Guildford is the jewel in Surrey’s crown with its stunning historic architecture including a medieval castle, an abundance of beautiful green spaces and the magnificent River Wey. Add to this a thriving economy centred around innovation and a vibrant choice of leisure pursuits, with easy access to London and it’s easy to see how this town has been voted one of the top Sunday Times Best Places to Live.
In contrast to its leafy image this market town, home to 80,000 residents is a hub for education, healthcare, cutting-edge technology businesses, high quality retail and wellbeing. Balancing the needs of its rural and urban communities alike, Guildford Borough Council’s vision is to ensure it is ‘the most desirable place to live, work and visit in South East England’.
Often referred to as a ‘commuter hotspot’ Guildford has even earned the glamorous title of the ‘Hollywood of Games’ making a major contribution to a market worth $81bn globally. More than 70 companies (10% of the UK’s games industry) from giants such as Wargaming UK, Lionhead, Media Molecule, EA Games and Supermassive to progressive independents such as Glowmade, are or were based in Guildford. Many including Polystream - who received $12m investment from Intel Capital in April are a stone’s throw from the main station in an industrial area nicknamed ‘Silicon Sheds’.
Cllr Caroline Reeves, Leader of the Council and Lead Councillor for Sustainable Transport, Transformation and Regeneration, Economic Development, Asset Management and Governance says: “Our economy is worth over £5 billion per annum, many large multi-nationals are based here including Colgate Palmolive, Phillips, Allianz Insurance, WSP and BAE Systems (Applied Intelligence).”
She adds: “We have a significant cluster of business and financial services companies and law firms with some specialist consultancies such as those offering tax advice for inward investment companies and patent attorneys. The borough also has an impressive survival rate for new business start-ups at 72% (source UK Business Counts – Enterprises).”
The economy has grown from one with a relatively high public sector and manufacturing element to one with an increasing much higher proportion of high growth sectors such as gaming, cyber security, life sciences and telecoms.
She says: “We have also seen increase in professional services, legal, tourism, and food and drink. The total number of jobs in the borough stands at just over 78,000 with a total of 7,440 businesses. Between 2012-2017, the business base grew by 15% with a high proportion of these defined as high growth and with good survival rates. Productivity is also important and this is often measured based on GVA (gross value add) per head, and again this figure of £36,165 is above the UK and Surrey average.”
Climate Change and innovative solutions to its challenges are the top priority for the Council, Climate Change affects everyone who lives, works or travels through the borough. The Council is committed to reducing its carbon emissions and adapting the town, villages and surrounding countryside to future climate changes. It will do this by promoting sustainable smart living ensuring communities have clean air, flood-proof healthy environments, sustainable transport and power resilience. Electric buses are built locally by Alexander Dennis and used for Guildford’s park and ride routes.
Cllr Reeves explains: “Over two-thirds of the borough is classed as rural and it is paramount that development is directed and supported by the required infrastructure and community facilities. We are committed to delivering high quality design, renewal and regeneration of our urban and rural areas alike whilst protecting our special natural landscapes and heritage. Sustainable transport systems and plenty of cycle ways and footpaths are key to this.”
The growing importance of the rural economy led the Council to develop a specific Rural Economic Strategy to support rural enterprise and communities. Some 25% of all local jobs are located in the rural wards. Since 2010, 27% of all business growth has been by businesses located in a rural setting, with a high proportion in manufacturing. With the emergence of flexible working and enhancements in broadband coverage, this is set to grow further.
There are over 50 countryside sites owned and managed by the local authority, an area of nearly 700ha and 2.5% of the borough’s land area, including woodland, meadows and heathland. These areas contribute to a network of publicly accessible countryside as well as wildlife habitat managed privately.
With the southern half of the borough located within the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, there are four Special Protection Areas, five Suitable Areas of Natural Green Spaces and five local nature reserves. The borough has around 122 green spaces and parks eight of which hold the prestigious Green Flag award.
The historic town centre has a reputation for those keen on retail therapy. Experian named the town the ‘luxury shopping capital of the UK’ a few years ago. With three shopping centres - The Friary Centre, White Lion Walk and the new Tunsgate Quarter - and the cobbled High Street boasting an assortment of high street brands and many independents it’s no surprise. House of Fraser even chose their Guildford store as the first outside London to debut shopping Tsar Mary Portas’ popular collection. Over 9,000 people are employed in the retail sector in around 750 outlets.
Cllr Reeves explains: “We are often described as a shoppers paradise and we’re currently bucking the trend with vacancy rates for retail with 7.2% against a national average of 9.2%. The High Street is key to the economic resilience of the borough. Our day and night time economy is thriving and we’re the only town in Surrey to hold the prestigious Purple Flag award for safe and diverse evenings and night outs and our regeneration projects in the town will enhance this further.”
She adds: “We work hard to create a positive environment through investing in public realm. Our regeneration of the historic Tunsgate Arch and opening of the new Tunsgate Quarter is proof that investors and developers are ever keen to invest within Guildford. The stunning Grade II listed Tunsgate Arch in the former Cornmarket is currently having its Portland Stone arch façade repaired by restoration and conservation specialists. The area has been made pedestrian only and the High Street historic stone setts were replaced in recent years.”
The award-winning Tourist Information Centre and regular Farmers’ Market which has run for nearly 20 years helps encourage visitors to the town. Guildford is rich with culture boasting a medieval castle built on William the Conqueror’s orders and later adapted by Henry III, a Tudor Guildhall, a Georgian Art Gallery, Victorian Museum, striking modern Cathedral, three theatres, one cinema and leisure centre. Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) wrote Alice Through the Looking Glass while living in the town and P.G. Wodehouse was baptised and lived in the town. Reports show the town has steady growth in footfall and income.
EDUCATING THE WORKFORCE
University of Surrey
The Times Best University 2016, Guildford’s prestigious higher education organisation ranks 95% for employability (QS Employability Rankings) and leads internationally on research into social and environmental sciences, engineering, sustainability, music technology and tourism.
5G Innovation Centre
Based on the University campus this £80m 5G Innovation Centre is the largest academic research facility dedicated to developing the next generation of mobile and wireless communications in the UK.
Surrey Research Park
A major centre of excellence in technology, science, health and engineering and the Research Park is widely regarded as one of the best of its kind in the UK. The 70 acre low-density development is part of the University of Surrey’s campus and home to 120 companies including BOC, BAE Systems, Applied Intelligence and Surrey Satellite.
The Guildford Borough Local Plan: Strategy and Sites was adopted in April 2019. A key project is the Slyfield Regeneration Project to redevelop 41 hectares of brownfield land currently used by Thames Water as a sewage works, into the Weyside Urban Village. Just 2km from the town centre and north of the A3 into London the development will be built to climate change policies and sustainable design guidance putting the Council in the top 10% of local authorities to align to those requirements.
INNOVATION AWARDS 2019
Guildford’s Innovation Awards are open for entry for 2019. Celebrating inspirational innovation across a spectrum of sectors in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths in the borough, there are nine awards judged against a variety of criteria including, Degree of Innovation; Commercial Potential; and Degree of Social or Economic Impact. The Council also provides an annual STEM and arts festival for residents called Innovate Guildford.
For further information and to enter the awards please visit: