Policy E7: Guildford Town Centre

GBC Policy

Policy E7: Guildford Town Centre

By 2033, Guildford town centre will have: 

  • a new retail-led, mixed-use development of 45,000 sq m (gross) of additional comparison goods floorspace on the North Street regeneration site within its primary shopping area. 
  • developments of other town centre uses that contribute to the liveliness of the town centre including food and drink, more gyms and cinema screens; 
  • approximately 1,172 new homes, particularly on upper floors as part of mixed use developments; 
  • more varied uses during the evening and night-time, including along the riverside, with residents and visitors feeling safe; 
  • active use of the riverside and the river; 
  • more effective routes within and across the town centre for pedestrians and cyclists 
  • new public squares and other informal meeting areas. 

Retail and leisure proposals over 500sq m (gross) located outside of Guildford town centre, local or district centres, and where the site is not allocated in this Plan, must be supported by a retail impact assessment. 

Within the Primary Shopping Frontage as defined on the Policies Map proposals for change of use of existing ground floor shops (Class A1) to other uses will not be permitted. 

Within the Secondary Shopping Frontage defined on the Policies Map, planning permission for the change of use of ground floor shops (Class A1) to Class A2, A3 or A4 will be permitted where all the following criteria are met: 

  • the additional uses result in no more than two permitted ground floor non-retail uses adjacent to each other; and 
  • the additional use results in no more than one third of this section of the defined street level frontage (as defined in Appendix B) in permitted non-A1 Use Class; and 
  • the use does not result in loss of amenity in terms of noise, disturbance, smell, litter or traffic generation; and 
  • the proposed use will not be detrimental to the shopping function or character of the town centre. 

Exceptionally loss of shopping area uses (Class A) at ground floor level will be permitted, subject to the above criteria, where the proposed use is appropriate to a town centre shopping frontage. 

Proposals for new food takeaways within 500m of schools will not be accepted because of the potential negative impact on the health of school children. 

GGG Response


We OBJECT to this policy

There should be much more residential use of the town centre. There is limited need for further retail, which will disadvantage existing retailers as well as using valuable land inefficiently.  There is an urgent need for a brownfield register and to focus on brownfield redevelopment before considering development outside the existing urban area. CIL strategy must promote brownfield redevelopment.

Detailed response:

The government committed to legislating for a ‘brownfield register’ of ‘land suitable for housing in the Queen’s Speech 2015 and the 73 councils piloting the brownfield register were announced in March, 2016. Section 151 of the Act permits regulations requiring LPAs to keep a register of particular kinds of land, of which the brownfield register will be one.  There is no reference to a brownfield policy within the policy for Guildford Town Centre, which is a major flaw.


Policy E7 is ill-informed. The evidence base fails to assess the capacity of the existing town centre to accommodate appropriate new development objectively. Paragraph 161 of the NPPF requires the LPA to assess the real quantitative and qualitative needs for economic activity including retail and leisure development, and we consider that this requirement has not been met. 

Policy E7 is unlikely to benefit the health of the town centre in the future. There is no reliable evidence provided that the retail core of the Town Centre can support expansion of 45,000 sq m of additional retail space at North Street.  There is a lack of demand for retail units in the Town Centre particularly large units. 

There is falling demand for retail space in Guildford and town centres throughout the country (as evidenced by independent research and the reality of empty shops in many high streets (including Guildford) and the accelerating competition from internet shopping – see CEBR studies).

The North Street scheme has repeatedly failed in various redevelopment proposals over the last ten years.  This is evidence of a lack of demand, such that the original planning permission for a large retail scheme became time expired.  A number of major developers have studied the proposals in detail and then withdrawn from negotiations because the proposals are not economically viable.  

The reality is that the town centre has enough retail floor space. If more is introduced it will result in the closure of existing shops particularly in locations which are less than 50% of peak Zone A or 100% positions. 

What Guildford needs is a new focus on speciality high quality comparison shopping supported by a revival of Guildford’s attractive heritage core and the historic visitor attractions supported by restaurants. 

The existing site in North Street should be replaced with a well-designed ground floor high quality speciality retail mall and frontage of no more than 40 shops extending to 7,000 sq m with the rear and upper floors providing an additional 500 to 600 homes. The proportion of the above proposed smaller scheme at North Street will be complementary to and not antagonistic to the Upper High Street, Tunsgate, the Debenhams site and the 100% Zone A positions of the Lower High Street. If the existing policy under E7 is adopted the North Street site will remain empty for another 10 years.

