MK Councillors faced a storm of protest on 26 Feb 2015 over plans to build infill housing on pocket parks, children’s play areas, allotments and even Station Square, the gateway to Milton Keynes.
The public gallery was packed as the Executive Scrutiny Panel reviewed Cllr Mick Legg’s decision to put the controversial sites out for consultation on the Site Allocations Plan. None of the residents overlooking these spaces had been contacted by the Council and it later emerged that the Council had no intention of writing to them about the ‘public consultation’ process either.
Residents voiced anger and disbelief that open green spaces and civic squares had ever been considered for infill housing, let alone moved one stage closer in a process that lacked transparency.
A 10-year old schoolgirl told the panel “Our parents won’t allow us to go to the other park because it’s not safe. A friend got killed trying to cross the road. We don’t want any more children killed because you want to take away our park.”
Senior officer Bob Wilson defended the Plan saying there was no planning policy to protect these sites. Cllr Mick Legg (Lab) lamely tried to insist that the best way of ruling out these pocket parks was to put them on the list without any prior consultation with residents.
However members of the Scrutiny Panel repeatedly challenged the legitimacy and logic of this argument. Cllr Andrew Geary (Con) described it as a “gross misinterpretation” of planning policy, saying there is “nothing that leads the Council to erode the principles on which MK was built, including its grid roads and open space.”
Cllr Ric Brackenbury (Lib Dem) said “don’t be fooled by the word consultation” and warned that the Plan represents a threat to public open spaces across MK.
Significantly, it became clear that the Council’s planning department and Cabinet had had no obligation to put any of these sites forward for infill housing, but instead had chosen to do so.
Although the Site Allocations Plan is designed to fill a five-year gap in delivering 1,000 new homes, there are already 28,000 homes in the pipeline, and the first round of Site Allocations had found sites which more than plugged the gap, so why this unexpected attack on the City of Trees?
Linda Inoki, chair of Xplain, also addressed the meeting and demanded answers; “What is going on and who is responsible for putting hundreds, if not thousands, of residents through all this stress, without a mandate and without transparency?”
Finally the cross-party panel voted to put the controversial Plan on hold and give the entire Council chance to examine the matter.
The issue will now be debated on Weds 25 March, 7.30 in the main chamber, Civic Offices, near Library in CMK. Public welcome. Go to public gallery, first floor, via stairs or lift.
So the anxiety continues for everyone whose outlook could change from trees, grass and sky to ‘back to back’ housing, and for everyone who recognises this is a threat to the character and continued success of Milton Keynes.