Category Archives: 20th C architecture under threat

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!

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The previous Site Allocations Plan, or ‘parks for cash’ fiasco, was withdrawn in March this year after Xplain led the public outcry.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


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?

Experts slam ‘John Lewis’ car park in Milton Keynes

It’s not just Xplain that is horrified at Hermes’ plans to fill a prime location between John Lewis and Campbell  Park with a vast, concrete multi-storey car park. Many other groups oppose it too, and add that Hermes has ignored advice offered during pre-application consultations to improve the scheme. Here are extracts from just some of the objections…

proposed car park: a vast, solid block

Twentieth Century Society
“Overbearing in its scale and massing…The Twentieth Century Society objects to this application, the width of which causes direct harm to the listed [shopping] building by obstructing light to the side arcades. It is unfortunate that the design fails both to respect its context and fulfil the potential of the site for a carefully designed civic building on a civic scale.”

Milton Keynes Development Partnership
“MKDP supports Hermes desire to invest in CMK, but we are keen to enter discussions with them to bring back a more appropriate and commercially viable form of development – one which addresses the Council’s policy objectives for the site and aspirations for the city. In this respect, we have offered to pool our land with Hermes land at advantageous terms and to share costs in bringing forward a joint scheme. In our view, the proposal for a standalone car park should be withdrawn by the applicants or refused by MKC.”

The Parks Trust
“The CMK skyline is a key element in determining the setting of the west end of Campbell Park and this building will not enhance it – an opportunity missed”

Milton Keynes Forum
“This is the most outstanding site left in the development of the City Centre, which can be seen from the motorway exit to Milton Keynes. Therefore any development on this site should strive to create a memorable and important building. The building proposed is …a boring square block and has none of these qualities.The vitality of the City Centre is at stake.”

Central Milton Keynes Town Council
“The multi-storey car park is too big, access is hugely problematic and there are no active frontages. Furthermore, the proposal to use this prime development site solely for parking undermines the strategic objectives for CMK as stated in the Core Strategy and also contravenes many local and national planning policies.” The Town Council even produced New Horizons, a detailed alternative, to show what could be built on this important site (image below).

Creative alternative to Hermes' lifeless multi-storey car park by CMK Town Council

CMK Town Council’s lively alternative to Hermes’ moribund multi-storey car park








What do you think? Should MK Council heed the warnings and refuse this deeply flawed scheme?


Opposition is growing to the massive multi-storey car park slated for Central Milton Keynes, which, if permitted, would blight a particularly lush and promising part of MK. In this guest column for Xplain, design historian Carola Holz considers its impact.


By Carola Holz

Listed shopping building reflects nature.

The much-loved shopping building reflecting nature.

Twenty years after Prince Charles’ criticism of modern British architecture the term ‘carbuncle’ has regrettably returned in the current debate about a proposed multi-storey car park in Central Milton Keynes. The site is at the eastern end of the Milton Keynes Shopping Building and, crucially, next to Campbell Park.

Campbell Park - moments away from  eastern CMK

Campbell Park – next to  east end of CMK

Since the practical aspects of the project have been discussed elsewhere, this article expresses views purely from a design history perspective.

The ‘much-loved friend’ this time round is not an iconic national gallery in London, but a modernist icon at the heart of Central Milton Keynes; the shopping centre. Built in the late seventies it follows the tradition of Miesian architecture with its steel-frame construction; an elegant skeleton on a 600 mm planning grid with glass cladding. Reflecting glass panes are used to reflect internally the extensive landscaping of the arcades, a carefully chosen selection of hardy and non-hardy plants in accordance with daylight supply, and externally the plane trees of the city centre.

Landscape architecture was essential to all planning in Milton Keynes. The integration of the largest building in the city centre into the strictly symmetrical street layout was paramount to the architects’ plans and those of the urban planners at the time. The formality of the street layout is emphasised by four rows of London planes running alongside the boulevards. At the eastern end, where the building is set back, two additional lines of trees underline the symmetry of the planting scheme. The carefully designed landscape architecture extends into the adjoining ground level car park and provides a link to Campbell Park.

