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Blackwell Park

As part of the Local Plan process, Guildford Borough Council has identified a number of sites that could potentially provide new homes for the borough, including part of Blackwell Farm, which is owned by the University of Surrey.

The land provides an opportunity to help to meet a number of the town’s needs, providing a platform for sensible and sustainable growth.

Guildford’s Local Plan and University land

Guildford needs more homes, schools and better infrastructure; it needs them together and it needs them soon. Planning ahead for the town’s future growth is even more critical in the face of intense demand and an infrastructure that is already under stress.

Up and down the country, population growth will see towns and cities like Guildford expand. Under the National Planning Policy Framework and the Planning Act, Guildford Borough Council has a statutory duty to produce a Local Plan to show how it will support its fair share of this growth.

The Council's first draft, published in May 2014, and its later draft published in April 2016, identified a number of sites that could accommodate new homes. Both drafts included parts of Blackwell Farm, owned by the University of Surrey, alongside other local sites including greenbelt land and brownfield sites.

The University's plans

Blackwell Farm is well located on the edge of The University Quarter, where approximately 9,000 people are employed by organisations such as the Royal Surrey County Hospital, the University of Surrey and 140 companies on the Research Park.

Any development would present an ideal opportunity to help address the town’s existing infrastructure deficit and support access to the west of the town.

The University’s plans for Blackwell Park include a new relief road to the west of Surrey Research Park - joining it through the Farnham Road to the A31- a new primary school and community hub, an expansion of Surrey Research Park, improved public transport, cycle paths and walkable routes, and 1,800 new homes of all sizes, types and tenures. This would include affordable rented housing for eligible key workers from local institutions such as the Hospital and the University.

The plans also aim to protect and enhance a large percentage of the land’s natural assets, maintaining the designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), protecting and improving existing woodland and hedgerows and providing new sports pitches, parks and allotments as well as ponds and lakes. 

Objectives for the Blackwell Park development

As a steward of its land, the University has set three explicit objectives for the Blackwell Park development should it go ahead:

  1. A sustainable development that is framed by nature
  2. Place-making that supports people and communities
  3. A development that delivers powerful economic, infrastructure and social benefit to the University, the Community, Guildford and the region

All surplus generated by Blackwell Park would be reinvested into jobs, education and the public good in Guildford.

Investing in Guildford

The University has been proud to call Guildford home for fifty years and intends to stay and contribute to the town for many generations to come.

Blackwell Park will become an important legacy for the University of Surrey, meaning the University will always have a vested long-term interest in its future.

Unlike some commercial property developers who might take profit and move on, the University, its Sports Park and its Research Park would become long-standing neighbours to any new community at Blackwell Park.

A great deal of thought and consideration has gone into how Blackwell Park can bring clean growth to Guildford – helping those who work in the locale to live in the locale and supporting local residents to find new jobs in the town.

The University is keen to create an environment which embeds a ‘Proud to live here, proud to work here’ ethos.

Local Plan Process: Update

Almost two years have passed since Guildford Borough Council first published its Draft Local Plan in the spring of 2014. A 12-week public consultation ensued in May of that year, eventually leading the Borough Council to postpone a decision on Guildford’s Local Plan until spring 2016.

On 5 April 2016, the latest draft was published with a number of major changes to the 2014 version. This revised Local Plan will be considered at Executive and Full Council meetings in May 2016.

As the planning process progresses, it is the University’s intention to post any additional information about its proposals on this site, as and when it becomes publically available.

Frequently asked questions about Blackwell Park

Q: When will the University submit an official planning application for its development?

A: The University’s current intention is to submit a planning application sometime after the Local Plan has been put forward for examination and approval i.e. sometime in late 2017 or 2018.

Q: When will the University consult the public about its development proposals?

A: Throughout the full Local Plan process, there will be a number of opportunities for local people to examine all proposals on the table, including the one put forward by the University.

