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Guildford Borough Council

Draft Local Plan: strategy and sites 2014

1. Draft Local Plan strategy and sites - Strategic Policies and Appendices A to F

Policy 15: Guildford Town Centre

4.170    Guildford’s retail and service centres are the heart of our communities. They serve as a focus for community life; providing attractive places where people live, work, meet up, shop and spend their leisure time.

4.171      Within the borough we have a range of centres of different scales and functions. The hierarchy of our centres is based on a single town centre in the centre of Guildford, one urban and one rural district centre, and 22 local centres. The role and function of each type of centre is related to its position in the hierarchy and its size and mix of uses. These centres are listed in Table 2.

4.172     Guildford town centre is the largest retail, service, administrative and commercial centre in Surrey county (measured by amount floorspace). With good transport accessibility, it is also one of the most important town centres in the South East outside of London.  

4.173      The town centre is focused around two linear features, the River Wey and the High Street that rises up the valley side from Town Bridge. The centre has striking topography, relating to its origins and historic growth in the River Wey valley and up its eastern valley sides. Open countryside is only a short walk to the south and south east of the centre. It is renowned for its picturesque historic High Street and lanes off it, known as “gates”, and the attractive views out to the surrounding countryside. These natural and historic features are a vital part of the special character of the town centre.

4.174    Guildford town centre has many assets, and it has proved to be one of the most resilient centres in the country in times of economic downturn[1], primarily due to its largely affluent catchment population and attractive environment.  

4.175    Nevertheless, centres do not stay the same, they are constantly changing. As the ways that we shop and spend our leisure time change, and nearby similar sized centres such as Kingston, Reading and Woking improve, so must Guildford town centre. As well as providing for shopping and employment needs, we must improve the overall experience for people visiting Guildford town centre. Improvements needed include the leisure daytime and evening economy, and the built and natural environment in certain areas (including the riverside) and the dominance of traffic congestion and surface car parks. These will help to ensure that by 2030, Guildford town centre is as described in the Vision below. Guildford Town Centre area and Guildford Town Centre primary shopping area is shown in Appendix G.


Guildford town centre has a unique setting and historical character, and is at the centre of one of the most prosperous counties in England. We will protect and build on these assets and insist that all new development will be of the highest design and environmental standards. We will be proactive in building a great town centre which improves and connects to the amenity of the riverside.  We will invest in creating high quality public realm. We will put people above traffic and we will promote new high quality homes, retail, leisure and business development. To achieve this we will develop innovative funding and delivery bodies. As we embark together towards this exciting future we pledge that we will continue and extend an active dialogue with our residents and other stakeholders.     

POLICY 15: Guildford town centre

Working with partners we will promote Guildford town centre as the key retail and service centre for Surrey county and beyond.  We will ensure that it is a more attractive place to live and to visit and is resilient for the future by encouraging and facilitating :

  • approximately 50,000 sqm (gross) of additional comparison goods floorspace within the town centre’s primary shopping area to reinforce it as the core shopping area. This includes the allocation of the North Street regeneration site for a retail-led mixed-use development;
  • developments of other town centre uses that contribute to the liveliness of the town centre;
  • approximately 1,932 new homes, particularly as part of mixed use developments and above shops and commercial premises, and ensuring that it is a pleasant and safe place to live;
  • varied use of the centre during the evening and night-time, with residents and visitors feeling safe;
  • active use of the riverside and the river
  • more effective linkages within and across the town centre for pedestrians and cyclists
  • improved public areas

 We will produce a Supplementary Planning Document for Guildford Town Centre to deliver the Vision for the centre.

In order to preserve its liveliness and protect the centre from new retail developments in less suitable locations, we will use the national sequential and impact assessment tests, with a local impact assessment threshold of 1,000sqm. This will be applied to proposed retail developments on unallocated land outside of the primary shopping area.

The town centre will be the focus for developments of town centre uses of a scale appropriate to the centre’s role and function that generate a large number of journeys.  Outside of the primary shopping area but within the wider town centre, a variety of town centre uses will be encouraged.  These uses include housing, food and drink uses, cultural, and community uses that add to the liveliness, attractiveness, and economic resilience of the centre.