CMK's distinctive boulevards

CMK’s distinctive landscape (c) Mark Coster

Visitors driving up to the shopping centre from the east see the building slowly emerging behind the trees. The reflecting glass panes effectively smooth its modernist appearance by reflecting their green surroundings. The building is part of its ever-changing natural surroundings; a beautifully finished, easy to understand ‘bone structure’ with the unoppressive sense of a sheltering canopy.

However, when the shopping centre was Grade II listed in 2010 the owners lost no time in making their disappointment known, claiming that the decision would impact on the future evolution and growth of the shopping centre. Now they are proposing a very unsympathetic design for a multi-storey car park which simply fits in with their ill-conceived requirements for more parking spaces.

If anyone expected that Grade II listing would result in a respectful new interpretation of the iconic original – they could not have been more mistaken. Despite claiming to have based the structure of the car park facade on the 600 mm grid, the simple elegant structure and unique features of the current building are not at all apparent in the architects’ plans. Perhaps because their grid pattern is filled with opaque, multi-coloured elements this massive car park appears as one impenetrable block.

JL carpark 3DIt de facto obstructs views onto the original facade of the Listed building and bears no link whatsoever to the surrounding landscape. Despite claiming to keep the existing landscape features, closer examination of the plans reveals that a line of trees north of the new building would be removed, thus disturbing the carefully laid out symmetry of landscape architecture at this end of CMK.

If the original building said ‘I’m in tune with nature around me’, this new project shouts domination and self-importance, not only ignoring landscape features but also a nationally important and ‘historic’ building in our city.

It is not just a carbuncle; it is also a door stop. A dead end to any future integration with Campbell Park, and the end of civic aspirations for an iconic building or feature which would complete this crucial part of Central Milton Keynes in a respectful and sympathetic manner.

This attractive street fronting Campbell Park would be choked with car park traffic

This attractive street fronting Campbell Park would be choked with car park traffic (c) Mark Coster



Neglected Modernist masterpiece Listed in Milton Keynes

Central Bus Station, CMK in 1982

Central Bus Station, CMK in 1982. A homage to Modernist master, Mies van der Rohe.

English Heritage has Listed the original Central Bus Station in Milton Keynes, designed by project architect Derek Yeadon in 1982, in the days of the Milton Keynes Development Corporation. Only a tiny fraction of post-war buildings are Listed in Britain, and many are under threat, so this welcome recognition of the building’s outstanding architectural quality as well as its context; the innovative new town of Milton Keynes.

Despite years of neglect, the vast floating canopy and spare beauty of the building shines through. See our post and photos Romance of the Open Road.

The Romance of the Open Road – starring Milton Keynes!

Today, one of the finest buildings in Central Milton Keynes is one of its shabbiest. Yet beneath the grime and graffiti the original Central Bus Station near Station Square still shines. It sings of the open road and the thrill of the future because, after all, this was Milton Keynes. In Britain’s most ambitious garden city even a bus station; even the grid roads, would be both beautiful and highly efficient.

The original Central Bus Station, Milton Keynes

The original Central Bus Station, Milton Keynes

The Bus Station was designed by architects at Milton Keynes Development Corporation and shortly after opening in 1983 judges at the Structural Steel Design Awards praised its “scale, form and structure” which were of “particular importance to identify the building” and create an exceptionally attractive roofscape.

After most buses were re-routed into Station Square the Bus Station had a spell as a night club and pizza parlour. Then it was reinvented as The Buszy, a community enterprise that offers somewhere for local youngsters to meet.


This fine piece of C20 architecture now sits in a sea of broken (granite!) slabs, but at least it’s being used. 

