Author Archives: xplain

About xplain

Xplain is a grass-roots campaign to protect Central Milton Keynes with its tree-lined boulevards, Modernist architecture, superb grid road system, and quality landscaping from unsympathetic development.

‘Scrub’ fit for parking or precious green space in Milton Keynes?


Tarmac or trees? Norfolk House, CMK (c) HvA

2nd garden for the chop between Norfolk House & YMCA housing, CMK (c) HvA

6 Feb 2016 According to its owners it’s a ‘poorly connected’ piece of grass and scrub which they need for executive parking. According to ecologists, landscape architects and experts of 20th century architecture, it is part of the living fabric of Britain’s most remarkable New Town – Milton Keynes – and should not be destroyed. Continue reading

Is Milton Keynes Council bungling its way to gridlock (while making parking money on the side)?


Despite the urgent need to manage a 40% increase in traffic in Central Milton Keynes the Council’s latest ‘strategy’ has been slammed as an inadequate list of ideas, sprinkled with a few ‘quick fix’ options, but no evidence that any of them will actually work!

Continue reading

The Midsummer oak: a sign of something rotten in the state of Milton Keynes


13 Oct 2015

A once-flourishing oak tree in Milton Keynes, which people fought hard to retain, is finally dead. So too are our hopes that Milton Keynes Council would change, accept the wishes of the people, and respect the original ethos of our City of Trees. The battle goes on…

Sad fate of Midsummer Oak

Hot on the heels of the controversial decision to give planning permission to Intu to expand its shopping centre, in direct opposition to democracy and the new CMK Business Neighbourhood Plan, the Council has its sights on another protected open space – Station Square.

Once again the Council has included this important Modernist gateway to MK on a list of possible sites for extra housing. Yes, the Council has to meet government housing targets, but with 5,000 other new homes slated for CMK, and an entire borough to choose from, why are they so keen to build in Station Square?

Parks for Cash protest

Parks for Cash protest

The previous Site Allocations Plan, or ‘parks for cash’ fiasco, was withdrawn in March this year after Xplain led the public outcry.

Yet although the new list of sites purports to “give primacy” to Neighbourhood Plans it ignores the biggest, most ambitious plan of its type in Britain: the CMK Neighbourhood Plan!

Even so, the List has just gone out to public consultation. So why is the Council wasting time and money consulting on heavily protected sites like Station Square when there is no shortage of land for the extra homes? Here’s a clue! Despite owning millions of pounds worth of vacant development sites in CMK the Milton Keynes Development Partnership has just pinpointed Station Square as ‘a key strategic site’ in its quarterly report to Cabinet. And on whose behalf do they own this land? Why – the Council’s, of course!

 

From Chicago to Milton Keynes. “We can’t just sit back and let things happen!”


Flatiron building by New York Inspiration

Flatiron building by New York Inspiration

As the American saying goes – why predict the future when you can make it? Take a look at this artistic short film by The Gray Circle produced to celebrate and question Chicago’s past and future for the Zaha Hadid pavilion. Daniel Burnham, the architect who built the Flatiron and other superb skyscrapers, wanted every citizen to live close to a park. In 1909 he published ambitious plans to make Chicago a beautiful city – only parts of which were built. MK may be a lot smaller and younger than Chicago but the parallels are there. Please let me know what you think.

Is democracy dead in Milton Keynes?


14 Sept 2015.

A handful of Milton Keynes Councillors, “pushed” by supposedly neutral officers, have just shredded the most ambitious Neighbourhood Plan in the country – less than 100 days after it won a historic, landslide vote at a public referendum.

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Stand by the Plan rally, CMK

Despite town planners, town councillors, business leaders and local people urging MK Council to ‘Stand by the Plan’ MK Council has failed the public at its very first test. If democracy isn’t dead in Milton Keynes it’s certainly on life support!

The crisis has been triggered by a rogue planning application by retail giant ‘intu’ to build over public open space and infrastructure that is clearly protected in the CMK Business Neighbourhood Plan. Even though intu could have built their new shops nearby, without flouting the CMK Plan, they lobbied hard and got their own way. This amounts to a land-grab, which slashes public rights of way and space set aside for a new public transport route by 40%.

Only two councillors, John Bint (Conservative) and Chris Williams (Lib-dem), stood by the Plan and voted against intu’s proposals. The others betrayed the trust of 90,000 people and nearly 400 businesses who voted ‘Yes’ for the Plan and for a decent, joined-up development strategy that would have brought thousands of new homes and jobs to Milton Keynes.

