The Consultation Period ends on 22nd September and the Guildford Vision Group and Guildford Society talks on Town Centre Vision (3rd September at the Millmead Centre) and Local Plan Submission (15th September at the Trinity Centre) are coming up fast.
The Clock is Ticking – or is it a Time Bomb?
Julian D S Lyon MBA FRICS
The Consultation Periods for the Town Centre Vision and the Draft Local Plan both end on 22nd September.
Guildford Vision Group and Guildford Society talks on Town Centre Vision (3rd September at the Millmead Centre) and Local Plan Submission (15th September at the Trinity Centre) are coming up fast.
The Town Centre Vision is a vital component of the Local Plan – a once in fifty to a hundred year opportunity to reclaim the riverside from traffic and create a fabulous environment in which to live, work, study and play. The Surrey Advertiser (Friday 29th September) gave a glimpse of the GVG concept plan to reroute the traffic to the west of the town centre and to create pedestrian priority around the river and between the town centre and the station, university and cathedral.
A viable and vibrant town centre needs plenty of people living in the town, and yet much of the town centre (believe it or not) scores in the most deprived 3% of local super output areas (‘LSOA‘s) in the country for outdoor living environment! Simply piling more housing into town without comprehensively resolving that issue would simply be wrong.
The Local Plan – if you had just arrived here and read the column inches in the media – would seem to be all about the complete devastation of the green belt and the imposition of an astronomic number of homes per year.
However much it may feel like that is the case, the reality is different.
The amount of green belt (in net terms) proposed for development is quite small and the housing numbers at 652 are high but our run rate to 2011 since 1931 averages 495 homes per year. Recent press reports emphasise the pressures on our population numbers and the Government is trying to deal with a current housing shortage.
The approach has been wrong. Perhaps some of the sites proposed are wrong. The mathematics seem to be inexplicably wrong. The evidence base is a poor starting point for some fundamental changes to our spatial planning. These are all good reasons to respond robustly to the Local Plan Consultation.
On the other hand, there are some major spatial planning issues that really need addressing:
We have (in this generally wealthy borough) thirteen LSOAs in the poorest 50% in the country and one in the poorest 25% nationally under the Multiple Deprivation Index. This in itself seems like a small local area to work on but drilling down into details tells a different story.
We have several areas in the most deprived 5% in the country for access to housing and services.
We have one particular area where, even in this generally well-educated borough, we are in the poorest 2.5% in the county for young person’s education and skills.
We have some wild extremes of performance across the borough in many of the other deprivation domains
Alongside this challenging set of statistics, we know our infrastructure has lacked meaningful investment for decades.
Guildford, as a second tier authority, cannot solve many of these issues alone – there needs to be a shadow unitary authority to actually get things done – but it can lay the groundwork by allocating land for solutions and delivering real vision and leadership through the Local Plan.
There are many other issues that the Local Plan should seek to resolve. Many of these issues will require major investment and, absent contributions from Government, we will need developments to help finance some of these solutions.
My experience tells me that small-scale developments will not fund such deficits and so, from the data I have examined rather than from reading the evidence base, I am persuaded that we need to think bigger than nibbling at the edges or pulling up the drawbridge.
Looking at the town centre again, we do need more people living in the town centre but we need them and the current residents to have better access to a great outdoor environment – designed for living in, not requiring a constant fight with traffic to get from A to B, without having to breathe in pollutants from traffic sitting in queues belching exhaust fumes into the air. Town centre homes can reduce the pressure on the green belt but preserving one environment (green belt) whilst destroying another (Guildford Urban Area) would not be sustainable.
I do not think the Local Plan has got it right and the Guildford Society will be responding robustly.
Despite the personalisation of the public responses – born out of understandable frustration but, in my view, quite misdirected – I do believe that Cllr Mansbridge is the kind of leader who can make a difference. We have two specific tasks in the next three weeks and thereafter:
submit our objective responses to the Draft Plan, the Town Centre Vision (Oh, yes, and the Habitats consultation and the upcoming Surrey County Council Transport consultation); and
follow up to ensure our respective comments are noted and reflected in the next iteration.