Bus station 13th May 2014 Bus station 13th May 2014

state of Bus Station today

state of Bus Station today

Perhaps one day the funds will be there to maintain the building, and the master-planned public realm of CMK, with the care and attention they richly deserve. 

Open roads, open skies - the character of MK

Open roads, open skies – the character of MK

Meanwhile, there is talk of a new bus interchange off Secklow Gate, near the Listed Shopping Building. Encouragingly, delegates to a recent community design workshop insisted this should be “beautiful”. Perhaps these original photos of our first bus station will point the way! 

bus station day scan0002

original interior


bus station day scan0003

Milton Keynes: the joy of the grid or boulevards of despair?

On Thursday, 8 May, MK Gallery continues their very popular series of events about the future of Milton Keynes with a talk by Linda Inoki, founder of Xplain, along with Prof Gerd Kortuem, technology expert from the Open University and Julia Upton, head of the MK Community Foundation.

Back by popular demand, these three speakers will look at the future of MK as it enters its 5th decade.

Linda Inoki’s talk, MK: A Tale of Two Cities, will ask if this is the best of times, or worst of times, to live in Britain’s most remarkable ‘city of trees’.

Get your free ticket for 8 May, 7 pm via

MK: the future is green! Image (c) Robert Rusin

MK: the future is green! Image (c) Robert Rusin


March, 2014. MK Council has tonight voted in favour of an outline planning application to demolish The Point. The familiar ziggurat pyramid (and the cinema block behind it) will eventually be replaced with a considerably larger development for retail and leisure.

After a long debate, which hinged on the difficulty of making an informed decision based on the bare bones of the outline application, Councillors voted 7 to 3 in favour of approval.

Planning Officers said they too would have preferred a full planning application. However they assured the committee that the Council would still retain some ‘qualtiy control’ via a new Design Code (which the applicant will produce). In addition, all the important issues such as access, appearance and the final design of the development will return to the planning committee via the ‘reserved matters’ route in due course.

Hammerson, a FTSE 100 company which owns The Point, said they would work with local stakeholders to produce the Design Code and a development that would suit CMK. However in order to attract tenants to any new development they needed the confidence that outline approval would bring.

And so, by fits and starts, this major landmark in MK’s history winds its way to oblivion.

Xplain is a well established grassroots campaign, with considerable experience of development issues in Milton Keynes. Our focus is Central Milton Keynes; widely seen as the engine of regional growth. If you want to keep abreast of developments in Grid City please sign up to follow our posts.


March, 2014. By architectural standards it’s a flimsy piece of work, but The Point in Central Milton Keynes captured people’s imagination. It was the first purpose-built multi-screen cinema in the country, and in an era of massive cinema closures The Point introduced American cinema-going to the British public and halted its decline. In this, it captured the spirit of a pioneering New Town.

love it or hate it - the Point has probably had its day.

Love it or hate it – the Point may have had its day.

And this beacon, pointing to a brighter future, had emotional appeal. Travelling up the motorway or flying into Luton Airport, the sight of that red pyramid of light on the horizon told proud new residents of Milton Keynes, “You’re nearly home!”

Now, however, The Point’s owners, Hammerson, are keen to demolish the well-known ziggurat and redevelop most (but not all) of the site. On Thursday, 6 March, its fate will be decided by MK Council.

If Hammerson had come up with an outstanding new ‘Point’ there might have been less resistance to losing the original. But they have not. Instead, they have offered a sop to nostalgia and the sketchiest of outline planning applications.

An explosion in a triangle factory - could the new Point look like this?

An explosion in a triangle factory – could the new Point look like this? Or like Melbourne’s  dreary Federation Square, below.

People are asking how MK Council can decide the fate of this important building, on a prime site, with so little to go on.

Neighbouring businesses, CMK Town Council and Xplain are among many who are not impressed.

Quoting dozens of planning policies, Xplain has made a case for refusing permission and holding out for a full planning application.

To us, the application shows a lack of interest in delivering anything that would add vibrancy to the city centre and public realm.

