The “fundamental specialness” of Guildford and its cathedral have been preserved after plans to build 124 homes next to the historic site were refused.
Guildford Borough Council’s planning committee met on Wednesday, March 29, and heard a “really definitive” 25 minute officer’s report that outlined the scheme.
The cathedral, along with developer Vivid Homes, wanted 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.
The cathedral said it was selling land surrounding its Grade II listed site to create an endowment fund to pay for maintenance costs but during the presentation, the public heard 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.
Top image: The 124 new homes would be built in the area surrounding the cathedral (Image: Grahame Larter)
Officers at the council recommended refusing the plans of a host of reasons including its harm to the the setting of heritage assets, “visual prominence of the apartment blocks” and the impact on the “green collar” forming part of the “landmark silhouette”.
The plans attracted 286 letters of objection raising issues such as over development, a lack of details on a wider masterplan, and harm to the heritage assets.
Councillor Will Salmon said: “We’ve been looking at it this for a number of years and there’s definitely been some improvements made in the application over those years particularly on issues like sustainability. The percentage of affordable housing is also admirable here. My overall feeling is it would have to be somewhere else.
Fundamentally this is not the location for this scheme. My concern is the scale, the whole setting, it’s the openness and semi-wild spaces that you can really appreciate as part of the community, that’s the green collar that we see from all sorts of distances. That is the sense that I can certainly feel coming from the many representations.
“The parkland provides very special setting with different short and long views of the cathedral and it provides a sense of proportion which is really essential for a building as big as the cathedral and I think a lot of that would be lost with the high density scheme. Overall my feeling is very much that this is a heritage asset that must be protected. I do worry that the over development here would actually risk the fundamental specialness of the cathedral.”
His concerns were echoed by both Cllrs Chris Blow and Angela Gunning among others as the chamber united almost unanimously in its opposition to the plans.
The only exception was Cllr Marsha Moseley who did not speak on the application but abstained from voting.
A spokesperson for the Friends of Stag Hill group which has been campaigning against the application, said: “We would like to thank the Guildford Borough Council planning officer for her care and attention to what must at times have been a difficult task, and the committee for looking out for the interests of Guildford.
“Friends of Stag Hill will wait to see the cathedral’s reaction to this second refusal, but would hope that the cathedral now pauses and realises the damaging nature of their proposals, both for the cathedral and the community. The community has now been fighting with the cathedral over the development plans for over seven years, and it is time to accept that developing the land is not an appropriate way to raise funds for the cathedral.
“They have put the local community through significant distress over the last 7.5 years.”
The Grade II-listed cathedral was designed by Sir Edward Maufe and work began at the site 1936. This was interrupted by the Second World War and eventually finished through a fund-raising campaign.
The cathedral was consecrated on May 17, 1961.