If Milton Keynes Conservatives take control of the Council in this May’s elections they have pledged to start a ‘Village Green Revolution’. For several years, MK residents have been struggling to protect green open space from crowded infill housing which many fear would create slums of the future.
Village green status can include green spaces that are used for recreation, dog walking, community events and as wildlife buffers. In MK, this adds up to a healthy environment with access for all. Achieving this status gives a firm layer of protection against inappropriate planning applications but, according to the Conservatives, “the Labour-Liberal Partnership Council has been fighting residents in areas such as Woolstone, Springfield and Stantonbury for almost two years, attempting to block village green applications and spending £100,000s of taxpayers money in the process*.”
In contrast, the Conservatives say that they will voluntarily register any green space that fits the relevant criteria and is put forward with community support.
“This will make a huge difference for communities in all grid squares of Milton Keynes who are continuously worrying about when the next housing development will be proposed on their local green space” says Cllr Alex Walker, Leader of the Conservatives in MK, adding “One of the best things about Milton Keynes is our abundance of well used green space. We should support residents who want to protect their community, not fight them.”
The announcement comes in the week Cllr Liz Gifford (Lab), Cabinet Member for Place, finally registered a number of Village Greens in Woolstone, Springfield, Bletchley and Stantonbury after sustained pressure and in recognition that ‘public confidence in the protection of the named sites has been undermined [and] should be restored.’
*Residents’ applications can shuttle between the Regulatory Committee, Cabinet member and officers for years. In some cases (eg Old Woughton Parish Council) officers have recommended refusal based on legal technicalities which members of the Regulatory Committee have eventually set aside. All this rigmarole can be avoided if MKC decides to use its right, as landowner, to voluntarily register suitable sites under Section 15(8) of the Commons Act.
At last night’s Cabinet meeting MK Councillor Rob Middleton (Lab.) told the public gallery “I can be clear; I will not be forcing another Hub on CMK!”
This is very good news for thousands of people who use Saxon Gate daily, and would certainly feel the difference if the surrounding access routes and leafy boulevards were lost, as at the Hub.
Cllr Middleton said “It’s important to listen, and I recognise the strength of feeling and commitment from the public responses to the consultation.” Hence, he is now “minded to remove” the option to build over the classic CMK infrastructure later this month, when the official guidance to developers is due to be finalised.
Predictably, this has been the most controversial option, as it involves demolishing Saxon Court and replacing it with a much wider, taller building that would obliterate most of the surrounding trees, public space and access routes.
Naturally, people have drawn comparisons between the ‘Hub’ development and the prospect of an equally overbearing presence on Saxon Gate. But Councillor Middleton said it had been right for the Council to offer a range of options as part of the consultation process.
Councillor John Bint (Con.), welcomed Cllr Middleton’s announcement and said the Development Control Committee had also expressed concerns with the draft Development Brief.
There was also a positive signal on MK’s distinctive heritage. After Xplain and others wrote in, explaining the architectural significance of Saxon Court, which was carefully designed to mark the gateway to Central Milton Keynes, Council officers will now look into its heritage value. Hopefully they will revise their opinion that it is simply “a 1970’s office building” which “lacks any presence”.
It’s still early days, but for now, this is positive news for citizens who appreciate that MK is ‘Different by Design’.
published 7 March 2018
MK Council is promoting their idea of ‘Renaissance’ for CMK with the image below. Find out more at today’s drop-in session at Acorn House, Midsummer Boulevard, MK9 3HP, 4.00 – 6.00, 6 March, including plans for a new university opposite Sainsbury’s.
MKC says, “Some early projects will help to deliver Renaissance:CMK’s, including the redesign of the Midsummer Boulevard East area south of The Centre:MK and the development of a “Gateway to MK” in the Station Square area. Other projects include the proposed Hotel LaTour development, the development of additional private rented sector housing at the Wyevale site (D4.4) and the Stirling development at blocklet B3.3N.”
The Council’s controversial option for replacing Saxon Court with a much larger development has also been cited as supporting Renaissance CMK.