The findings of the Guildford Retail and Leisure Study 25 September 2015 are very pessimistic about retail trends. Carter Jonas’s recent study reports a bad time for retail. GBC’s own evidence base demonstrates that there is limited demand for additional retails space.   The bullet points below are direct quotes from the report:

  • Para 3.3 Retail Trends “Town centres, once the principle focus for retail and leisure are now increasingly under threat”
  • Para 3.4 Retail Expenditure “disposable income and retailers’ margins are being squeezed further”
  • Para 3.5 “there has been limited growth in retail (convenience and comparison goods) expenditure per head since 2008”
  • Para 3.6 “the retail sector remains fragile and analysts forecast that some operators and centres will continue to struggle over the short to medium term”
  • Para 3.8 “completed new shopping centre floor space in the UK is currently at its lowest level since the 1990s”
  • Para 3.11 Internet Shopping “New forms of retailing have also emerged in recent years and are becoming established as significant alternatives to more traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ shopping facilities. Over the last 5 years, online sales have increased by 222%”

Appendix 6 of the Retail Study indicates inaccurate demand data

  • Para 5.29 “The latest CoStar Report recorded 64 requirements for Guildford from January 2013 to August 2014; representing a total maximum floor space requirement of 62,208m2 gross (see Appendix 6).”
  • This looks in the main unpersuasive with brands such as Joules Clothing; Fossil; Comptoir des Cotonniers; Moshulu; Rituals; Princesse tam.tam; Cycle Surgery; Majestic Wine; Game Stores Group Ltd; Iceland. But if we look closely at Appendix 6 it is an amalgam of old unchecked national high street requirements some of which do not even include Guildford as a destination and most is hardly high quality comparison retail. There are also no “big” requirements in terms of space. Where are the big stores?
  • GH Pressley & Sons – Watches and Silver - Requirement “They are seeking a flagship diamond store in central London. Target locations include Mayfair, St James, Kensington and Knightsbridge. Brands will include Hans D Krieger and Marco Bicego.” This does not sound like Guildford
  • Oxygen Red Ltd – Ladieswear- Requirement “Oxygen Red is looking to acquire temporary stores in Shopping Centre locations within the M25” Guildford is well outside the M25
  • Game Stores Group Ltd have apparently a requirement for a store in Guildford dated 2012 but the company entered administration on 26 March 2012, and 277 of Game's 609 UK stores were closed immediately, resulting in 2,104 job losses. Are they really looking?
  • The data relating to retail demand does not appear reliable. The 62,800 sq m does not translate to real demand for an expansion of 500,000 sq ft. If proper due diligence was applied perhaps 10% of this Carter Jonas requirement would survive

Brownfield redevelopment

We must make full use of our urban brownfield before we consider building in the Green Belt or countryside. Paragraph 17 of the NPPF states that to “encourage the effective use of land by reusing land that has been previously developed (brownfield land)” is a core planning principle. Paragraph 80 of the NPPF clearly states that Green Belt serves a key purpose, “to assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict land and other urban land”.  In order to comply with central planning policy we need a brownfield strategy. 

In response to the detailed objections received in the Regulation 18 process of the 2014 Local Plan and also in accordance with government policy a Guildford brownfield land register should be urgently compiled showing address, ownership, occupier, current use and detailed planning brief.

  • GBC needs to accelerate residential redevelopment at Woodbridge Meadows, Walnut Tree Close and the Station within the next 1 to 5 years
  • GBC needs to examine the residential development opportunity of the 25.7 acres of car parks in GBC ownership
  • A brownfield-first policy should underline all planning decisions and the default for non-brownfield land should be rejection
  • Failure to promote brownfield-first is unsustainable and is contrary both to the policies of the Metropolitan Green Belt (still in force) and NPPF paragraph 80 and 84.

Our recommendation is for a new Brownfield Policy for the town centre:   

“We are committed to a brownfield-first initiative.  All applications on previously developed land within the urban settlement area will be given fast-track priority.    Development of urban brownfield land will be prioritised for residential and employment purposes to satisfy the needs of local people.

In parallel a zero-CIL incentive should be given for all residential development on urban brownfield land in order to meet the NPPF requirement for urban regeneration. Brownfield sites in the urban area should be identified as soon as possible. The register should be public, with full details of ownership. All brownfield sites owned by Guildford Borough Council, Surrey County Council or other government entities should be considered as available development land within the first 5 years of the plan.”


We do not believe that the target of 1,172 homes in the town centre takes account of the need and demand for urban housing or the opportunities that brownfield sites present for increasing the residential development in the core of the town. This will help to sustain the retail core. The Town Centre policy needs to maximise the potential for residential development on brownfield. It must include as an absolute minimum the 2,551 units proposed in by Allies and Morrison for the town centre included in the masterplan 2015 which has recently been adopted by GBC. We consider that the Town Centre has the capacity for the higher of at least 50% of the total or at least 5,000 homes. At present, the plan is to impose 70% of new residential development on greenfield and Green Belt land.



2017 Guildford Local Plan

Guildford’s NEW local Plan has just opened for consultation. PLEASE RESPOND before 24th July 2017.  GGG has published its responses to Local Plan Policies here 

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