I hope we will finish up with a Local Plan that gets to grips with the issues, seizes the right opportunities and leaves the majority of the borough intact. To paraphrase Cllr Mansbridge’s recent statement:
IN ORDER FOR MUCH OF THE BOROUGH TO STAY PRETTY MUCH THE SAME, SOME THINGS WILL HAVE TO CHANGE, and the Local Plan is about making those changes in the least impactful way.
On the face of it this is a good document – an encouraging start to compiling the evidence base.
Looking at in greater detail, there are certainly some omissions (or at least details which would benefit the Local Plan process if included).
First the good…
The report is well written and is largely quite approachable.
The sections make sense and the content is reasonably comprehensive.
The authors do not shy away from some of Guildford’s trickier issues such as congestion and poor pedestrian and cycling routes.
And then the missed opportunities…
The report (1.1.2) sets out to provide “an overview of the quality and capacity of the existing provision of infrastructure of different types”.
In 1.2.1 the report should include the Rivers and canal as a heading (Wey, Tillingbourne, etc). This would ensure the river is in the heart of the town and Borough.
At 1.3.9 there is an expectation that “additional infrastructure capacity (will) mostly be funded from development” without looking to suggest a mechanism to raise infrastructure funding against tax revenues if a suitable funding scheme can be found.
At 1.4.4 the document refers to masterplans being called for if there is a “significant development site” to be included on the Local Plan Strategy and Sites document. This is clearly a welcome statement and should be taken to include all sites brought forward before the Local Plan is adopted.
1.5.1 sets out an approach to partnership and it is to be hoped that a similar delivery partnership can be established for the town centre in Guildford.
1.6.3 refers to working with infrastructure providers as the Council prepares the Local Plan. It is reasonable to request that a method statement of purpose be provided to explain how emerging needs will be integrated into the Evidence Base and be assessed ESPECIALLY where there may be competition for spare infrastructure capacity.
At 2.1.3 – or in an Appendix – it would be helpful to list all of the junctions (however minor) on the A3, including an assessment of the quality, capacity and other issues where known.
The Evidence Base document ‘Surrey Future: Congestion Programme – SCC March 2013′ does not cover adequately the situation of the A3 and the adjacent Local Road Network and should have covered the above comments relating to 2.1.3, the evidence of origins and destinations and the details which give rise to the authors’ comment in 2.1.14, notably “the result is that traffic congestion in Guildford can adversely affect conditions on the A3 and vice versa“.
The document only highlights congestion hotspots and merely offers modal shift and rapid response to “incidents” as the way forward (2.2.29 and 2.2.30) and seems a rather weak response to any criticism that the last major infrastructure investment by Surrey County Council and the highways Agency in the Borough was for the A3 ‘bypass’ in 1981.
At 2.1.12 The Infrastructure Baseline Report report indicates the A31, approaching and entering Guildford, and the A3 through Guildford as amongst those incurring highest costs due to congestion in the County; and by 2026 will include areas “severely over capacity”. (201303_SCC_Congestion-Programme-FINAL) – the two illustrations in Figure 5 and the map in Figure 7 of the report show this very well:
Another apparent omission is that in compiling an up-to-date destinations and origins survey on the A3 (and the local roads) to identify the types of journey being made and to establish whether there are opportunities to reduce trips, this should also take account of the increase of traffic on the A3 since the Hindhead Tunnel opened – there should by now be concrete evidence available of this latter effect which should be placed in the public domain and should form part of the evidence for the Infrastructure Base.
A major consideration at 2.1.16 is the extent to which communities are severed by the A3, railway lines and the River Wey. Placing this important issue in the section on A3 but not elsewhere risks its importance being understated. A full quantitative and qualitative list of crossing points of each linear obstruction should be provided in the appendices along with areas where the lack of crossing points is causing major issues or leads to bottlenecks on the nearest alternative access. It should also be noted whether there are any rights (under CPO or otherwise) for bridging rights to be acquired.
