15. Policy E7 - Town Centre

  1. I object to the changes in Policy E7 Guildford Town Centre  
  2. I am of the opinion that policy E7 is still very ill-informed and there is insufficient evidential support to objectively assess the capacity of the existing town centre to accommodate appropriate new development and therefore fails the requirements of Section 161 of the NPPF to assess the real quantitative and qualitative floor space needs. 
  3. Policy E7 is still an aspirational voice from the past and 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 needs or can be expanded by 41,000 sq m of retail space at North Street because of lack of demand for retail units in the Town Centre particularly large units. This is due to falling demand for retail space in Guildford and town centres throughout the country evidenced by independent research and the reality of empty shops in many high streets (including Guildford) and the accelerating competition from internet shopping. 
  4. The recent Carter Jonas Study Retail Study 2017 update predicts total demand for Guildford Town Centre by 2020 at only 3,313 sq m and only 34,811 sq m by 2036. We have now been waiting some 15 years + for demand to catch up to enable development of North Street where the old consent for some 40,000 sq m of retail had to be renewed because it was getting out of date. Are we now going to have to wait till 2036 only another 19 years for demand to get to the point to enable development of this much prized site which developers have not exactly been falling over themselves to develop. That is also assuming that all retail demand in the Town Centre is wanting just this site. 
  5. However optimistically and quite illogically they protest that “there still remains significant capacity to support new comparison goods floorspace over the plan period”. It’s a bit like saying in town x we have currently 100,000 m of shopping and the UK retail forecast done by Experian shows that we can predict a growth of 10% therefore this means we must have an additional 10,000 sq m in town x. This is unscientific guess work.
  6. In table 2 Appendix 6 of their report we learn that there is a potential for turnover to reach £856.3m in the town centre by 2020 however actual committed floorspace take up accounts for only £1.3m of this. This is 0.15%. It is hardly surprising that there are no details of take up or real demand evidence given anywhere in the report.
  7. The Carter Jonas report is based on broad brush retail capacity forecasting derived from work by Experian which is very far from site or location specific and as a retail supply and demand assessment in my view is totally unreliable. The source is not even Guildford specific or even Surrey specific. The authors of the report do not disagree with my cynicism with capacity forecasting since they state up front that “It should be noted at the outset that capacity forecasts carried out over a long period of time are inherently less certain and should be treated with caution” and repeated again “at the outset we advise that all capacity forecasts beyond a five year period should be treated with caution.  This is because long term trends in the economy, consumer demand and retail property market could have a significant impact on the potential capacity and need for new retail floorspace.  For example, as discussed previously, a higher growth in non-store retail sales (i.e. Internet sales) than forecast by Experian would reduce the capacity for new retail floorspace over time.” 
  8. The Carter Jonas report is a vague whitewash report for a pre-conceived and outdated concept of increased retail development in the town centre. “For comparison goods, we have assumed the same estimations for convenience goods expenditure ‘inflow’ (10%) for Guildford Town Centre, again based on the centre’s role as a popular shopping and visitor destination.” Coming to the vague conclusion that Guildford is popular is far from reliable property market research!
  9. The closest thing I can find to evidence of actual demand in this report is to read “In addition to focusing their attention on larger, dominant centres, many of the multiples and traditional high street retailers are changing their store formats and locational requirements. For example, key anchor retailers such as Boots, Next, Mothercare, TK Maxx, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer are actively seeking larger format units to showcase their full product range and to provide an exciting shopper environment backed by the latest (digital) technology.” But I then I realise this statement applies to any of 100 centres in the UK. I am concerned as to whether the authors of this retail study have actually visited Guildford or know where it is?
  10. In their 2014/2015 reports Carter Jonas provided a fairly inaccurate picture of retail demand (originally Appendix 6) with the inclusion of retailers who had either gone bust or actually specified demand requirements in centres other than Guildford.  This I note has now been deleted presumably because of its inaccuracies which were dealt with in my 2016 objection and has not been updated. We are now left with no demand assessment from either small, medium sized or large retailers. This does not support the view that Guildford is a vibrant retail destination requiring expansion with a large retail development in North Street.
  11. 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 a new major visitor attraction supported by restaurants. Guildford needs to become the quality shopping destination for Surrey. 
  12. 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 10,000 sq m with the rear and upper floors providing an additional 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.
  13. I also object to the continued failure of this policy to provide much needed substantial residential development in the Town Centre which is still only a modest target of 1,300 homes. Only approximately 10% of the total planned for the Borough. There is still a blind over concentration on retail expansion which fails to take account of market forces and a complete failure to grasp the reality that a residential expansion is required to stimulate retail/leisure demand in the Town Centre which is markedly losing out to nearby centres such as Woking which has a very different approach. See the Town Centre Opportunity in next section.
  14. I object to the deletion of the vision statement “Guildford town centre has a unique setting and historical character, and is at the centre of one of the most prosperous counties in England.  We will protect and build on these assets and insist that all new development will be of the highest design and environmental standards.  We will be proactive in building a great town centre which connects to the amenity of the riverside.  We will invest in creating high quality public realm.  We will put people above traffic and we will promote new high quality retail and business development.  To achieve this we will develop innovative funding and delivery bodies.  As we embark together towards this exciting future we pledge that we will continue and extend an active dialogue with our residents and other stakeholders.” Guildford Town Centre needs a decent vision. Without a vision the Town Centre is flying blind and it demonstrates the failure of the potential for imaginative Town development in this latest draft plan.
  15. I support the deletion of paragraph 4.4.86 since many of the sites along the River Wey are capable of full development
  16. I object to the deletion of the Allies and Morrison Masterplan as a source document for the plan since although it failed to fully exploit the development potential of the Town Centre it did include many good ideas including more extensive brownfield development  extending to 2551 homes including Woodbridge Meadows as a residential development site.
  17. I do not consider that the modest target of 1,300 homes in the town centre takes account of the need and demand for housing or the opportunities that brownfield sites present for increasing the residential development in the core of the town which will in itself help to sustain the retail core by increased economic impact. What the town centre needs in terms of urban regeneration is much more residential development. As can be seen from the previous section, retail will not work!
  18. The Town Centre policy needs to maximise the potential for residential development on brownfield and 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 was originally adopted by GBC. The reality is that the Town Centre and other areas of brownfield in the borough has the capacity for at least 5,000/ 7,500 homes. 
  19. The additional target capacity of 5,000 could easily be provided within the following urban sites which have the capacity for 7,500 homes:
  • 2,500 homes detailed in Masterplan 2015 including Woodbridge Meadows which can itself be increased substantially
  • 500 homes at North Street
  • 1000 homes on current GBC car parks (25 acres) and at the station
  • 1000 homes saved in the urban area if 100% of students are accommodated on Surrey University campus (17 ha of car parks)
  • 1000 homes at Slyfield on the 40 ha regeneration site
  • 1000 windfall infill (50 per annum)
  • 500 homes on brownfield sites in villages on sites of max 1ha which do not impact Green Belt
  1. Yes, we need a new Local Plan for our borough in order to provide a development strategy within which we can accommodate our local housing, economic and environmental needs.  But first we must make 100% use of our urban brownfield in the town before we consider building in the Green Belt or countryside. 
  2. 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 that states clearly. “We are committed to a brownfield first initiative whereby all applications on previously developed land are given fast track priority and every facility to promote development for residential purposes and employment purposes in order to satisfy the needs of local people. In parallel a zero CIL incentive should be given for all residential development on brownfield 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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