Guildford Cathedral.

New housing around Surrey’s cathedral in contention


A developer is arguing the benefits of 124 new homes next to Guildford Cathedral outweigh the potential harms to the heritage and green space. 

Vivid Homes is appealing for a public inquiry to consider its planning application which was unanimously rejected by the council in March 2023. 

The Cathedral, along with developer Vivid Homes, proposed to demolish the existing staff housing and create 124 homes in a mix of flats and housing – 54 of which would be affordable properties – on undeveloped woodland. 

Officers at the Council in March 2023 recommended refusing the plans for a host of reasons including its harm to the heritage setting including the “visual prominence of the apartment blocks”, the impact on the “green collar” and the effect on the “silhouette” of the landmark. 

Councillors decided it was ultimately not the right location for the development, even if the scheme offered affordable homes. Vivid Homes’ appeal contends that any harm identified has been minimised and should be balanced against the benefits.

The main appeals argue the visual prominence of the development will blend with the heritage asset. Apartment blocks and roofscapes will “sit within the landscape”. Reducing building heights, landscaping and tree planting were also cited as ways to keep the green collar  and “longer-distant views” towards and around the Cathedral.

A council report noted that the submitted design proposals would “harm the landscape character and the visual experience of the site to the east”, but would “benefit” the approach to the cathedral from the west.
The council concluded that the proposals would “still result in moderate adverse landscape and visual effects” concerning Surrey Hills as an area of natural beauty.

The proposed development as submitted would “continue to harm ‘important views’” in relation to the character and heritage assets of Guildford Town Centre, the council added. 

The Guildford Society, a civic group promoting high standards in planning and architecture, said it was “disappointed” at hearing the news that the developers had appeal the decision, in late October 2023. 
The urban planning organisation said it had two major concerns: the visual impact of the development on Guildford’s iconic skyline and the infrastructure supporting the development. 

A spokesperson said: “The classic view of Guildford Cathedral from the south with its grass area is not really replicated in any of the planning documents.”- There is “very little information” on how the development will look when viewed from afar.

Starting 5 March, the public inquiry will be conducted  by a planning inspectorate and last ten days. 
Vivid homes is footing the bill for the appeal, despite the application also made on behalf of Guildford Cathedral.

The acting dean, Stuart Beake, said when the appeal was announced: “[The] decision is crucial for us financially – if planning permission is granted it will mean that our reserves will receive some much needed funds as we can recoup all the money we have spent on fees. An endowment will be established which will provide funds for the routine maintenance and upkeep of the cathedral and that in turn means that our annual budget will start to break even or be in surplus.”

Guildford Cathedral has been operating with a financial deficit for several years which has exacerbated with the coronavirus pandemic and the refusal of planning developments. The cathedral said it was selling land surrounding its Grade II listed site to create an endowment fund to pay for maintenance costs. 

A spokesperson from The Guildford Society said: “Planning applications should be viewed without prejudice of its financial background. Whether the cathedral is making money out of it or making a thundering loss is not a matter for the review.”

The application would have raised a £10m endowment for the cathedral, which it said would help fund the future of the cathedral.

However, it was highlighted during a public presentation that cash from this sale would only last five years. When combined with a separate sale, planners said, this would only raise 23 per cent of the budgeted maintenance costs.

According to Vivid Homes documents, the cathedral’s deficit at the end of 2022 was £116,000. It was predicted to reduce the deficit slightly to £100,000 in 2023 by looking at ways to increase income and reduce expenditure. Details of repairing costs provided by a Quinquennial Inspection have identified repairs costing a total of £3,585,000. 

Guildford Cathedral and Vivid homes were invited to comment.

Related report:

Surrey County’s Cathedral citadel conserved…

Image: Grahame Larter

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