Public consultations will be factored in to the planning process, and it is the University’s intention to ensure that local people have full access to its proposals at the appropriate time, so that they can make an informed opinion about the plans. 

In the meantime, the University will continue working with its team of highly experienced professionals to truly understand the potential of the land within its ownership and draw conclusions about how best to use the land with a view to submitting a planning application at the appropriate time.

Q: How much does the University expect to make from this development?

A: This really depends on the final form and amount of development and it is too early to say. There are likely to be considerable upfront and ongoing costs involved and the University may not see a return for many years.

All surplus funds generated from developing Blackwell Farm would be invested back into the University’s charitable purposes - jobs, education and the public good in Guildford.

Q: How much of the site in question will be used for new academic buildings?

A: It is not presently intended that there would be new academic buildings on Blackwell Park. The University has land available for academic buildings and student residences on its Manor Park site.

Q: What have other universities done in terms of selling off their assets? How does the University of Surrey’s approach differ?

A: Other universities such as Oxford and Cambridge have landholdings that have been used for development of housing and the creation of mixed use communities which include housing, employment land, and community and recreation facilities.

We plan a similar approach to these, and we are examining other examples to see what lessons can be learnt that would benefit the development.

Q: What are the timescales for this development?

A: There is some way to go before there is certainty that the site will be chosen for development. Against this background, to develop the site in its entirety is likely to take at least ten years from now.

We are keen to develop this land carefully and considerately and, should the site be chosen, the development will occur in phases.

Q: What type of housing might be built on the site?

A:  We envisage a full range of house types, sizes and tenures. The market will shift over time but at this stage we see a real need for smaller homes for young families who are unable to buy homes or rent in this area.

Q: Will the University be providing affordable housing on the site?

A: Yes, the Local Plan will require a proportion of affordable housing on the site, which means housing for specified eligible households whose needs are not met by the market.

The University is looking at the scope for ensuring key workers are included in the specified eligible households.

Q: Will the University be the landlord for all housing on the site or does it intend to facilitate the building and then sell the homes off?

The University’s existing plans do not include being the landlord for all housing on the site, although we are keen to see some rental housing retained for rental to staff of the University and its partners (including the hospital and Research Park).

Q: Do you intend to provide student accommodation on the site?

A: The housing that would be built on the site would be general purpose housing across a range of sizes and tenures with potential for all members of the local community. Our primary goal for student accommodation is to build further units on our Manor Park and Stag Hill campuses.

Q: Why can’t houses be built on existing car parks on University land?

A: The University owns just over five hectares of land that is used for parking cars on its campuses. These sites are predominantly located on Stag Hill and include sites designated for future academic expansion.

It is not appropriate for these areas to be used for residential market accommodation owing to the relatively inconsequential size, the location and the fact that the land is being used for employment.

Q: What type of houses will be built on the site?

A: The University’s plans for Blackwell Park include a 1,800 new homes of all sizes, types, tenure and affordability. This would include affordable rented housing for eligible key workers from local institutions such as the Hospital and the University.

Q: What planning permission was the University granted for its Manor Park campus?

A: In 2004, The University was given outline planning permission to build, over time, a mixed use development on its land at Manor Park.

The Planning and Design Statement gave indications of what was likely to be used for academic purposes, leisure purposes and 145,200 square metres of residential accommodation for students and staff.

It was anticipated that the permission would be sufficient to meet the University’s longer term academic requirements and allow for approximately 4,171 bed spaces.

There are a great number of matters that affect exactly what is built and when and both the statement and permission were clear about this figure being an estimation rather than an obligation or a commitment.

Q: How much accommodation does the University provide on its existing campus for its students and staff?

A: The University has a strong track record of providing quality accommodation for thousands of staff and students on its campus.

There are currently 5,170 bed spaces on campus that are fully occupied, including 1,820 bedrooms that have been built since 2004 at a cost of approximately £85m. A further 1,150 units are currently being planned for delivery in 2018 and 2019.

