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.

20130316_Sledgehammer to miss a Nut

Onslow CPZ – a sledge-hammer to miss the nut

Oh dear! I fear once again (p2. Surrey Ad 15th March ‘Upset at plans for extension to CPZ’) that we are seeing all of the results of a comprehensive lack of strategic planning, a prevalence of tactical initiatives to treat symptoms, an absence of imagination and a failure to understand the needs and frustrations of residents.  This time it is not about the town centre but the circumstances are all too familiar.

The area was largely developed since the 1930’s (connected to Guildford only by a bridge built before cars and trucks were even invented), and yet Onslow contributes well in excess of £2bn each year to the local economy and houses the major employment and economic drivers in the town (yes, even including the retail area!): the University, Research Park, Hospital and so much more. The only parking strategy that has been applied in the past few decades has been to restrict on-site parking provision for out-of-town businesses and institutions – whilst allowing them to expand enormously – on the assumption that, despite a woeful public transport provision, employees and students would somehow leave their cars at home.  Continue reading

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)

20121207 RIP Guildford Philharmonic

I wish to record my disappointment and regret at the (by now rather inevitable) passing of the Guildford Philharmonic after March of next year – as confirmed on 29th November by Guildford Borough Council’s Corporate Improvement Scrutiny Committee.

I recognise that I may not agree with decisions taken by the Council. I was angry, however, to learn of further misleading statements – this time by Councillor Jen Powell – who, I must say, had given me to believe she was better than that – and by the Interim Strategic Director.  Their remarks, summarised and countered below, were unnecessary and gratuitous, given that The Surrey Advertiser had already heralded the sad demise of this institution, founded by much more forward thinking Councillors than those responsible for dismantling it. Continue reading

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.

20120925 Masterplanning – the alchemy of urban design

It is very often the case that we all have some idea of what needs to be done to fix urban issues but we have been schooled in the art of the possible – limited by what we know and affected by what we fear.

Masterplanning is the once-in-a-generation re imagining of the urban space to make the impossible seem possible and the possible achievable.

All it takes (and it is not exactly a small thing) is vision… Oh yes, and a wedge of cash!

But when it starts, a whole new energy is created and the community is able to come together to agree, disagree, put forward ideas, comment on others’ brainwaves, consider a few hairbrained scheme and put it all together in the glaring light of publicity to arrive at a democratically accountable masterplan with a vision, a clear set of priorities and an outline of the steps to make it deliverable.

What is clear is that towns and cities such as St Albans and Stratford upon Avon are already beginning to benefit from their masterplanning process and that towns like Guildford, with its traffic congestion and disconnected spaces and infrastructure, are starting to recognise that a masterplan could deliver solutions.

Guildford Vision Group is pressing the Local Authority to embrace a masterplanning exercise and have had excellent advice and support from Allies & Morrison who are holding a drop-in workshop at St Marys church in Quarry Street, off the High Street, from 11.00am to 1.00pm on Saturday 29th September at which everyone is welcome.

Allies & Morrison were responsible for masterplanning the Olympic Park and we all know how well that worked out. What we should all understand from that exercise is that masterplanning is not only worthwhile, it is also essential.

20120923 So what if we lose our orchestra?

In 1946 the far sighted Councillors of Guildford’s Municipal Council set up a Municipal orchestra. Those who were experiencing post-war rationing and hardship were able to enjoy some community cohesion and were able to enjoy the classical music played by professional musicians.

By the time I was attending concerts with my parents in the mid to late 1960’s the orchestra was fêted across the country as a top division professional orchestra and at the time Guildford Council directly employed the musicians and the phenomenal conductor and musician Vernon (or ‘Tod’) Handley was making a name for himself and for Guildford at the cutting edge of English music. The modern programmes were not always the crowd-pullers that would have underlined the success of the orchestra, but hundreds if not thousands of young people were inspired through his Proteus Choir to perform at a remarkably high level – in the process learning about teamwork, camaraderie, musicianship and a great love for English song.

The model of employed musicians was under strain for a long time before the retained conductor position was removed (Sir Charles Groves being one of the last holders of the post) and with it the in house musicians. Continue reading

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

20120803 Parking Profits not helping ease Congestion

I note by simple calculation from your headline: ‘PROFITS ON PARKING TOP £6m’ (Front page, Surrey Ad 27th July) that the Council does not see fit to invest one to two months of that profit in a proper professional town plan (as called for by the Guildford Vision Group) to overcome the congestion misery that plagues those creating the profit by parking in town and the businesses and retailers who attract them in the first place. This just shows how much more important generating cash is than the long-term well being and prosperity of Guildford (see www.guildfordvisiongroup.com).