Unless we urgently ask the Secretary of State to overturn this unsound decision it means that:

  • No neighbourhood plan in the entire country, let alone in Milton Keynes, is worth the paper it’s written on.
  • No public open space, green or otherwise, is safe from infill development.
  • No grid road, boulevard, public square or public parking area is safe either
  • And MK’s unique, master-planned city of trees is once again open to attack from poor, short-term, piecemeal development, whether for housing, retail, offices or leisure.

Business leaders who voted for the Plan are reportedly dumbfounded.

David Foster head of Parks Trust stands by the Plan

David Foster head of Parks Trust stands by the Plan

David Foster, chief executive of the Parks Trust (which owns a third of all land in CMK) didn’t pull his punches. Before making their decision he told the planning committee that “Neighbourhood plans are designed to provide much needed clarity to investors and developers, and reassurance to residents that the right types of development will be built in the right place. What is the point of people all over this borough working so hard to prepare neighbourhood plans, and to get them through referenda and to get them adopted, if this is how the council treats them? It sends a terrible signal. We understand that the officers are trying to encourage development and investment. Hats off to Intu for wanting to invest in CMK. But shame on the Council if it disregards the business neighbourhood plan in such a callous way and allows a chunk of prime public space to be built over.”

As for local volunteers – who trudged miles delivering 35,000 information leaflets in the run-up to the referendum – their trust in the government’s promise of ‘local plans for local people’ has been betrayed. And the contagion is spreading. Campbell Park Parish Council has called an immediate halt to producing their own Neighbourhood Plan and other parishes may follow suit.

If, like many others, you believe MK Council has made a serious mistake, please write an urgent email to the National Planning Casework Unit asking the Secretary of State (the Right Hon. Greg Clark, MP) to review the decision. Here’s how:

cc:  xplain.mk@gmail.com
Subject:  Request SOS to Stand by the CMK Business Neighbourhood Plan
Dear Secretary of State,
I am writing to request that you stand by the CMK Business Neighbourhood Plan by calling-in the recent planning decision by Milton Keynes Council (15/01074/OUT).  This decision
– broke key policies in the Plan to protect public open spaces
– was biased because the Council chose its own policies over those produced by local people in the Neighbourhood Plan
– makes all Neighbourhood Plans everywhere pointless.
The Council’s actions are a breach of public trust among the 90,000 voters, like me, who believe in local plans for local people.
Yours faithfully,
(Name/address)
UPDATE: The decision was called in, and an independent planning inspector is holding a public inquiry at Christ the Cornerstone Church, CMK, from 6 – 13 Sept. Contact Xplain for more info.

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Derek Walker’s legacy: a Milton Keynes state of mind


Early morning, Campbell Park, Central Milton Keynes (c) Caroline Brown

Early morning, Campbell Park, Central Milton Keynes (c) Caroline Brown

Architect Derek Walker, who passed away in the early hours of Monday morning, leaves behind a remarkable legacy in Milton Keynes. Not only a pioneering City of Trees, built on a grid – but also an MK state of mind.

“Milton Keynes has the most passionate, informed, determined people who care about their city that I have ever seen.” So said Paul Hunt, head of John Lewis in MK, speaking shortly before the country’s first ever vote of its kind. This was the referendum on a pioneering plan for the future of an entire city centre – Central Milton Keynes.

Here is a plan that defies convention; it was not produced by salaried officers but freely created by local people; business leaders, community groups and experts in their fields.

And the very first policy in the plan? To protect the city’s unique, original framework of grid roads, leafy boulevards, safe pathways and green open spaces for future generations to enjoy.

This framework is just part of the legacy of Mr Walker, who assembled a talented team of architects to turn the windswept fields of Bradwell Common into a city. Less than 50 years later, CMK is a regional powerhouse; home to 3,000 residents and 35,000 workers, as well as wildflowers and birds.

On May 7th, just four days before Mr Walker passed away, nearly 90,000 people across Milton Keynes voted a resounding YES to keep this vision alive.

Yes, we were voting for growth. For well designed housing, innovative transport and bringing more heart and soul to CMK. But we were also voting yes because we believe in Milton Keynes.

The memory of Mr Walker lives on – in our blossoming City of Trees.