Note (2.1.22): it is unlikely that small changes in the Borough will ease the congestion, especially when we take into consideration the scope and scale of development proposed in the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment and the Employment Land Assessment.
Note (2.2.2): it is clear throughout the Evidence Base (and other supporting and background documents) that existing congestion is threatening both the economy and the future growth of Guildford.
At 2.2.13 it should be noted that traffic movements are expected to increase in line with growth of the Science Park, University, retail and demand for housing. Employment demand is expected to increase by some 15% between 2006 and 2031. (GBC ELA – 2013) – or between 6-10% per year according to the SCC Congestion Strategy Report (p16 – Figure 2 – see below). Car availability in Surrey has been increasing steadily at more than 60% above the National Average (SCC Transport Statistics 2009).
At 2.2.20 the Onslow Village, Ashenden and Dennisville areas should also be included as having a major issue with on-street parking relating to the University in particular. The majority of employment is in the Onslow Ward and particular attention needs to be given to resolving conflicts of movement and parking to the west of the London Mainline railway.
Whereas this major scheme “being developed for the present Guildford gyratory area” (2.2.21) can result in improvements, they are only likely to be stop gaps as a significant change in the infrastructure is needed for the long term (2013 – 2026).
Furthermore, improving Park & Ride and car parking (2.2.22) will not make sufficient difference to congestion as current available data for the gyratory shows that at least 40% of traffic is either cross-town or through-town traffic.
The scheme from 2000 referred to in 2.2.24 (to provide a shared bridge for buses to the University at the northern edge of Guildford Park Car Park) is no longer viable due to developments in Walnut Tree Close since 2000 unless incorporated into a major restructuring of the Strategic Road Network in the area.
At 2.2.26 the first bullet point (pedestrian crossings at Chertsey Street, North Street and High Street) appears to be based on a suggested re-arrangement of bus routes (some terminating in this area) which is not considered viable. There are equally or more important pedestrian issues to be addressed elsewhere and it seems odd to single this out in this section.
The second and third bullet points in 2.2.26 (junctions between Jacobs Well Road and A320 Woking Road, and Junction of Jacobs Well Road and Clay Lane should be incorporated into planned or envisioned developments at Slyfield.
At 2.3.3 there is an error of omission or of adding up as the car parks listed are FOUR of the six largest car parks.
Also at 2.3.3 it may be worth calculating an average purchasing power per car space as a part of ensuring the ongoing vitality and viability of the town centre. This can only ever be a rough guide but would help to ensure the provision of parking was proportionate to the economic aspirations for the town.
At 2.3.5 (car parking demand) the occupancy data lacks explanation and context – for example, it is clear that a reduction of the retail economy where 2011-2012 was 5% lower than the 2005-2008 period. The effect of car parking charges in the evenings seems to show up in the Friday evening occupancy figures but no assessment is included to consider the economic benefit of charging £1 for car parks when it means streets are full of kerbside ‘free’ yellow-line parking.
At 2.4 (buses) – a Surrey County Council responsibility that absolutely impacts the Borough and our residents and visitors – fails to note that the evidence bases are inadequate (for example, the 2011 Surrey Transport Plan seems to concludes that bus provision should simply be ‘more of the same’). There is no demand study, for example, to show how behaviours might change if more buses were available for commuter hours and for the evening economy.
Furthermore, this section should include an audit of the various bus services that are provided across the Borough – the numbers of passengers, the hours of service, the frequency of services, the cost of the services. This section in particular needs to integrate with the Settlements Report so as to ensure that good data is available for all parts of the Local Plan process. The Settlement Report refers to bus services as poor or good but does not qualify such pejorative terms.
At 2.4.12 the hours for park and ride (7.30am to 7.30pm) do not seem to fit at, say, Onslow Park and Ride, with opportunities to service hospital visiting; the hours or operation are not consistent with promoting the evening economy in town.
At 2.4.8 it is worth noting that the 2001 Census (quoted in SCC Congestion programme – 2013) gives 55% of Guildford’s labour force as resident locally; although probably now out-dated, this indicates the importance of Park & Ride facilities and bus services for providing for commuters from other parts of the Borough into the town centre. See Table 4 from the SCC report below:
A similar analysis should have been done to understand the movements of residents in the Borough between homes and workplaces for the purposes of the Evidence Base.
