Category Archives: Guildford Vision Group

20140523_Councillor Under Siege

Councillor Juneja not deserving of vitriolic criticism

Letter to Surrey Advertiser (printed 23rd May)

I was dismayed to read on the front page of the Surrey Advertiser (16th May) that Councillor Monika Juneja has been subjected to such personal attacks about her ethnicity and qualifications.  I am also disappointed that some people must feel there is so little merit in their own arguments that they have to resort to smearing the Lead Member for Planning.

In many ways we are incredibly fortunate to have someone of Cllr Juneja’s undoubted ability who is prepared to spend vast amounts of time and energy managing the Local Plan process.  I would rather help inform the debate (the process of which has been substantially enabled by Cllr Juneja’s efforts) than have a competition to see who can deliver the nastiest rhetoric.

In my own efforts to shape the Local Plan (and leading the response for the Guildford Society), I have tried to stick to the evidence, find the facts and track the logic and imperatives that lead us to adopt one particular solution or another.  Of course I have some fairly strong views and they do not necessarily accord with those of Councillors Juneja and Mansbridge.  This (for the most part at least) makes them neither right nor wrong – just opinions.

I have been fortunate enough to sit down with Councillor Juneja – having previously privately wondered (as I might with any Lead Councillor for Planning at this time) whether she was up to the job.  I found that, not only is she competent and capable of delivering a Local Plan, but she is also managing to balance some very tricky topics, and taking the time and trouble to talk to people.  I have no reason, therefore, to doubt her abilities as a Councillor, as a member of the Executive nor in her current role.

I have been critical (guildfordplan.com) of some of the professional judgements made by the Senior Planning Officer but I recognise that she and her staff have also been working incredibly hard and, as shown at the Joint Scrutiny Meeting on Thursday 15th May, they know their way around the documents they have been asked to procure, produce and/or manage.  My criticism is not intended to be personal, nor directed to any individual member of the officer team who were rightfully praised for their efforts on Thursday evening.  It is, however, the case that professionals do occasionally disagree with each other.  It may get pretty hot in the professional kitchen but this should not be interpreted as any attempt to spoil the food.

In her quotes in your front page article, Cllr Juneja noted that many representations were anti-immigration.  I would like to clear up any doubt for myself and for the Guildford Society.  We have not sought to take an anti-immigration stance; rather, we have sought to question the historic and trend statistics that point to potential future international immigration, and consequently housing need.  We wish to ensure the demographic expectations are appropriate and proportionate.  I am very conscious that this might appear to be a position against immigration per se, and I would like to personally assure Councillor Juneja that that would not be a true interpretation.  As noted above, we are trying to drive towards good evidence which, when it comes together, provides a demonstrably sustainable path for growth in the Local Plan, whilst maintaining what we love about the town and Borough of Guildford.

As soon as the Local Plan is released for consultation – and my early reading of it ahead of Thursday’s meeting suggests it is not yet ready – everyone will have their opportunity to tell the Council what they think of any aspect of the Plan.  Councillor Juneja has committed herself to the widest possible consultation (to reach the ‘hard to reach’ people) and has shown herself to be ready to listen.  I strongly hope that, however deeply feelings may run about one aspect or another; one site or another; the debate will be intelligent, well-informed and, above all, courteous – not least to Councillor Juneja, the Senior Planning Officer and her staff.

20130624_Localism like terrorism?

How strange it is when a group of professionals give their time and expertise to (help Councillors) hold the Council’s officers to account and are likened by a senior Councillor – in the Council chamber – to IRA terrorists?

Professional people who give something back to their communities on a pro bono basis, and who even incur costs to do so, are precisely what Big Society is about. It does, however, require elected politicians to be brave enough to listen to these professionals alongside the advice of the Council’s officers and take the time to satisfy themselves that they understand the differing views and that they can make an objective decision.

Unfortunately, in Guildford, the officers still seem to hold sway and the Councillors are too fearful of knowledgeable challenge.

They have allowed the officers to bring forward a Statement of Community Involvement where amendments have not been out for consultation and, still further, have adopted it with an amendment that allows a Councillor and the Senior Planning Officer to change it without even having to go back to committee – how ironic is that?

Guildford Vision Group has pooled decades of development experience across the country and internationally to help bring about a once-in-a-generation replanning of Guildford including ambitious infrastructure proposals. This requires an independent professional masterplanning exercise but Guildford’s officers (and consequently it’s councillors) have set themselves four square against a Town-wide strategic plan.

