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Amended ‘Guildford Plaza’ Plan Approved for 100 Assisted Living Apartments

Two cross sections showing the impact of amendments to the planning proposal since it was deferred by the council in November.

A proposal to build 100 assisted living apartments in higher rise buildings on the “Plaza” site at the bottom of the A3100 Portsmouth Road, just above St Nicolas Church, was approved by Guildford Borough Council’s Planning Committee last night (January 4, 2017).

The application was deferred at an earlier planning meeting held in November when the committee expressed concern about the scale of the development and its impact on the surrounding area. Subsequently, planning officers have negotiated some amendments to their plan.

One of the blocks was reduced by one storey, from seven to six, resulting in a reduction in the number of units from 105 to 100, a reduction in the size of the basement and the non-residential space and a revised design for the upper terrace/lounge roof.

Two further cross sections showing how the new buildings will appear when viewed from the east.

During the GBC Planning Committee debate on the proposal, Maeve Faulkner, conservation officer said: “I think the reduction in height of Block A has really made a difference on two important views the view from the High Street… [to] the countryside beyond … and the impact of the view [in relation to] St Nicolas Church Tower. Churches should always be prominent within a town centre and this is a [Grade] II* listed church. The reduction of just one floor has really made a difference.”

Block A in this diagram, alongside the Portsmoth Road, is the block to be reduced in height by one floor.

But Gareth Wyre, director of Wycliff Buildings Ltd the company which owns the freehold of the Grade II listed building, situated just yards from the proposed site, had written to all councillors urging them to refuse the application.

Wyre referred to the: “…detrimental damage this scheme will have specifically on the Millmead conservation area and the listed heritage assets within it”, and wrote, “…the changes made since the application’s deferment at the last planning meeting do not improve the setting of any of the listed heritage assets which exist along Bury Street and which English Heritage still have concerns about.

“The height, scale and mass are still considerably more than the 2006 office scheme and the views looking down our historic High Street will be even more blighted.”

The site at the bottom of the A3100 Portsmouth Road has been vacant for over 20 years.

Although 30% of “affordable” units are normally required in any proposal for more than 15 units an independent assessment of the proposal concluded that affordable housing could not be provided within the development without impacting on the viability of the development.

GBC planning officers maintained their recommendation to approve the application and the viability of the amended scheme has been independently assessed by specialist consultants Dixon Searle, commissioned by the council.

In a report before the councillors, it was stated: “Officers remain satisfied that the applicant is unable to provide affordable housing in line with policy requirements without impacting on the viability of the development. 
Therefore officers still maintain their recommendation to approve the application, subject to the completion of the S106 and recommended conditions.”

Cllr Philip Brooker

But during the debate Cllr Philip Brooker (Con, Merrow), lead councillor for housing, said: “When this came up before Christmas I didn’t support it but for only one reason and that was because … there were no affordable units.”

He went on to express some surprise that the scheme, which found it impossible to allow affordable units within the original 105 units, was still deemed viable despite the reduction of five units. Nonetheless, he concluded: “…we urgently need this type of accommodation in the borough so I am reluctantly going to support this application.”

A view of the former brewery buildings that existed on the site in the late 1950s just before demolition. (Click to enlarge.)

Gareth Wyre, director of Wycliff Buildings Ltd the company which owns the freehold of the Grade II listed building, situated just yards from the proposed site, had written to all councillors shortly before the meeting, urging them to refuse the application.

Wyre referred to the: “…detrimental damage this scheme will have specifically on the Millmead conservation area and the listed heritage assets within it”, and wrote, “…the changes made since the application’s deferment at the last planning meeting do not improve the setting of any of the listed heritage assets which exist along Bury Street and which English Heritage still have concerns about.

“The height, scale and mass are still considerably more than the 2006 office scheme and the views looking down our historic High Street will be even more blighted.”

Cllr Caroline Reeves

Cllr Caroline Reeves (Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas), one of the three ward councillors for the area said: “This is a difficult site that has been empty for a very long time and for the people who live in the surrounding area, frankly, anything going on it that is above two-storeys high is going to make a difference to their lives. But we need to build more than that and we have seen that the reduction of a floor has made an impact…”

“The main thing that is really important is the pitched roofs. We have talked frequently of the views from the town into the surrounding area and these pitched roofs have made a great deal of difference.”

