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Opinion: Following the ‘Great Wall’ Go-ahead Expect More ‘Greedy Style’ Proposals

CGI of the Solum development.

By Martin Giles

“The worst planning decision in Guildford’s history!” That is how Alderman Gordon Bridger described a planning inspector’s decision to allow the massive re-development of Guildford railway station.

But last Wednesday’s (February 28, 2018) running up of the white flag by Council Leader Paul Spooner, who decided, probably correctly, that to seek a judicial review would be an expensive waste of time, was the final confirmation that the game is up.

Despite the proposals widespread unpopularity, Solum can build the architectural monstrosity that will scar the town, overwhelm its surroundings and spoil many views across and into the town.

There are many questions the decision raises.

How can a planning system allow an individual, however well trained, make such an important decision, without further recourse, while a developer can challenge a unanimous decision of democratically locally elected councillors?

Why has the council been so incapable of persuading developers to produce designs that would be more aesthetically popular? What actually happened at the pre-application meetings held with Solum?

Why has our urban/borough council been so very poor at masterplanning our town since the Second World War?

How many more unpopular planning decisions are we to endure, eg the strategic site developments contained in the Local Plan?

How much will the very character of our town and borough be spoiled so we become just another Reading or Woking and a suburban outpost of the metropolis?

And why on earth do we as a borough and a constituency keep voting for a party, the Conservative Party, who appear to care nothing about conservation, or our heritage, and who continue to break their promises on planning matters at a national and local level?

Let me rewind, not to the end of the war, although that is when some of the problems started, but to the first meeting of Solum’s public consultation.

I was invited to the meeting held in the Guildhall and I can remember the oily words spoken by the Solum organisers, reassuring us that local feelings would be fully taken into account.

One fellow attendee said, to wide agreement, that we wanted a station that reflected the historic character of the town. If only we knew.

What a sham the whole thing was. Perhaps my suspicions became apparent; after the second meeting, my invitations stopped.

But despite my suspicions when Solum’s proposal was eventually made I was truly shocked. Not even in my most pessimistic thoughts had I imagined such a huge and grotesque development.

A scheme that does not even pretend to improve the railway station’s operation and incorporate more passenger capacity, as the demand for train travel is encouraged and increases.

A scheme that instead of offering us a landmark building, something the town could be proud of, gives us a building that is only huge.

A scheme that compromises other options for our town that could allow development and extra housing in a more acceptable way.

There is nothing aesthetically pleasing at all in the Solum scheme. No nods to our wonderful railway architectural heritage such as Bristol Temple Meads, St Pancras, Norwich and Huddersfield. Not even to the Art Deco style that can be found at Woking.

Instead, it is built in the “Greedy style”. Maximum units – minimum cost. Something that will probably look shabby after a decade. And to kick us when we are down the developer says it can’t afford to include the desired proportion of affordable homes.

The whole thing is a disgrace and it is a further disgrace that nothing now, apart from some tinkering if Solum “kindly” agrees to the council’s toothless requests, can be done.

The whole business is deeply, deeply shameful and the shame should be borne by politicians at a national level who have overseen this planning policy and system while having the gall to tell us they wanted localism – what a complete joke that was – and local politicians who continue the Guildford tradition of planning ineptitude while making election promises they could not have meant.

And now councils are told if they don’t do as they are told and meet imposed housing targets a planning inspector will simply be appointed to take over. What on earth has happened to our democarcy?

It is all utterly shameful but don’t expect any contrition. Our politicians behind these policies are shameless. But in 2019, and other future elections, if we elect the same politicians we will, once again, only have ourselves to blame.

In the meantime, we can probably expect more Greedy style proposals for North Street.

See also:

Opinion: Why I Am Pessimistic for Guildford

‘Metropolitan Scale’ Of Railway Station Plan Shocks Meeting Hosted by The Guildford Society

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8 Responses to Opinion: Following the ‘Great Wall’ Go-ahead Expect More ‘Greedy Style’ Proposals

  1. Jack Dawson Reply

    March 5, 2018 at 7:58 am

    For all the perfectly sensible arguments made by people with a genuine love for Guildford I am afraid that one thing is for certain, money will win the day.

  2. Stuart Barnes Reply

    March 5, 2018 at 9:45 am

    I agree with all the above but the question of which party can save us from the apparent dictatorship which seems to exist is not answered. If the so-called Conservative party (admittedly after the years of the appalling David Cameron probably more correctly called the NOT Conservative party) is not up to the job of protecting our democracy then which party is? When the great Nigel Farage ran UKIP the answer was obvious – but now?

    Anyway, it all goes back to virtually unrestricted immigration and the failure to remove illegal entrants. When will the government start tackling that? I suppose their answer would be as soon as we get out of the hated and corrupt EU.