Repeatedly calling for such a plan and highlighting the risks of not having one is apparently a campaign equivalent to terrorism. This cannot be right or rational, and is inherently bad for both democracy and town planning in Guildford.

20130317 Bellerby JR Opinion

In response to posts on the Guildford Dragon News

I am a member of the GVG Steering Group.  I understand the agonies of observers for and against the Bellerby development, and I would point out (speaking for myself and not for or on behalf of GVG) that, had the processes of site allocation, site disposal, integrated evidence, and a realistic examination of alternatives been properly and comprehensively undertaken by the Council and applicant – and we are going back to before the application was even submitted – it is quite possible that all of us who would like to see Waitrose in the town could have had our way – but not necessarily on that site, and almost certainly not in that format. 

Whilst some may choose to speculate on my class, wealth or employment status, this is not about NIMBYism, this is about quality and about strategic planning

If we are to accept development ‘In My Back Yard’, we must demand that it is done properly, without wasting the scarce resources of our previously developed sites (before raiding the countryside to make up the housing numbers for example), and we must make sure that the rest of the town can not only continue to function but can grow its economy, as indeed it should – and as the Region and Country requires it to.

This will require good governance, good leadership and good application of the law and planning regulations.  Better engagement with stakeholders and communities would be a good start and I hope the forthcoming Local Plan consultations will embrace this and move us much further forward with an up-to-date, workable and comprehensive plan for the town and the Borough.

I hope there will be a sensible location and solution for both Waitrose and John Lewis, but I personally am not prepared to stand by and let our town be destroyed for a lack of patience and imagination, and from misguided pragmatism.

Julian Lyon (17th March 2013)

20121106 A Bleak Day for Planning in Guildford

Guildford’s planners and planning committee last night signalled that it is open season in Guildford.

Far from giving Guildford the helping hand it needed to embark on a new strategic plan for the town, dealing with traffic chaos, the legacy of undeveloped sites in prime areas of the town and a chronic housing shortage, Guildford’s planning officers and committee have shown that developers only need to cherry pick the valuable town centre uses away from the town centre, make sure that queues are no longer than 400m and that traffic congestion does not suffer more than 20% increase in delays at peak hours and make sure there are a handful of affordable housing units (even if many more had previously been approved and the site could accommodate many more) – Oh yes, and do it quickly before all of the key evidence is compiled.

The Councillors’ prepared eulogies on a theme of “Waitrose at all costs” bore all of the hallmarks of predetermination of the decision – no matter the hundreds of objections on valid planning grounds. Guildford deserves better and we are determined to ensure long-term solutions are found even when our planners seem focussed on the Emperor’s new clothes.

20120914 PropertyWeek Opinion Piece

Retail-led Regeneration of Guildford?

Locals question the thinking behind Guildford’s retail plans

The new National Planning Policy Framework of April 2012, and the Localism Act of 2011, should encourage local Councils to fully engage with knowledgeable and interested local residents.

Apparently this is not the case in Guildford.  A single-issue campaign group is calling for a properly established, professional masterplanning process.  The Guildford Vision Group (GVG) was formed in March 2012 by, among others, John Rigg (Director of Savills Commercial) and Gerald Bland (former property partner of Herbert Smith) in response to a poor plan for Guildford, a thinly-disguised prospectus for the sale of a number of Council-owned properties.

GVG has been trying hard to engage with Guildford Borough Council (GBC) who can easily afford a proper professional master plan which should more than pay for itself.  GBC makes (£6m per year from its car parking and the cost of a comprehensive masterplanning process is likely to be between £500,000 and £1 million – a few weeks of revenue. Continue reading 20120914 PropertyWeek Opinion Piece

20120712 Letter of Objection to Waitrose

On 12th July I submitted an objection to the Waitrose Planning Application in Guildford.

Basically, my objections are summarised as:

  • The main thrust of my objection surrounds the impact of the development on the traffic system in Central Guildford and a failure to take into account other proposed developments set out in the Draft Guildford Town Centre Masterplan.
  • I also object to the inappropriate choice of site for a supermarket, notwithstanding the oblique references in the Bellerby Theatre Planning Brief to a supermarket use being acceptable, including the loss of a logical town centre residential site and non-compliance with the Local Plan 2003.
  • The application and decision is premature pending adoption of a properly constituted and engaged Town Centre Plan formulated in accordance with Clause 12 of the National Planning policy Framework.
  • I believe the design is inappropriate in scale, character and materials when compared to the surrounding period housing and will also have an adverse impact on the street scene from York Road.
  • Finally, I believe the application should be exposed to an independent planning inspector due to the perceived potential or actual conflicts of interest between the Council as vendor and its role as planning authority; and between, the council’s strategic retail consultants (Cushman & Wakefield) role in advising on the allocation of sites, their role as agents for the Council and their close agency relationship with The John Lewis Partnership.