Infinite possibilities, CMK

Infinite possibilities, CMK

Want more heart and soul in Central Milton Keynes? Then don’t miss the MK Referendum on 7 May!


Viva CMK! Venezualan family barbers in Market Square!

Viva CMK! Venezualan family barbers in MK Market

While CMK has leafy boulevards, plenty of chain stores and sheep grazing in Campbell Park, it still lacks a certain something. How about more local shops? Independent eateries? More places to hear live music, socialise or just relax without having to spend lots of money?

Now, all these things are a real possibility thanks to a pioneering Business Neighbourhood Plan, the first of its kind in the country, which goes to a Milton Keynes-wide referendum on May 7th.

Significantly, the plan has NOT been produced by officers at MK Council but by local people with a great passion for their City of Trees.

Local business people, architects, entrepreneurs, community groups and individuals have spent two years crafting the plan under the democratic banner of Localism. After all this (unpaid) effort they hope it will both boost the flagship of the regional economy and give it more heart and soul.

Local fashion show, CMK (c) Anne-Louise Mellor

Original MK style. (c) Anne-Louise Mellor

Highlights include a new Market Hall (perfect for artisan bakers),  new civic square, more community centres and a sleek new public transport shuttle to get you from the Station to John Lewis and back in an easy hop.

180,000 residents and 7,000 businesses have been invited to vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to adopting this Plan at the polling stations on May 7th. But apart from people who live in CMK (or follow Xplain) most people still have no idea what it’s about.

Don’t miss your chance! Watch the short video on the Vote Yes for CMK website set up by local volunteers.

It might even encourage you to go to the polls!

Parks for Cash melt-down in Milton Keynes. A win for the people but big threat remains.


Faced with furious residents, bad publicity and united political opposition, the cabinet of Milton Keynes Council finally agreed at a full Council meeting on 25 March to revise its controversial proposals to build infill housing on green spaces.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREBut the threat remains and there is new evidence that the 60 or so sites listed in the controversial ‘Site Allocations Plan’ is just the tip of a powerful iceberg.

Xplain has discovered that, without involving ward councillors, parish councils or – of course – the residents most affected – officers have already earmarked an additional 160 sites across MK as further ‘development opportunities’. A few are brownfield sites but many others, such as parks in Woostones, are not.

Worried about a green space near you? You should be!

Read on for some frequently asked questions. All the answers are based on information Xplain has dug out, by attending Council meetings, scouring reports and direct inquiry.

Q: What’s this controversial ‘Site Allocations Plan’ (SAP) all about?

A: Ostensibly, to fill a gap in the delivery of just 1,000 new homes over the next five years. (However you will struggle to find this extremely modest figure in the official report because it isn’t there!)

Q: But isn’t this is a drop in the ocean? MK is full of building sites!

A: Correct. According to a recent Council blurb, MK will proudly deliver “28,000 new homes in the next few years”. In another bit of good news, the Council announced they had received a reward of £10.6 m from central government for its annual New Homes Bonus (up £2m from the year before).

Q: Surely the Council can find enough brownfield sites to house the ‘missing’ 1,000 homes?

A: Indeed it can. The first SAP (completed Sept 2014) earmarked enough space for 3,000 homes. None of them were Council-owned playparks or other open spaces of the kind they subsequently went on to list. However, just a few days after the first list had been completed the Council offered up a slice of its own landholdings for a second list, amounting to space for another 8,000 homes!

Q: So why did MKC suddenly throw all these controversial sites in the pot?

A: At an Executive Scrutiny Panel (26 Feb 2015) a senior officer argued that there is no planning policy to protect this type of public space from development. (He omitted to mention there is no policy that says you have to build on it either!)

Q: So the Council had no need to put any of these green spaces forward at all!

A: Correct. It simply chose to do so. Even though it immediately jeopardised the peace of mind, quality of life and property values of hundreds of residents, and, if adopted, would set a precedent for selling off similar sites throughout MK.

Q: There must be some reason for putting people through all this stress.

A: Simple incompetence? Or a cunning plan to turn liabilities into assets?After all, selling off the equivalent of village greens for infill housing would not only cut Council landscape maintenance costs but also put cash in the bank.

Q: I don’t live near any sites listed on the second Site Allocations Plan, so why worry?

A: Because this is the tip of the iceberg. If they can get away with it this time, in Stantonbury and Springfield, they can get away with it anywhere.

