Phillip Johnston – Show me the Brownfield Sites in Guildford

Confused and contradictory piece in the Telegraph that sums up press ignorance and crude ‘either or’ way the media treats this issue.

I spent part of the weekend walking through a lovely area near Guildford in Surrey, which is being considered for development even though it is in the green belt….

What most people find hard to understand is why there should be any large-scale development in the countryside at all when there are still plenty of urban sites on which to build.

Not only is there enough space on derelict industrial land to build about 1.5 million homes, these sites are actually close to where people work and in locations that already have the infrastructure that a new garden city in the countryside would have to supply from scratch.

Moreover, since “brownfield first” is supposedly the basis of the Government’s planning policy, why isn’t there more building going on in towns and cities?…

Yes, we need more housing – but let’s build it where it is needed before concreting over any more of our precious countryside.

Yes but most of these 1.5 potential housing on NLUD sites are not near to Guildford and places like Guildford.  Also we need around twice as many just to stand still.  Yes lets prioritise brownfield, but lets not crudely use ‘brownfield first’ as a synonym for ‘greenfield last and hopefully never’ as that will put those in need of housing in places like Guildford bottom of the queue.  We need to incentivise brownfield redevelopment, especially in northern cities, and develop at sustainable locations on Greenfield sites around Southern towns, and none has ever come up with a viable national strategy which could do otherwise. Its just sloganising.  Lets look at the numbers and show me how it would be possible to have housing affordability and not build on any Greenfield sites with our current pattern of where people work.  If a commentator cannot do that they are not advancing the debate they are just sloganising based on eiother a misunderstanding or wilful misrepresntation of the evidence.




3 thoughts on “Phillip Johnston – Show me the Brownfield Sites in Guildford

  1. Within Guildford – see Philip Johnston article – there is run down industrial land currently being contemplated for a regeneration zone which is adjacent to the railway station, just across the river from the centre of the town, and walking distance to the shops and most areas of employment. It has just had planning permission for one 5 storey block of (student) flats – some opposed student flats in this area because it is more suitable for general residential housing, since the University is currently sitting on planning permission for at least 2000 student flats, and possibly 3000. This area – considered as part of a proper regeneration area – is 50-60 hectares, and at sensible urban density (it is in the town centre, after all) could deal with all of Guildford’s realistic housing need. The register of Previously Developed Land does note 97 hectares in the borough, but this does not include all of this potential regeneration zone; the land IS available, and relocation of viable businesses can be achieved within the 5 year period after the Local Plan is agreed; this can be done, given the political will. The Council employed planners to form a master vision, which included this as a possibility; but it will remain to be seen whether the Master plan that the Council choose involves this land or looks at the (more profitable for developers) development of greenfield sites outside the town centre. The sites outside the town will require infrastructure that current and future residents (not developers) will have to fund; this is the reason for the developers’ enthusiasm for the green fields, together with the high prices of executive homes around Guildford. There is more profit in a 5 bedroom detached hous on green fields than a 2 bedroom flat on brownfield land within walking distance of the station. But the latter is what Guildford needs. And – for all sorts of reasons (environmental, food security, leisure, tourism, film industry, air quality) the Metropolitan Green Belt should be protected.

    • Just because the land is develop ale does not mean it is available. I know thuis area well my sister lives in Guildford. Much of it is undersused, much has new employment buildings. Unless Guildford undertook comprehensive land acquisition with a partner lined up it would not be able to take very large amounts of housing, and then you would need to replace the employment land, on greenfield sites. Even then I think it an exaggeration that it could take ‘all’ of Guildford’s needs. I am sure that this is and will be included in the Guildford LP but with its potential heavily discounted and back ended to reflect the uncertainties and viability issues with a complex brownfield site.

  2. But the consultants who worked on Guildford’s master vision for Guildford think that this COULD be achievable, and that it could be done WITHIN the 5 year framework, IF there is the political will. It’s not just “sloganising” – it is a feasible plan.
    The land could be available. There is both a social need, and an economic incentive – this could be a very profitable project. There would be substantial political support for any developer who was interested in this possibility, and this would be for the benefit of the town as well as protecting the countryside from unnecessary urban sprawl.
    The Walnut Tree Close corridor, on either side of the River Wey, is potentially beautiful – and close to the town centre, and runs from the railway station down to the road link with the A3 (so very sustainable). The distance is about 1 mile (approx) – clearly walkable to the station, or a quick bus journey, and cycle routes should be planned in. Further down the banks of the Wey are lovely around the town centre – with water meadows towards Shalford, the Yvonne Arnaud theatre, council offices and open spaces. But – the other side of the station – it becomes run down and in need of redevelopment. Just as close to the centre, and, for an imaginative developer, hugely profitable. Look at how many homes there are on Battersea Reach. This would be lower rise, but could still be high density.
    Conservatively there are about 50-60 hectares of land there – depends where you draw the boundaries of the regeneration zone (I’m excluding the cricket pitch or the Victorian terraces there). The Odeon site has been considered for redevelopment, as has the surface car park opposite the Law Courts. North Street is already undergoing a regeneration project. Houses developed in this area, and high quality flats, would command a premium close to the river; you could get high density affordable flats closer to the railway embankment. Just look at a map – the area for potential (and profitable) regeneration is vast.
    It’s walkable from there to the town centre- the historic High Street is just over a river bridge and a short walk further on. The area is very large, and planning permission has just been given for a 5 storey block there. But it is currently a mess of sheds, surface car parks, railway embankment edges, and small commercial sites – which have dreadful transport links and which would benefit from relocation to a different commercial zone in Guildford, further from the congested centre. There are empty sites on lots of commercial zones in Guildford, this would not involve greenfield either. Planning permission has just been given for a (rather ugly) block of student flats (building not yet started), on one site in the zone (establishing a precedent for height and density); a wider regeneration zone with better planning would be in everyone’s interest, including nearby residents concerned about design standards.
    There is a narrow corridor in the centre which is National Trust land, part of the Wey Navigations, but this is obviously protected. With a wider ribbon corridor adjacent to this area, the National Trust site at Dapdune Wharf would be looking at attractive housing rather than tyre fitting units and large tile warehouses. The commercial sites are mostly (except for the Porsche salesroom) old and scruffy, and no longer fit for purpose.
    Flood risk will need to be designed out, and some homes in the area did suffer flooding around Christmas. But a wider river corridor, and underground car parking as part of the design (to become flood relief in extremis) could resolve this issue. It is already hard standing so not a water meadow, and has no flood relief impact.
    I hope this zone will be included in Guildford’s Local Plan but the planners seem to have very limited tunnel vision, in terms of what can be achieved, or the commercial (and social) benefits of doing so.
    Naysaying is too easy – many current landowners in the locality are likely to object to these proposals because it leads to easier planning consent for greenfield land. But note that Richard Rogers thinks that urban density should be not less than 70 dwellings per hectare, that Victorian terraced houses were 125 dph and that 4 storey flats can be 200 dph. Even with a wider river corridor this is really achievable. At density of say 90 dph x 60 hectares =5400 dwellings over 16 years =337 homes per year. This is reasonable and achievable.
    This does not consider the longer term impact of other brownfield sites in Guildford, which are also available. It is a matter of political will -and intelligent rather than lazy planning.

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