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Guildford Cathedral’s finances uncertain after planners reject development scheme

08 April 2023

istock

GUILDFORD CATHEDRAL Chapter’s hopes of funding £4.4 million of repairs by means of a new housing development have received a setback with the rejection of its latest planning application.

The scheme to build 124 homes on land next to the cathedral has been turned down by Guildford Borough Council, because of the harm to the setting of heritage assets, and the impact on the “landmark silhouette” of the cathedral and its surroundings.

A previous application for homes on an area of currently unused land adjacent to the cathedral on Stag Hill, submitted by Linden Homes, was refused by Guildford Borough Council in 2017. The same year, the diocese of Guildford warned that the cathedral, built between 1936 and 1961, and consecrated in 1961, could face closure because of mounting repair bills.

The Chapter had hoped to raise funds towards the upkeep of the Grade II listed building through the sale of land for a revised development in partnership with Vivid Homes for the minimum number of houses, 124, that the cathedral needs for a large enough endowment.

In the unsuccessful planning application, the Dean, the Very Revd Dianna Gwilliams, on the Chapter’s behalf, wrote of the “financial imperative” of the sale of land for housing. The cathedral had been negatively affected by the pandemic and the economic downturn, and in 2022 produced a deficit of £105,000 (not yet audited).

A recent inspection identified a need for repairs costing a total of £4.4 million during the next five to ten years. The Dean also said that reserves had fallen to below £300,000, which is less than six months’ projected cathedral expenditure.

The group development director of Vivid Homes, Joyce Ferguson, commenting on behalf of Vivid and Guildford Cathedral, said: “We are of course disappointed by the planning committee’s decision to refuse planning permission for much needed new homes on Stag Hill, which would have included 46 per cent affordable [housing] — above planning policy requirements.”

The development would demolish some of the existing staff housing, and create 124 homes in a mix of flats and houses — 54 of which would be affordable properties — on undeveloped woodland. Besides providing funds to maintain the cathedral building, the scheme also sought to improve its environmental sustainability by replacing ageing buildings and so reducing its carbon footprint.

The plans attracted 286 letters of objection, which raised issues such as over-development, lack of details on a masterplan, and harm to the local heritage assets. The Chapter had argued, among other things, that the development accorded with the Guildford Local Plan, where 1800 households are on the waiting list for affordable housing.

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