4.176      As the most sustainable location in the borough, Guildford town centre is the most suitable location for the larger developments of town centre uses, and for housing.  We will ensure that large scale developments of town centre uses are located with the town centre, wherever possible as part of mixed-use developments including housing. Large scale retail will be located wherever possible within the primary shopping area. All new development must complement and where possible enhance the appearance and character of the area.

4.177      Guildford Retail and Leisure Needs Study 2011 calculates the likely future need for retail and leisure floorspace for the whole borough.  Calculations are based on 2010 ONS population projections (the most recent available at the time) and the likely future increase in expenditure.  The figures also take into account changes in special forms of trading, such as an increased proportion of expenditure on internet sales.

4.178    The headline figure for comparison retail need to 2021 is 58,383 sqm, and for convenience need is 12,646 sqm. The cumulative forecasts to 2026 are 95,483 sqm and 13,858 sqm respectively, but are more indicative.

4.179     Against this identified retail need, we have approved approximately 12,000m2 floorspace since 2011. Approximately 4,500 sqm of this is approved convenience floorspace for two new major food stores. The majority of the remainder is for four major approved developments of comparison floorspace at and around Ladymead and its junction with Woodbridge Road, two of which are specifically limited to bulky goods floorspace.

4.180    The vast majority of the comparison floorspace will be provided in one development on the land at North Street. We are planning this to provide for a new department store and supporting retail, food and drink and leisure floorspace, parking, and improvements to the urban environment in this area.

4.181   These retail need figures do not include the needs of new housing development included in this draft plan.  The anticipated proportion of retail sales made on the internet is also increasing, and mobile retailing is growing.  Since the 2011 Study, it is becoming clear that the successful large bricks and mortar retailers are increasingly becoming multi-channel retailers (selling through bricks and mortar stores and online), which is changing the pattern of shopping habits.  We will update the Retail Study to re-consider need in the light of these changes for the publication draft Local Plan before submitting it for independent examination.

4.182      Once we have quantified the need for additional retail floorspace to support the housing development planned across the borough, we will confirm where this will be accommodated within the most suitable designated retail/ service centres in the borough. This may involve changes to the boundaries of some existing centres, and new local centres to provide for everyday shopping and service needs for strategic developments. These will be included in the publication plan prior to submission for independent examination. We will amend the retail element of Policy 2, our spatial development strategy, so that the publication plan reflects this.

4.183      Consumer habits are changing and the future for successful town centres will involve a broader focus than retail. The town centre as a focus for our leisure time will become more important, as will the enhancement of the riverside, buildings and public spaces between them.

4.184      National planning policy sets out two tests, the sequential use and impact assessment, that we must apply in considering applications for developments of town centre uses on sites outside of the centres that are not allocated for such uses in the Local Plan.

4.185   We will work with our partners to deliver the Vision for Guildford town centre. Partners include Experience Guildford Guildford’s Business Improvement District (BID), major land owners, our development partner for the North Street Regeneration site, Surrey Country Council as local highway authority with responsibility for local roads, Safer Guildford Partnership, and the National Trust as owner of the River Wey.



We will measure the effectiveness of this policy against the following indicators :

  • number of new homes built in the town centre
  • proportion of new major retail applications approved in Guildford Primary Shopping Area 


Key Evidence

  • Roger Tym and Partners, Retail and Leisure Study 2011
  • Guildford Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA) 2012, and SHLAA partial update 2014
  • Guildford Town Centre Vitality and Viability Studies 2008 to 2011
  • draft Interim Guildford Town Centre Framework 2013
  • Allies and Morrison, 2014 draft Town Centre vision document
  • The Centre for Retail Research, May 2013, Retail Futures 2018 : Shop Numbers, Online and The High Street
  • English Heritage, June 2013, The Changing Face of the High Street: Decline and Revival : A review of retail and town centre issues in historic areas

[1] Second most credit crunch resistant retail centre in the UK (Source: CACI Retail Footprint Study 2010/11)