Q: How?

A: The hidden part of the iceberg is the innocent-sounding ‘Land Categorisation’ project which covers the entire borough.

Several years ago this began as a sensible stock-take of all Council owned land. However at some point it has morphed into a dangerous ‘policy’ to earmark sites for potential sale; a policy pursued without a public mandate, without transparency and  without common sense.

As of winter 2014, all council land in MK has been classified as Strategic Open Space, Development Opportunity or Minor Open Space, “in order to help the Council in rationalising its future land assets.”

Parish by parish, green space and even busy car parks have been picked off as potential development sites. Officers have got their crayons out and coloured in the maps! But none of these maps has been discussed with ward councillors or parish councils – even the ones busy producing Neighbourhood Plans.

Xplain has seen three of these multi-coloured maps and, after pressing for their release, was assured by MKC on March 31 that all of them would be published on the Council website. As of 16 May, they are still behind wraps.

So the threat remains, along with the biggest question of all:

Why has Milton  Keynes Council been pursuing an unofficial policy to sell off so much of the public’s green estate, in a much-loved City of Trees, with no public mandate?

Milton Keynes Councillor denies threat to sell off parks is a “dash for cash”. But public anger rising.


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.  Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

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.

 

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How people saved parks in Detroit


Here’s an inspiring story from Detroit where people power saved threatened parks. See Huffington Post. A topical lesson here for the people of Milton Keynes where civic spaces throughout the successful new town are suddenly under threat.

FURY AS “MADMEN” AT MILTON KEYNES COUNCIL PURSUE PARKS FOR CASH POLICY


Feb. 2015

Furious residents have accused MK Council of greedy land-grabbing after it added children’s play parks, allotments, wildlife corridors and community gardens onto a late list of potential sites for infill housing – and then published the list for consultation on the say-so of a single Cabinet member.

The big question is why, when MK is expanding on all sides and thousands of new homes are already in the pipeline?

The suspicion is growing that the Labour-run Cabinet, facing economic turmoil, is making a ‘dash for cash’ and attempting to strip MK of its green assets. Ironically, many sites are in disadvantaged areas and this shock move comes just as the City of Trees is approaching its 50th anniversary, winning plaudits for the quality of its landscape design.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREAlthough the Cabinet insists that the list, or ‘Site Allocations Plan’, is just going out for consultation, other Councillors are so alarmed at the selection process they have ‘called it in’. It goes to the Executive Scrutiny panel this Thurs, 26 Feb, 7.30 at the Civic Offices in CMK.

Angry residents are expected to fill the public gallery as they anxiously wait to hear if the List is thrown out, upheld, or sent back for revision.

This housing proposal strikes at the heart of Milton Keynes and New Town urban planning. If MK Council gets away with cramming new houses onto precious green areas such as this, nowhere is safe.
These are not scraps of leftover land or brownfield sites suitable for regeneration. They are open green spaces that were carefully designed into the fabric of Milton Keynes, improving the quality of life for all. Even Station Square, the gateway to Central Milton Keynes, is not immune. CMK’s last, great remaining civic space has been earmarked for infill with 97 flats.

Local resident Liz Green tells Xplain:
“I think I am living in a town run by madmen. Where on earth are they going to build on next? As for building houses on the green areas at the back of people’s houses it is lunacy. That was one of the many things that attracted me to MK when we moved here nearly thirty years ago. I remember my daughter and all the other children playing out there for hours, especially in the warmer weather. I’d just call out of the back gate for her to come in. She has fond memories of untold freedom playing outdoors. If they build on these areas future generations will never have that pleasure.”
One of MK’s original architects, Jon Muncaster, says “Even to suggest that these sites should be built on shows an alarming lack of understanding by the authors (presumably professionals?) of the planning and design principles of the original layouts. They provide much more than what the authors of [the Plan] dismissively refer to as ‘some amenity value’ and if they proceed, all coherence and credibility of the grid square planning will be smashed.”

Sites include green spaces in Walnut Tree, Emerson Valley, Conniburrow, Springfield, Wolverton, Stony Stratford, Stantonbury and many more. For an interactive map of sites up for housing follow link to MK Web.

Please help us stand up for MK and attend the Council meeting this Thursday 26 Feb. 7.30, in the main Council Chamber, Civic Offices (next to Natwest Bank, Silbury Blvd) CMK. Or contact us for more info.