  3. Simon Schultz Reply

    March 5, 2018 at 1:18 pm

    Does Stuart Barnes really think illegal entrants (who after all cannot even have bank accounts) really affect house prices?

    If he wants to materially affect house prices, he would be better off starting by deporting legal immigrants such as myself.

    As a note to the editors, do you really feel that your newspaper is the place for anti-immigration rants?

    Oh, and on the topic of the station development, I fully agree.

    Everyone is entitled to their own view and Mr Barnes’ opinion is one you can similarly hear expressed in many sections of the media, including the BBC. All comments reflect the views of the author not necessarily those of The Guildford Dragon NEWS. Ed

  4. Wayne Smith Reply

    March 5, 2018 at 4:52 pm

    Well said, Martin Giles.

    If GBC actually had some long-term vision for how they see our town developing and worked meaningfully with developers, then we might just have avoided the Solum carbuncle. Too late now and sadly, I doubt that the autocratic Conservative leadership will change their style.

    If it’s any consolation, I feel their time is up come to the next elections, at least at the local level. The Conservative-dominated Guildford Borough and Surrey County Councils are a disaster. Not much better at the national level.

    I speak as someone who would naturally vote Tory but they lost my vote a few years ago. The alternative? I won’t be voting Labour at any national election (we’re already in a big enough mess without Jeremy Corbyn’s supposedly cost-free nationalisation plans – amongst others) but at a local level, I now vote for the candidate whose policies best meet my expectations. That could even be Labour!

    I suggest everyone does the same and we may then end up with better-balanced councils, willing to listen and engage with the electorate, developers et al.

  5. David Croft Reply

    March 5, 2018 at 4:57 pm

    Is it just my suspicious mind or is there more to the very recent withdrawal of the planning application submitted by Peveril Securities on the site of the old Nissan Garage in Walnut Tree Close? The application sought primarily five- and six-storey buildings and has been withdrawn according to Nigel Jones the development director “so that the developers could continue to work with Guildford Borough Officers to refine their plans for Walnut Tree Close and to allow further discussions to take place”.

    My suspicious mind tells me that Peveril Securities watched with great interest Solum’s successful appeal and might come back with a ten-storey structure to match.

    I believe over the years the council has failed to work with interested parties (eg the Guildford Vision Group) to adopt a masterplan for Guildford with a clear vision of what is and is not acceptable vis a vis heights etc. and that what Guildford is reaping now is down to the top politicians as well as senior council officers not getting their acts together.

  6. Chris Cope Reply

    March 9, 2018 at 1:23 pm

    I think the development is a positive move. Guildford desperately needs investment, modernisation and progressive development. Apart from the traditional High Street, parts of the town feel like it is lost in the 1980s.

    I travel regularly through Reading station and if we get anything near the quality of that development, I will be happy. At peak times Guildford station is often overcrowded and difficult to move about, so I welcome any improvements and investment.

    Whilst I would hope that this development was integrated into a broader/ integrated masterplan to address Guildford’s awful transport and pollution issues, my hope that is that this development kick-starts action rather than the endless discussion and opposition to any form of improvements to the town.

    I would also add that we can’t have it both ways. We cannot reject green-field development and then oppose brownfield. We need more town-based housing and if that requires going higher in towns like Guildford on brownfield, then I believe that’s the compromise we will have to make.

  7. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    March 11, 2018 at 1:28 pm

    Yes, indeed and to quote Martin Giles’ article – “How can a planning system allow an individual, however well trained, make such an important decision, without further recourse, while a developer can challenge a unanimous decision of democratically locally elected councillors?”

    This scheme, in particular, has more than 150 flats and floor area of over 9,000 square meters and it is controversial, many had opposed it.

    Should the secretary of state rather than an inspector have made the decision according to the Planning Inspectorate guidance?

  8. John Armstrong Reply

    March 13, 2018 at 4:47 pm

    There are a number of comments linking development levels to immigration, quite reasonably so.

    I think it needs to be realised that none the main political parties are opposed to either. The Tories say they are, particularly at local elections, and are duly elected by a hopeful and loyal electorate.

    But Conservative councils know that, however they vote in committee, if the Planning Inspectorate does not like it, it will go through on appeal, regardless. This is why so many go through without a fight; the councils cannot afford it.

    On immigration, we tend to blame the EU but it’s not all their fault. The UN has a global resettlement programme which appears to go right over the heads of national governments. I do not remember ever voting for such a thing and the UN Security Council is even further away from the electorate than the EU Commission. In any case, none of this would be happening if our successive governments had not wanted it to.

    So, if you’re looking for salvation at the ballot box, regarding overpopulation and overdevelopment, you may as well stay at home.

    You should have gone to UKIP twenty years ago.

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