Derelict Guildford town centre sites are a step closer to being redeveloped into homes, shops and cafes under plans set to be decided next week. The proposed development of more than 400 homes on the land between North Street, Leapale Road, Commercial Road and part of Woodbridge Road will come to Guildford Borough Council's planning committee next week.
Council officers are recommending the plans be approved but the project has various controversial points, including an objection from the county council regarding changes to the bus station, and a multi-million pound disagreement on the deficit of the scheme overall. The plans form part of the council's masterplan for Guildford as a whole, which includes up to 2,600 new homes within a 15-minute walk of the town centre .
But with just 20 guaranteed affordable homes, and another possible 28 subject to funding being secured, the development falls well below the council's required 40 per cent affordable housing for such developments. We break down the key parts of the plans below.
Read more: The changing face of Guildford town centre
The redevelopment will see many changes to this area of town , including the "stopping up" or closure of both Commercial Road and Woodbridge Road and with a new pedestrian-only route going through the middle of the site, roughly following the current Woodbridge Road. This route would run from a new public square on North Street to the junction of Commercial Road, Woodbridge Road and Leapale Road, with a new area of open space called "The Dial" about halfway along which would link Leapale Road to the The Friary Centre.
North Street could be pedestrianised between the Friary Centre and Leapale Road, though final details are still to be confirmed between the borough council and Surrey County Council . Early plans show vehicles could be banned between 10am and 6pm and deliveries could only take place between 6pm and 10am daily.
Council officers also noted that the North Street market on Fridays and Saturdays would probably need to be relocated during the works. A council report said locations would need to be "carefully considered" because complaints were regularly received about the impact of markets on existing businesses.
Affordable homes and viability
Council officers have disagreed with the developers' assessment of the deficit the scheme will run at overall. The applicant's claimed scheme deficit is £53.9million, while the authority's expert has calculated it at £9.2m. But a report produced by officers does state it is "common ground between both sides that the scheme as presented is unviable" and therefore could not offer any affordable housing provision, either on-site or as a financial contribution for homes elsewhere. Following discussions, the applicant has offered to provide 20 shared-ownership homes to be delivered in phase one of the development and a possible further 28 shared-ownership homes, subject to funding from Homes England.
This was described as the "applicant's best and final offer" despite attempts by officers to negotiate more affordable homes. A letter from the applicant to officer said while Guildford was a "desirable investment opportunity" for residential developers, market conditions needed to improve for them to generate a "reasonable return" on the development.
It said: "The length and depth of the recession we find ourselves in is still an unknown. We do not yet know what will happen to property prices, or when inflation will lessen and whether build costs will return to normal levels. These macro-economic factors will affect any developer’s ability to deliver projects such as these."
The plans have divided the public, with council documents showing 51 letters objection and 58 in support of the plans. St Catherine's Village Residents' Association called the plans "a forest of rectangular blocks" and that the "protruding high-level balconies" would be "completely alien" in the town centre.
The objection said: "[It] would transform the character of Guildford from a historic market town that has developed in a controlled way into something dominated at its core by a huge monolithic housing estate." The development, which would include 136 car parking spaces and space for 638 cycles, covers a 2.69 hectare site which includes the Grade II listed All Bar One building.
The officer report said: "It is noted that the site is in a sensitive town centre location and is close to listed buildings and conservation areas. While it is acknowledged that the proposal has a modern appearance and would have its own character, it still reflects and has references to the surrounding built environment."
Surrey County Council has objected to the plans, largely because of proposed changes to the bus station and possible delays to bus services. The objection raised concerns about buses arriving from the south and the west along the A281, A3100, A31 because of changes to the entrance and exit for the bus station.
It also highlighted the reduced number of bus stands in the plans and concerns that planned future growth of bus services could not be met, and that the bus station may not be accessible for all users. With 14 new bus stands and two additional set-down areas, this would be a reduction on the current 22 stands plus layover spaces.
Councillor Tony Rooth (Independent, Pilgrims) questioned all buses entering and exiting the new bus station from Leapale Road, called a "fairly radical change" by council officers. While he called the current bus station "an eyesore" and said it needed refurbishing "on a big scale" he believed buses coming in from places such as Farnham and Godalming would have to go along Onslow Street and turn around at the York Road roundabout to come back again under the new plans. Cllr Rooth , who has spoken before about the amount of paperwork involved in the town centre regeneration, said: "It's self defeating."
Council officers said the plans would provide a more "condense and efficient" bus station and improvements to the public realm. Cllr Rooth added: "It seems to be that the buses are being sacrificed for a pocket park by the Friary." As part of the conditions on the plans, the developer would also need to provide a minimum of three car club vehicles for a minimum of five years, £50 worth of free travel for car club vehicles for each home and three year's free membership of the car club for all initial occupants. This would be alongside other contributions including a building which could be used by the NHS , an education contribution and a police contribution. The plans will be discussed at a special meeting of the planning committee on Wednesday 11 January.
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