At 2.4.13 there are no details as to where the priorities are and what ‘corridor improvements’ are proposed.
The reference at 2.4.15 to providing bus facilities “elsewhere” represents a challenge for the infrastructure baseline which should probably be focussed more on the types and numbers of buses, the extent to which the bus interchange is a critical factor for bus users and what this tells us about where a replacement facility might be accommodated. It is, however, appropriate to identify the likely interim solution and to plan to ensure that, for potentially many months if not years, there will need to be adequate capacity in the town centre road network to accommodate a different set of traffic flows than those seen today.
In the bus section, there is no reference to the MVA Bus Station Study – October 2011 (or any more recent incarnation) which should be included in the Evidence Base and should be referenced clearly in the Infrastructure Baseline. The MVA study contains bus routes, numbers at peak hours, etc.
At 2.4.17 the word “serious” should be inserted to read “There are serious problems with traffic congestion…”
The bus fleet (and the contracts negotiated by Surrey County Council with the bus operators) should be quickly migrated from dirty diesel buses with street-level exhausts to cleaner technologies. Failure to tackle this issue will lead to Guildford taking more old buses from other local authorities which are pushing for clean buses.
At 2.5.4 the baseline report refers to numbers of pedestrians on Bridge Street. Guildford Society has data that shows 2000 pedestrians per hour cross the Debenhams Puffin Crossing on a Saturday morning.
Paragraphs 2.5.7 and 2.5.9 do not tell the full story. NCR22 extends south from Guildford across Shalford park and clear of the A281 through Shalford. It then joins the disused Cranleigh line at Broadford (A248) and continues south on this route (the Downs Link) and it is very well used.
The chart at Figure C and text in 2.5.13 does not indicate if the respondents were asked how many would like to be able to cycle or walk 30 minutes if it were safe or pleasant to do so.
At 2.5.14, neither a North-South through route nor increased access to Surrey University from the north appear to have been considered.
At 2.5.15 there is no flagship scheme nor any priorities identified to emphasise the importance being attached to the need for better cycle routes.
2.5.18 should highlight the fact that there has been no significant improvement in the pedestrian experience in the town centre since the High Street was pedestrianised in the late 1970’s.
At 2.6.12, it needs to be noted that the schemes referred to are included in the new County Rail Strategy as well as the need to consider new stations for Park Barn and Merrow.
Section 4 – Green infrastructure – should include a section on the rivers and streams and canals in the Borough, and it may also be pertinent to include land in the ownership and/or stewardship of the National Trust within the Green Infrastructure. Equally parts of the rural environment around villages and in between – including areas such as St Martha’s hill and the Hogs Back should be included in the Green infrastructure section.
At 5.2.6 it should be noted that there are smaller organisations such as Italia Conti that provide specialised courses in Higher Education.
7.3.17 might also include Addison Court in Charlotteville.
At Section 8.3 the document makes a notable omission in that the Lido is not mentioned, and neither are the sports facilities at Shalford Park.
Furthermore, there are numerous recreation grounds and village greens around the Borough which should either be referenced in 8.3 or elsewhere in the document along with other community open space and community halls and allotments.
The document itself is a positive and largely comprehensive assessment of the infrastructure baseline and the comments made here can be easily integrated into the Evidence Base, providing supplementary evidence rather than contradictory views.
It would be useful if there were more specific detail in the annexes of the stage each type of infrastructure (and its component parts) has reached – including breaking points and pinch points that, by design and/or investment, could be resolved.
A traffic-light system could be employed to highlight:
Red – at or exceeding capacity
Amber – approaching capacity
Green – working well within capacity
For example, looking at the provision of school places, it would be reasonably straightforward to show the schools on a map with a traffic-light symbol so that, from first glance, it is possible to see where development would have to be limited or contributing to overcoming capacity limits.
A similar approach to roads and junctions would enable clear mapped identification of issues and capacity restrictions.