Future of Shawfield drop-in center site hangs in the air as councilors warn not to boost community hopes

Councilors considering the future of the former Shawfield Day Center site have been advised to avoid raising community expectations of its use. Guildford Borough Council’s Executive Service Delivery Advisory Council met on Thursday evening (May 19) to continue initial discussions on the future of Ash’s site.

Possibilities include the development of around 12 affordable or community-use homes, with one councilor saying the area has seen enough new housing and needs infrastructure.

The centre, which had been closed for two years due to the coronavirus pandemic, was permanently closed when it was decided to move its childcare services to the Park Barn Centre.

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The advisory council is meeting to hear councilors’ initial thoughts on proposed projects, with decisions forming part of the council’s savings plan as it faces “a substantial budget shortfall projected over the next four years”.

Councilor Fiona White (Liberal Democrat, Westborough) said the area had seen enough housing with ‘very little’ infrastructure, saying Ash and Tongham were getting ‘everyone and none of the services’.

She said there was a need across the borough for child care and respite facilities for people with dementia and believed the site should be used for that purpose.

Councilor George Potter (Liberal Democrat, Burpham) said the starting point should be a conversation with the community about the future use of the site, as the council’s budget would allow.

Deputy Leader of the Council and Senior Advisor for Community and Housing, Councilor Julia McShane (Liberal Democrat, Westborough), cautioned against being cautious about creating expectations in any public consultation.

She said: “There’s a caveat to involving the community in this way because we don’t want to train people and then say it can’t happen.”

Councilor Tim Anderson (residents of Guildford and Villages, Clandon & Horsley) said he knew there was a growing number of people with dementia and recognized the need for highly skilled people, having experienced it with his own brother.

He stressed the need to make a quick decision on the building’s future, saying the borough council owned many properties and was “asset rich”.

He added: “We have an extraordinary number of properties in the borough and many of them are in pristine condition and giving us excellent returns.

“Then we have so many that we just put them in the corner and forget about them. We must not allow that to happen to Shawfield.”

Councilor McShane thanked councilors for their comments on what was “obviously a sensitive issue”. She called the current center “tired, to put it mildly”.

Officers said in a presentation that an “encumbrance” on the title of the site required the site to be used primarily as a day center, which introduced legal complexities and potential costs that would have to be overcome if there were to be a change of use.