Prior to consideration of the application, the following persons addressed the Committee in accordance with Public Speaking Procedure Rules 3(b):
· Mr John Baylis (Secretary of the Guildford Society) (to object)
· Mr Jayesh Patel (Agent) (in support)
The Committee considered the above application for redevelopment of the site to provide a 14-storey building comprising a mix of uses, with either retail (A1); or financial and professional services (A2); or restaurant and café (A3); or drinking establishment (A4); nightclub, casino (sui generis) or offices (B1); or leisure (D2 – including cinema, concert hall and bingo hall) on the lower ground and ground floors, and student accommodation (sui generis) on the upper floors; and a leisure unit at roof level, ancillary secure cycle and refuse storage and landscaping following demolition of all existing buildings.
The Committee was informed that the applicant had lodged an appeal against non-determination on 7 December 2018 and that determination of the application now lay with the Planning Inspectorate. As such, the Planning Committee was advised that it had to consider the application and determine it as it would have done if the final decision was still theirs. Officers clarified that the reason for the submission of the non-determination appeal was owing to the fact that a statutory consultee, the Environment Agency did not submit their objection to the scheme until Christmas Eve and the appellant appealed before its receipt.
The site was located in the Bridge Street Conservation Area and opposite the Grade II listed Rodboro Buildings as well as adjoining Locally Listed Buildings. The Committee was advised that the proposed development would be an extremely dominant form of development that would be harmful to the historic setting and significance of the Conservation Area. By virtue of the buildings overall mass and scale, it was contrived and failed to take into account the historic setting of the Conservation Area. The 14-storey building would appear imposing upon arriving into Guildford. As seen from Bridge Street, the surrounding buildings in the area all shared a consistent alignment that the proposal would dwarf and look out of character.
The Committee noted that the development was predominantly for the provision of student accommodation, with the exception of the basement and the top two floors, which was allocated for a restaurant and leisure facilities. Officers were concerned about the quality of the rooms provided for students with many served only by a light well and would received little natural light. This combined with a small areas of communal space was considered to be detrimental to the residents overall enjoyment of their amenities.
In conclusion, it was the planning officer’s view that the scheme represented an overly dominant form of development that was harmful to the Conservation Area and had a poor standard of design. The scale and mass of the building was poorly conceived and would provide a poor standard of accommodation. The public benefits of the scheme were limited. In addition, the area was located in an area at a high risk of flooding and the increased use of the building for overnight accommodation by students would place them at greater risk. No management plan being provided by the applicant to deal with flood events. It has not been effectively demonstrated how the residents could be save from harm in the potential event of a flood.
In response to comments made by public speakers, the Planning Officer confirmed that the planning team had engaged with the applicant about the principle of student accommodation on the site but they had never given pre-application advice on the scheme as presented. Planning officers had fundamental concerns about the scheme from the start but the therefore did not seek to progress decisions in respect of planning obligations. The site was not considered essential for the provision of student accommodation in Guildford given the number of student developments that had already been approved by the Committee.
The Committee discussed the application and was concerned regarding the flood risk posed to the residents of the proposed development. Those concerns were reflected by the Environment Agency’s (EA) objection to the scheme. The EA also objected to the fact that the submitted Flood Risk Assessment did not reflect the proposed development and referred to an 8-storey high development without a basement. This significant difference was concerning to the Committee as the assessment lacked consistency with the application as proposed. The Committee also noted the concerns raised by the Police Community Officer regarding the access the public appear to have to the student accommodation. In addition, the toilets located in the basement were remote from the public area and could be prone to anti-social behaviour.
The Committee was concerned regarding the cramped rooms and lack of amenity provision for students. The bike storage proposed in the basement was also perceived as an odd location and that students were more likely to bring their bikes up to their rooms. The Committee recognised that the overly dominant form of development would impact upon views of the River Wey, as well as upon views from Castle Keep. The Committee also noted that Historic England had objected to the scheme as it failed to respond to the identity of Guildford as an historic county town and would be an unsympathetic feature. The lack of sufficient fire access points was an additional concern, particularly in view of the proposed cladding and height of the development when considering recent tragic events such as Grenfell. The top of the building, the Committee noted appeared to be covered in glass that would be overly reflective and the colours of the building incongruous compared with the surrounding environment. The trees shown in the CGI images were also considered an odd placement that would not thrive.
The Planning Officer in response to a query raised over the energy efficiency of the building confirmed that conditions could be imposed that ensured energy standards were met.
The Committee lastly considered the comments of the Design and Conservation Team Leader who re-iterated that the proposed development would be an incongruous feature of the Bridge Street Conservation Area. The proposal was exceptionally tall in comparison to the surrounding historic buildings that were sympathetically consistent in height. The design had not addressed the immediate or wider context and impact upon the skyline of Guildford and the two-storey glazing at the top of the building would provide an unwelcome beacon at night.
In conclusion, having taken account of the representations received in relation to this application, the Committee
RESOLVED that given the application had been appealed against non-determination, the Committee would have been minded to refuse application 18/P/01668 for the reasons as detailed in the report.