The people of Milton Keynes are used to madcap moments in the planning department, but the latest idea has got heads spinning. Go on the Council’s website and you can see a line up of planning officers with ‘premium service’ booking fees attached. Now, instead of having a distant officer assigned to their case, applicants can choose their own. Prices for the new service range from £150 for a minor application up to £7,500 for a ‘super-major’ planning application, handled by a senior officer.
Fortunately the Head of Service, Brett Leahy, is not available for hire.
But although Councillors who sit on the scrutiny committee feel that the risk of corruption is low, some have admitted to the local ‘Citizen’ newspaper that it doesn’t look good.
Of course, many applications are decided in public by elected committees rather than by officers working behind closed doors. But not as many as before, due to other controversial ‘improvements’ in the way applications are processed.
But surely, despite applicants paying extra, the great tradition of neutrality in public service is as strong as ever? Well, you might like to read a recent article on the Royal Town Planning Institute’s blog called ‘How One Planning Department is smartening up their customer approach’. The smart author says, “Now more than ever local authorities need to use all the commercial tricks of the trade to generate income and capture repeat business from satisfied customers.”
Would this be the same Brett Leahy that tried to gag objectors at planning committees while extending rights for applicants? Indeed it would!
Despite a rise in traffic jams, accidents and parking issues around the ‘Hub’ development in Central Milton Keynes, and the £2.1m cost of altering highways*, MK Council (MKC) is gearing up for a similar project at Saxon Gate.
Saxon Gate is one of the busiest gateways to CMK. Here, opposite Debenhams, the Council owns Saxon Court; a subtle piece of Modernist architecture it now wishes to sell. But instead of promoting the most sustainable option (to refurbish the heritage building and develop the empty site at the back) the Council’s Draft Development Brief firmly steers would-be investors to option 3.
This is to demolish Saxon Court and build a huge new development right up to the grid road, wiping out most of the side streets. If these tributaries of the grid road network disappear, they take with them:
- direct access to and from the grid road (Saxon Gate)
- 400 public parking spaces
- dedicated footpaths and cycle routes
- around 140 mature trees.
Is CMK destined for another Soviet-style project, looming over bleak, deforested boulevards? Will frustrated drivers stop on grid roads to drop off a parcel or pick up a passenger, jamming up traffic and causing accidents?
Unless Council leaders persist in this corporate amnesia there is still time to change the development brief.
PLEASE SEND YOUR VIEWS on the future of Saxon Gate to MK Council by the consultation deadline of 5 pm Fri, 16 Feb to this officer:
Why not copy your Ward Councillors too? You can find them on the Council website via find my Councillors
* “Lessons Learnt”, published by MKC’s Urban Design Department, 2011
Back in 2014 there were so many objections to Hammerson’s sketchy plans to replace The Point with a giant exploding Toblerone (ok, a glorified retail shed) that, although they won outline planning permission, it came with conditions.The retail giant was told it had to listen to local people and produce an approved Design Code before filing the final, detailed plans. MK Council used this condition to ensure that local people had a real say in designing a decent replacement for this much-loved building in Central Milton Keynes.
But Hammerson did nothing of the sort. In fact, they did nothing for 3 long years while The Point crumbled away. Then, with their outline consent about to expire, the giant woke up. Arguing that this condition ‘artificially shortened’ the 3-year deadline to submit final plans they asked if they could put the cart before the horse. In other words, they wanted to file detailed plans first and the design code sometime thereafter. And instead of letting the application lapse, as it otherwise would, officers agreed.
So now Hammerson has up to two more years to sit on their assets which are obviously worth far more with planning permission than without.
Certainly, we can expect them to file a detailed ‘reserved matters’ application by the deadline of 17th Feb (their architects must be on overtime). But once filed, is it really likely they’ll listen to local people who might want a very different design code?
To Xplain, it looks as if MK Council has shown its teeth – only to hide them behind a wobbly smile.
Published 29 Jan 2018