Cllr Angela Gunning

Cllr Angela Gunning (Lab, Stoke) expressing surprise at the description of “assisted living” given there will be no live-in staff, also feared that the height of the new buildings, opposite the existing blocks of flats on the other side of the Portsmouth Road would make a “canyon” of the route. She too was disappointed that the scheme included no affordable housing.

Tony Rooth, Conservative ward councillor for Pilgrims, welcomed the provision of accommodation for Guildford’s growing section of older residents but questioned the “clawback” provisions if the developers make more than expected profits.

Council officer Tim Dawes responded by explaining that details of the clawback agreement were still subject to ongoing negotiations.

The CEGB (Central Electricity Generating Board) office block during demolition. It stood on the site until the 1990s.

Three local organisations were amongst those who had written to object to the proposal.

The Arts and Crafts Movement in Surrey commented on the revised plan in November (2017): “We remain of the view that this proposal represents a serious overdevelopment of the site with serious adverse impacts on the local area.”

And the Guildford Society, urging refusal, wrote on December 28: “The Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act of 1990 requires works in or adjacent to Conservation Areas to ‘preserve or enhance’ the character. These proposals will not do that. They will have a serious adverse impact on nearby buildings (some of which are ‘listed’) and will cause substantial harm on the character of the locality which is a sensitive part of Guildford town centre and a designated Conservation Area.”

The listed buildings or “heritage assets”, coloured purple, that lie close to the Plaza site.

Architects Hodgson Lunn & Co, writing on behalf of The Trustees of Caleb Lovejoy Almshouses 5 – 11 Bury Street, which are directly opposite the proposed development, wrote: “The scheme as a whole remains predominantly unchanged and as a result, our previously written letter of objection remains the basis for our continued objection.”

The planning committee voted to approve the scheme, all but one councillor, Angela Gunning who abstained, voting in favour.

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7 Responses to Amended ‘Guildford Plaza’ Plan Approved for 100 Assisted Living Apartments

  1. Colin Checkley Reply

    January 5, 2018 at 3:28 pm

    When will they be available? I will be 65 if it takes two years. But I need one now!. Any details about how I can apply?

  2. John Lomas Reply

    January 6, 2018 at 12:30 pm

    With reference to the “spot the difference” picture at the top of the article.
    Can we have the answer please as I haven’t found any differences.

    • Pete Brayne Reply

      January 9, 2018 at 6:04 pm

      It took me a while to spot, but if you count the windows/balconies, there’s one less floor.

  3. Peter Mills Reply

    January 6, 2018 at 12:41 pm

    Kudos to Cllr Philip Brooker for raising the question of why no affordable units when all around are only concerned about how it looks.

    Pity he didn’t stand by this and voted ‘for’ anyway. I guess the rest of the council don’t want poor people in town. I wonder what the developer’s margin goals are and what they consider viable.

  4. John Lomas Reply

    January 6, 2018 at 5:11 pm

    I’ve spotted it now, the block with the pointed “gables” has lost one floor.

  5. Jules Cranwell Reply

    January 6, 2018 at 9:43 pm

    “Officers remain satisfied that the applicant is unable to provide affordable housing in line with policy”

    Typical use of the ‘get out of jail free card’ GBC has allowed developers, on the spurious grounds of ‘viability’. This is more newspeak for “we demand the highest level of profitability, or we will throw our toys from the pram”.

    I confidently predict that little or no “affordable” units will be built under this Executive’s watch, leave alone social housing, which is what is really, and desperately, needed.

    It is a positive thing that this is intended for our senior citizens to live close to the town centre, but what about those who cannot afford market rents? Do they not also need shelter?

  6. Lisa Wright Reply

    January 10, 2018 at 6:18 pm

    It’s not viable to provide affordable housing in central Guildford, is it?

    Perhaps officers could let us have a look at the figures that have been submitted by the developer as evidence and the details of the scrutiny for them.

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