves traffic circulation in the town centre.

“It will be difficult for this town to ever recover from the damage this project can do to the town centre and the rail network if consented. It frustrates comprehensive, critical infrastructure masterplanning.

“It is bad planning, with bad attention to infrastructure needs, insufficient affordable housing and inadequate station ‘wins’. The booking hall design and layout, for instance, will not cope with anticipated passenger growth.

“But worse, the scheme will compound Guildford’s alarming realities of record pollution, record accidents and record congestion. It feeds into the most critical bottleneck of the gyratory. The scheme solves very little.”

The public enquiry, being heard in the council chamber at Guildford Borough Council in Millmead, is expected to continue until next Wednesday (November 15).

Full copies of the submissions can or will be found, on the GBC website, here.

All documents relating to the planning enquiry can be found, on the GBC website, here.

See also: Letter: I Hope Solum’s Appeal Succeeds

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3 Responses to Guildford Station – Planning Enquiry Into ‘Juggernaut’ Development Commences

  1. Gordon Bridger Reply

    November 8, 2017 at 11:20 pm

    Congratulations to Julian Lyon of the Guildford Society and John Rigg of GVG for two of the most powerful professional presentations ever likely to have been made in Guildford, taking apart this dreadful proposal.

    How it was allowed to get this far is appalling. Guildford is very fortunate to have two such experienced professionals making their case.

    • Susan Jones Reply

      November 9, 2017 at 1:24 pm

      I totally agree with Gordon Bridger. Hopefully, a disaster has been averted. Only keeping the pressure up now to see reason and understand Guildford isn’t just another high rise commuter town, like Epsom or Woking will keep these horrid developments at bay.

  2. John Robinson Reply

    November 10, 2017 at 7:39 am

    So what makes Guildford so different, apart from its reluctance to develop and modernise? I have an exceptionally depressing commute through this town every day, and travelling along Woodbridge Road every morning and evening does nothing to lift my spirit. Apart from the cricket ground, that is a truly unattractive part of Guildford.

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