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Guildford Borough Council

Submission Local Plan: Strategy and Sites - Main Modifications

Submission Local Plan: Strategy and Sites - Main Modifications - Part 1: Policies

Policy E6: The leisure and visitor experience


4.4.53 The leisure and visitor experience in our borough supports people's quality of life, fosters social and cultural wellbeing, and increases the vibrancy of the area. As one of the fastest growing industries in the borough, the sector also makes a significant contribution to Guildford's economy; tourism alone generating over £335 million of income for local businesses and supporting more than 6100 jobs in 2015[26]. By providing complementary uses that contribute to the daytime, early evening and night-time economy, leisure uses also play a crucial role in maintaining the vitality and viability of our town, district and local centres.

4.4.54 The borough offers a varied leisure and visitor experience, encompassing both the tranquility of the countryside along with the vibrancy of Guildford's town centre. The historic built environment also significantly contributes to Guildford's appeal. Many of the borough's entertainment and cultural activities are concentrated within central Guildford; the area offering a mix of shops, restaurants, performance venues, galleries and attractions including the Guildhall, Guildford Castle, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, G Live, Electric Theatre and Guildford Museum. Other attractions in the borough include the River Wey and Dapdune Wharf Visitors Centre, Guildford Cathedral, Watts Gallery, The Hogs Back Brewery, Ash Museum, the Basingstoke Canal and the Blackwater Valley. We also have a range of sports facilities located across the borough including the Spectrum Leisure Complex, Ash Manor Sports Centre and the Surrey Sports Park that help to promote and facilitate active lifestyles amongst our population.

4.4.55 The rural parts of the borough also offer considerable recreational and tourism opportunities. Attractions include the Royal Horticultural Society Garden at Wisley, impressive historic properties such as Loseley Park and the National Trust properties of Clandon Park and Hatchlands Park, and the Chilworth Powder Mills. Our natural landscapes also play a significant role in attracting visitors to the borough and improving the quality of life of Guildford's residents. Many additional visits arise from the pursuit of outdoor sports and activities in the countryside, notably rambling, horse riding and cycling, for which there is an extensive system of footpaths, bridleways and cycle routes.

4.4.56 Despite the borough's unique attributes, there remains scope for improvement in the scale and quality of our leisure offer (particularly in Guildford town centre)[27]. The Local Plan aspires to improve and diversify the leisure and visitor experience in the borough. Stimulating vibrant town and district centres, encouraging the provision of additional visitor and business accommodation in appropriate locations, protecting our special natural landscapes and preserving our historic built environment will be important to achieving this.

POLICY E6: The leisure and visitor experience

(1) We will continue to develop a high quality visitor experience to increase the contribution that tourism, arts, cultural heritage and sport make to our quality of life and social and cultural well-being. To achieve this we will support:

(a) the provision of new and enhanced leisure and visitor attractions, including arts and cultural facilities, in accordance with the sequential test outlined in the NPPF for main town centre uses

(b) the provision of new and improved accommodation and conference facilities for tourist and business visitors in accordance with the sequential test

(c) sustainable rural tourism and leisure developments that benefit businesses, communities and visitors in rural areas as long as they respect the size, character and function of their setting and comply with national green belt policy. This support extends to the re-use of suitable rural buildings for visitor accommodation and other small-scale rural development proposing less than 100 sq m of additional floorspace

(d) proposals which promote greater use of the River Wey as a leisure and recreational resource without harming local biodiversity or water quality.

(2) To protect the vitality and viability of our town, district and local centres, proposals for new leisure space which exceed 500 sq m and are located outside these areas, as designated on the Policies Map, will be required to submit an impact assessment. All new and enhanced leisure and visitor attractions and facilities will be required to preserve the borough's special heritage and natural features.

(3) The loss of existing visitor, leisure and cultural attractions, including arts and entertainment facilities, hotels and indoor sports venues, will be strongly resisted unless replacement facilities of an equivalent or better standard and provision are proposed in a location equally accessible to the facility's current catchment area. Alternatively, robust evidence must be provided that demonstrates that the facility causes significant detriment to the amenity of the locality or that:

(a) there is no longer a need for the existing facility or an alternative leisure or visitor use; and

(b) the existing use is unviable and its retention has been fully explored (including active and comprehensive marketing the facility for its existing and alternative leisure or visitor use for a continued period of at least 18 months prior to submission of a planning application).



4.4.56a Evidence of active and comprehensive marketing is defined in Appendix A2.

