Concerns over £150m Guildford rail plan

A plan to transform Guildford’s railway station through a £150 million redevelopment project has been given a mixed reception from residents’ representatives.

While the developers have been praised for listening to previous comments in omitting a hotel and supermarket from the plans, concerns over congestion, the multi-storey tower and that the station is being developed before the local plan is finalised have been raised.

The scheme, from Solum Regeneration, includes a 14-storey tower block, 450 homes, shops, a multi-storey car park, a new station square and a larger ticket hall.

Graham Hibbert, the chairman of the Guildford Residents’ Association (GRA) said it was good that concerns of the impact the supermarket and hotel would have on traffic have been listened to, but he believes the new development will still create congestion issues.

“I think the concerns of the GRA would be that it is an enormous pity that we do not have a local plan in place, because we are getting further piecemeal developments in Guildford without really considering the bigger picture.

“Although they have worked to reduce the traffic implications, I think a lot of people think, including the leader of the council at a recent conference on business, who said congestion is one of the biggest disincentives to business in Guildford, that this will increase congestion, no doubt about it.”

Solum has said there will not be any more public consultations, as exhibitions were held in 2011 and 2012.

Mr Hibbert said this was a pity because he believed people would have concerns to air about congestion.

Another concern he said members of the residents’ association had, was the plan to build a 14-storey building, which Peter Hughes, development director from Solum Regeneration, said would act as the frontier of Guildford.

“In our response to the local plan, we will be saying that four or five storeys is the maximum Guildford could take,” Mr Hibbert said.

“We don’t think Guildford is a place for tall skyscrapers.

“I would very much like to see a holistic solution to Guildford, so Guildford can really achieve its potential.

“One of the reasons for saying we need a holistic plan is that there are a number of things we need to look for in the next 20 years, such as a better link to Heathrow and a better way to travel to the rest of the country without having to go through London.

“There are some good messages that they are listening, but it is a great shame it is occurring before we have a proper plan for the centre Guildford.”

While not agreeing with the target number of houses needed to be built as listed in the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment by the borough council – 652 a year until 2031 – Mr Hibbert said Guildford does need more homes, particularly affordable units.

“It is very good that the town centre will have more homes in it, and not just limited to shopping, because our concern is we do not want a centre that dies at night,” he said.

Solum Regeneration, which is the partnership between Network Rail and Kier Property, hopes to submit a planning application to the borough council later this year with the aim of getting workers on the site at the end of 2015.

The focus at this stage is just on the eastern side of the station at the entrance from Walnut Tree Close, with Network Rail reviewing whether the western part, by Guildford Park Road, will be needed in the future to increase rail capacity.

While there will be no further public exhibitions on the plans, residents will be able to comment on the project by sending representations to the council once the formal application was been made.