The full explanation of my objections is in the document linked above.

To view the planning application please click here.

 

 

120429 Waitrose

Letter to Surrey Advertiser (unpublished)

Sir

I attended the Waitrose exhibition and I have considered long and hard what I saw and heard and, however much I would love to have Waitrose in Guildford, I simply cannot see why it should be on the Bellerby Theatre site.

As a property professional with almost thirty years of experience, I know that it would be a much better idea to have both John Lewis and Waitrose anchoring the Friary extension and regenerating the area that has been all but set aside for tens of years pending development.  The combination of these two sister stores in a large format could well be the difference between a viable development or not.  Furthermore, the development of a new residential quarter should be capable of generating attractive returns for the Council’s site.

Continue reading 120429 Waitrose

120421 Waitrose

Letter to Guildford Dragon

The travesty of the conflicting interests of the Borough Council when it comes to deciding how much of the gross capital receipts should be commuted for s106 and s278 agreements for highways improvements is that we have no traffic study or long term plan against which to measure the appropriateness of any allocation.

Indeed, Waitrose themselves (in the form of their traffic engineer at the exhibition at the Guildhall on Friday 20th) acknowledged that their modelling, based on a generic traffic modelling system, only analysed the traffic impact of their proposals on the York Road roundabout and York Road itself.

Continue reading 120421 Waitrose

120413 Master Plan

Letter to Guildford Dragon

Guildford desperately needs to address its traffic congestion (clearly confirmed by the meeting of 150 to 200 people on 21st March launching the Guildford Vision Group) and to create a vision for a better town to meet the needs of all its stakeholders.

The Council’s Draft Town Centre Masterplan, with minimal consultation over the busy Christmas period, has been widely criticised as “woeful”, “badly researched”, “lacking any vision” and “fundamentally flawed” – mainly because it did nothing to address congestion and the impact of traffic routes on pedestrian access between the station, the town, the river and elsewhere.

Perhaps having a plan approved by a Council Executive I have previously criticised for its lack of transparency, is more about selling off Council-owned (actually our) town centre sites, and triggering quick-fix solutions such as the Bedford Road bus station idea and the Waitrose supermarket land sale! (For those unaware, a sale of the Bellerby Theatre and surrounding land to Waitrose has been rushed through before the Council even had the chance to grant itself planning permission – although it did publish a planning brief to convert less lucrative residential use to a ‘preferred’ supermarket use without any reference to traffic generation or solutions).

Continue reading 120413 Master Plan

Guildford Vision Group the way forward

Guildford Vision Group showing the way to a greater future

Congratulations to the Guildford Society, supported by the various Residents’ Associations around Guildford, for the successful launch of Guildford Vision Group on 21st March 2012 in front of between 180 and 200 people.

Guest speakers included the former Director of Planning on Cambridge City Council, Peter Studdert; the former President of the Royal Town Planning Institute, Mike Hayes CBE; and Allies & Morrison.  The focus was on Collaborative Planning, The Planning Process and Shaping Towns and Cities.

This initiative takes a much more significant position when seen in the context of the Localism Act, since Guildford Vision Group (GVG) could decide to apply to become a Neighbourhood Forum if it has public backing but is unable to secure proper engagement from the Local Authority.  Equally, the newly published National Planning Policy Guidance (NNPG) requires Local Authorities to put in place a Local Plan, and the Localism Act allows residents to apply to run local services; perhaps this process could be taken over by GVG.

One way or another, it is vital for the future operation, prosperity and environment of our great town of Guildford that a proper vision is put in place – after all, “The Vision is an expression of what a place could be like in the future. It is the foundation of the masterplanning process” (Commission for Architecture & the Built Environment – CABE).

It is to be hoped (but not to be taken for granted) that the Borough Council will engage and openly work with the community to agree what Guildford can be like in the long term.

More information will soon be available on the GVG website (www.guildfordvisiongroup.com) and I intend to discuss issues on the face of this blog over the coming months.