Reasoned justification

4.4.57 Policy E6 aligns with the aims of the Council's Visitor Strategy (2014-2020) to actively promote and sustainably develop Guildford's visitor economy. We consider that the leisure and visitor experience in our borough has the potential to contribute significantly to Guildford's future economic growth.

4.4.58 We will continue to protect existing visitor and leisure facilities whilst promoting a sustainable expansion of the sector. The provision of arts and cultural facilities in particular can broaden the borough's offer and increase its appeal to visitors.

4.4.59 Visitor related development by its nature is often located in sensitive areas and its benefits need to be carefully balanced against the need to protect our valuable countryside and heritage assets from overcrowding and degradation. The plan seeks to ensure that the borough's unique natural landscapes and heritage, which contribute so significantly to its appeal as a leisure and tourism destination, are preserved. Any new built development must complement the natural attractions of the landscape and reflect the character of the surrounding area. Landscaping, careful siting of development, the re-use of buildings and attention to detail can help developments to respect their surroundings.

4.4.60 The provision of visitor accommodation is important to both businesses and tourism. Occupancy rates are high in the borough and the volume of overnight stays is increasing; reflecting an increasing need for further bed spaces. The Surrey Hotel Futures Report (June 2015) indicates that there is market potential and hotel company interest in providing additional visitor and business accommodation in the borough. To maintain and enhance Guildford's appeal as a tourist and business destination and keep pace with the growth of both sectors, we therefore consider it important to increase the borough's stock of hotel accommodation and protect existing facilities.

4.4.61 Proposals for new visitor and business accommodation and other leisure and tourism uses on unallocated land will be required to adhere to the sequential test outlined in the NPPF. This means that new facilities will be encouraged to locate in our town and district centres. If there are not any town centre sites available, edge of centre locations may be considered. Only if there are not any town centre or edge of centre sites available will out-of-centre locations be considered. Applicants proposing new leisure uses outside the town or district centres will be required to submit an impact assessment if the additional leisure floorspace exceeds 500 sq m. The assessment should clearly identify and explain the proposed development's likely impact on the vitality and viability of the town or district centre.

4.4.62 The Council also recognises that tourism is an important sector of the rural economy and has great potential for further growth. Appropriate development can help to sustain rural services and create significant benefits for local communities. The NPPF suggests that we should support sustainable rural tourism and leisure developments, including the provision and expansion of visitor facilities in appropriate locations, where identified needs are not met by existing facilities in rural service centres. Small-scale development proposing less than 100 sq m of additional floor space for leisure/visitor use in rural areas will therefore not be subject to the sequential test.

4.4.63 There is significant demand in the borough for accommodation that caters for the middle and upper end of the visitor market. The offer of many hotels providing such service is often dependent on a scenic rural location and/or spacious settings. To encourage the provision of more hotels and the diversification of the rural economy, proposals involving the re-use of suitable rural buildings (those considered by the Council to be of a permanent and substantial construction) or the comprehensive redevelopment of previously developed land for visitor accommodation in rural areas will generally be supported where their locational requirements are well justified. This approach accords with the NPPG's recognition that the market and locational requirements of some main town centre uses means they may only be accommodated in specific locations. Proposed development for visitor accommodation in rural areas should, where possible and relevant to its function and location, be accessible by public transport and comply with green belt policy. The Council may apply a more flexible approach in regards to accessibility to public transport where it can clearly be demonstrated that the appeal of the proposed accommodation is predominately based upon its on-site facilities.


Key Evidence

  • Guildford Borough Economic Strategy 2013 - 2031 (Guildford Business Forum and Guildford Borough Council, 2013)
  • Tourism South East Research Services (2015) The Economic Impact of Tourism: Guildford 2015
  • The Enterprise M3 Strategic Economic Plan - 2014-2020 (Enterprise M3 Local Enterprise Partnership, 2014)
  • Surrey Hotel Futures Report June 2015 (Hotel Solutions on behalf of Surrey County Council)
  • Guildford Retail and Leisure Study update 2014 (Guildford Borough Council, 2015) and Addendum 2017
  • Visitor Strategy 2014-2020 (Guildford Borough Council, 2014)


Monitoring Indicators



Data source

Net change in visitor accommodation bed spaces granted planning permission and completed within the borough

Increase in the number of visitor bed spaces

Planning applications and appeals and building completions data




[26] The Economic Impact of Tourism Guildford 2015

[27] Guildford Retail and Leisure Study Update 2014 and 2017 Addendum