This is a copy of the email sent out by the Guildford Society on 1st January 2020. It provides an important warning of the threats facing Guildford as well as a good summary of the last decade.
2010’s – The quiet before the storm?
Not much happened in Guildford in the 2010s. A few large developments took place, notably the new Waitrose at York Road, continuing expansion at the University, and redevelopment of Pirbright Science Park. As 2019 closed the redevelopment of the Station (Solum Scheme) started despite Guildford Borough Council, supported by GSoC and many others, objecting to the scheme on account of its Mass Scale, Design and lack of infrastructure provision. Guildford remained beset by traffic issues, the A3 attracting more traffic as the Hindhead tunnel opened in 2011. The countryside came under pressure from increasing numbers of visitors; particularly, after the 2012 Olympics show-cased the North Downs as a leisure venue. Some developments appeared stalled in never ending discussions, notably The Casino Site and North Street. The last half of the decade was notable for the development of the local plan, ultimately passed in spring 2019, and an initiative, which never came to fruition, to create an approved Guildford Town Centre Plan or Vision. The Local Plan was subject to Judicial Review by three parties but just before Christmas the Court found that the Local Plan was sound in the process of its preparation. Guildford has a way forward, which the Society has long argued is seriously flawed, for the 2020’s
2020’s A Decade of Change?
The Local Plan is going to result in major development over the next decade at strategic sites in the countryside e.g. Wisley, and the Guildford Urban Area e.g. Gosden Hill Farm. In addition, we will see the town centre subject to considerable change, with the emergence of draft ideas for the North Street Site (potentially 800 plus dwellings), the Debenhams site becoming vacant, and the Solum Station Development (adding 400 plus dwellings). The Local Plan has also removed many Villages from Green Belt protection and we are starting to see proposals coming forward to develop smaller sites in these areas as well as sites identified in the Local Plan – some of the villages may change substantially in character without proper care. How all this development can be managed without impacting the countryside and heritage assets is of major concern to the Society.
Risks to Guildford?
The Local Plan has focussed on housing with relatively little thought on economic vitality. Although the economic health of Guildford looks good, at present, there are signs of issues that need tackling. Several major companies have relocated out of the town to centres such as Reading, retail (like other centres) is a major concern, smaller companies can find accommodation expensive and unsuitable. The borough has economic competition from centres like Reading but also new initiatives e.g. Dunsfold Aerodrome which has now created an industrial park with circa 2000 employees in the last decade. A key issue for businesses is access, where the creaking infrastructure in Guildford and surrounds is a major concern. Guildford needs major investment in infrastructure, the recent collapse of the weir on the River Wey, and blockages due to landslips on the main rail line shows the impact that a poorly maintained Victorian infrastructure can cause. The new government seems minded to focus its energies and investment to the north of the country, it could be a major problem getting funds for the investment Borough requires.
The Challenge for the Society
The Society needs to be positioned to make a positive contribution to the debates on Heritage, Planning and increasingly environmental matters that affect the borough. We are looking to strengthen our Design and Heritage and Planning groups in the near future, to ensure we keep abreast and contribute to the debates on the Strategic Sites and North Street etc. Our Transport Group will also have to be fully engaged in transport options for the borough, for example we will be replying to the Transport for South East proposed transport strategy consultation early in the new year. The activities of the society have never been more relevant, our challenge will be to make ourselves more widely known and attract new members. We will also seek to strengthen our existing ties with other relevant groups and forge new ones. One change will be that we will be publishing Newsletters on a more frequent basis to keep all engaged on local issues.
New Decade Wishes?
By the end of the 2020’s wouldn’t it be good to see:-
- Strategic Sites developed to the highest standards with good provision for affordable housing
- An integrated Public Transport network that encourages people out of their cars and provides good links to the villages around the town.
- A proper vision for the centre of Guildford, focused on using the various Brownfield sites to make a truly outstanding Town blending old and new. •Guildford pro-actively responding to the challenging targets set on the environment by central government.
- Accommodation available to support the needs of commerce.
- Guildford’s character enhanced, so it continues to be seen as a town and surroundings independent of London. Guildford is twinned with Freiburg which provides a great example of handling planning issues to preserve heritage and create a green and sustainable town, and surroundings. Much could be learned.
Much could be learned.