Plans to build 124 homes on undeveloped woodland next to Guildford Cathedral will threaten a memorial to Canada’s First World War military sacrifice, a preservation society has warned. Guildford Cathedral needs to carry out an estimated £3.2million in repairs, but unlike other cathedrals in the UK, it says, has “never possessed endowments of any significance and has always struggled to fund repairs to the Grade II* listed building”.
Image: Grahame Larter
To solve the issue, the cathedral sold a parcel of land to developers which, it says, will “enable the endowment to be secured for the cathedral which is vital for its survival” and secure its long-term maintenance.
The issue, says the Vimy Foundation, which oversees the public historical resources and modern perspectives on Canada’s participation in the First World War, is that land is a memorial to the 650,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders who fought in Europe during the First World War, 66,000 of whom lost their lives.
Writing to Guildford Borough Council’s planning committee, the foundation said: “This undeveloped wooded area was created on the initiative of R.B. Bennet, prime minister of Canada from 1930 to 1935, who lived near Guildford, to provide a place for reflection and remembrance of Canada’s contribution during the conflicts that shook the first half of the 20th century.”
They added: “While understanding the needs of the Guildford community, The Vimy Foundation wishes to reaffirm its commitment to the preservation of memorial sites honouring Canada’s fallen soldiers. In recognition of the bravery and sacrifice of these men and women, their memory must continue to be honoured. The Vimy Foundation calls on decision-makers, Guildford Cathedral, Guildford Borough Council and developers, to preserve the commemorative and memorial dimension of this site and will support initiatives in this direction.”
There are currently seven homes on the site and used by staff cathedral staff. It is designated as open space as part of the Cathedral land but earmarked for 100 homes within the council’s local plan.
A previous planning application to build 134 homes on the slopes of the cathedral was turned down, despite officer recommendations, by Guildford’s planning committee. Background papers to the application said it was due to the plans being “poor quality and out of character with the surrounding area”.
This led to the cathedral working with developers Vivid to carry out what it described as a “comprehensive review” that included “extensive work to address the reasons for refusal in the 2015 scheme”. The new plans would demolish the existing staff buildings to create 124 homes, 44 of which would be affordable. Cathedral staff would have use of 13 dwellings, with the remaining 111 consisting of 19 one bed units, 61 two-beds, 28 three-beds and three four-bed homes.
Matt O’Grady, chief operating officer at Guildford Cathedral, said: “The Charity Commission, the regulatory body responsible for these matters, was given the full details of the gift of land, including all associated historical correspondence. After a thorough assessment the commission approved schemes allowing the cathedral to sell the relevant land – allocated in Guildford’s Local Plan – for development. R Bennet will always be acknowledged as the generous donor who enabled land to be purchased from the Earl of Onslow.
“His contribution is commemorated in a ledger stone on the south elevation of the Cathedral and the protection of this is encapsulated in the Cathedral’s Grade II* listing and in the Care of Cathedrals Measure 2011. The Grade II* listed Guildford Cathedral doesn’t benefit from a large income in the same way as many English cathedrals; because it is relatively new, it doesn’t have any historic endowments. The sale of land to Vivid for new homes will safeguard the long-term future of the building.
“The income generated will be used to create an annual endowment that will provide for the long-term repair, maintenance, and improvement of the cathedral. The cathedral is proud of its community links and believes very strongly that it should play a part in contributing to new homes in Guildford.”
The latest neighbourhood consultation expired in January. A date has yet to be set for the matter to appear before committee.