The University provides proportionately more student accommodation on its site than 95% of Universities in the country, with further developments scheduled to offer even more students an opportunity to live on site.

These residences will be built in line with demand and funding availability.

Q: What is the historical background to the University’s Green Belt land?

There is a misconception that the University’s Manor Park site was taken out of the Green Belt in the 2003 Local Plan, having always been subject to Green Belt policy. However the University was actually granted outline planning permission to develop the whole of Manor Park and Stag Hill in 1965 following a public inquiry. The land was beyond the boundary of the Metropolitan Green Belt.

However the Green Belt notation was extended to this land by the 19847 Local Plan. At that time, the University and Guildford Borough Council did not see this as prejudicial to the future plans of the University because "institutions standing in extensive grounds" were seen as an appropriate use in the Green Belt. This meant that the University was able to continue its development of Manor Park.

In 1995, revisions to national planning guidance removed this concession from Green Belt policy. Guildford Borough Council and Surrey County Council therefore agreed that the Green Belt boundary should be realigned to exclude Manor Farm owing to exceptional circumstances:

In 2003, the Local Plan inspector agreed that there was a justification for realigning the Green Belt policy boundary at Manor Farm to accommodate the University's needs for the next 20 years.

Q: Will you be building houses on the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)?

A: We will not be building homes on the AONB but do expect that an access road will cross the AONB land (alongside and following the path of an existing road).

Q: What about the views from the Hog’s Back, should these not be protected?

A: The Hog’s Back is a ridge that is part of the North Downs and lies between Farnham in the west and Guildford in the east. We believe that, with careful planning, the impact of the development on views from the Hogs Back can be minimised.

A thorough landscape and visual appraisal has been carried out and is being used to inform the development layout.

Q: Can Guildford meet its needs from brownfield sites?

A: National planning policy required that brownfield sites be developed before the movement of any greenbelt boundaries. Guildford Borough Council has come to the conclusion that there is insufficient brownfield land to accommodate the Borough’s housing needs.

Q: To what extent will you consider the impact on the countryside in planning this development?

A: Our site has the potential to deliver an attractive neighbourhood for Guildford, retaining existing features of value such as woodlands and land in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and with infrastructure and highways improvements included in the plans.

Any development would be built to high environmental standards and would be sympathetic to the locality. The plans will respect the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and existing significant landscape and habitat features on the site, such as the woodland and hedges.

Q: When the University talks about improving the road links as part of this scheme, what does it mean?

A: Parts of the road network in western Guildford suffer congestion at peak times, including the A3 and the roads around the Surrey Research Park, the Royal Surrey Hospital and Manor Park.

Development of a new neighbourhood at Blackwell Farm offers the opportunity to help alleviate this existing problem in four main ways.

1.Provision of a new access off the Farnham Road, with links into the west of the Research Park and Manor Park. Allowing traffic to and from the A31 to access western Guildford via that route in a controlled way will help to alleviate the use of the A3 from the Hogs Back to the Tesco Junction.

2.The proposed new housing is well-located next to a part of Guildford where there are thousands of existing jobs in the Research Park, the hospital, the University, the Tesco superstore and with other employers. The plans will also provide new employment at an extension to the Research Park, and there will be on site facilities such as schools and good access to public transport routes. A network of footpaths and cycle ways will integrate Blackwell Park with Guildford. Taken together, these factors will create a well-connected and walkable neighbourhood that reduces the need to travel by private car for most day to day needs. This will help to reduce the amount of traffic generated by the development.

Q: Who will pay for the road improvements to make this development sustainable?

A: The development itself will be expected to cover the costs of the necessary road improvements.

Q: Is the University’s growth responsible for Guildford Borough’s housing shortage?

A: The University’s growth is not fuelling the vast majority of the need for housing and infrastructure in Guildford. It is England’s population growth and the failure of the UK to plan for it effectively that underpins the need for more housing.