Where, for example, is there any provision for permeability, colonnades, courtyards, greenery, artworks and other features that would help knit this development into the boulevards of CMK?

How will the development enhance the setting of the Grade ll listed Shopping Building, the most important symbol of MK and of national importance?

Why cherry pick only part of the site for redevelopment when the old multi-storey car park could also be demolished and wrapped into a more interesting, multi-faceted new development?

To their credit, Hammerson has tried to respond to general criticism of their first design, and also adopted an early proposal from Xplain to add a public roof terrace. This would offer rare views across the city and possibly space for live music.

But there is no guarantee that this, or any other public realm improvement, will be built, as this is an outline application. If approved, the expanded footprint and height of the new building would be agreed, along with the principle of redevelopment. It may not sound much, but from a commercial point of view this is highly desirable.

The danger is that MK will end up with a large, garish shed, more appropriate for an out of town Retail Park than a true city centre. And MK will have lost a landmark, and gained a clone.

The Deconstructivist style of the possible new ‘Point’ was fashionable in the 1980’s. According to ‘A Crash Course in Architecture’, it produced buildings that were “dismantled, fractured dis-assemblages with no visual logic, no attempt at harmonious composition of facades [and] no pragmatic reason.”*

At its best Deconstructivism delivered the Guggenheim in Bilbao. At its worst, Melbourne’s Federation Square, below, voted one of the five ugliest buildings in the world.

fed square w tram 800px-B2.2008_fedsquare

Photo:  Looks familiar? Part of Melbourne’s Federation Square project, 1997 – 2002, voted one of the five ugliest buildings in the world. Photo by Bahnfrend.

MK Council is custodian of a city centre with tremendous promise. Report after report names MK as the place to watch. Xplain believes there is no need to give away such a prime opportunity on the strength of such sketchy plans.

Although planning officers are recommending approval of Hammerson’s plans for The Point, they also want some vital conditions attached, including a Design Code.

Watch for the update after tomorrow’s decision.


A brighter future for Milton Keynes as citizens take to the streets

A brighter future for MK. Image (c) Robert Rusin

A brighter future for Milton Keynes. Image (c) Robert Rusin

Brighter future image courtesy of Robert Rusin

2013 was a good year for Xplain as once again we took to the streets to save the best of Central Milton Keynes from the worst of development. 

campaigning for better development in CMK

campaigning for better development in CMK

On 21 Feb. 2013 the Primark scheme at Secklow Gate Bridge collapsed after our marathon campaign to save the heart of CMK from destruction linked up with the market traders. Hundreds of livelihoods would have been swept aside if, as seemed increasingly likely, the scheme had been approved. The result was the biggest public outcry in MK’s history. Nearly 21,000 people signed the petition to save the area from demolition in just three weeks, and at the last moment, the applicant withdrew their plans.

Saved! Secklow Gate Bridge, Market Square and the Listed shopping building.

Saved! Secklow Gate Bridge, Market Square and the heart of the Listed shopping building were due to be demolished for a new Primark which could have been built just yards away on a vacant site. photo (c) Caroline Brown


traders fighting for their home of 30 years in Market Square

lobbying to protect our city centre in the Council chamber Feb 2013

lobbying to protect our city centre in the Council chamber

Milton Keynes Market

people power wins major victory over corporate greed

On the same day, we also helped defeat a plan to build shops over a pedestrian and futuristic transport route at Midsummer Boulevard. For a town centre famously designed for innovation and free movement, this would have been another betrayal of the city’s future for short-term, private profits. Fortunately, MK Council listened, and roundly dismissed the plans at Misdummer Place due to poor access and bad design.

Barrett’s Beastly Barracks: MK Council also threw out a shabby housing scheme slated for a prime city centre site, after we helped raise awareness of its poor layout and design. Barrett’s Barracks Witan Gate elevations

MK Market – Open to the World! In August, traders staged the first ever celebration of MK Market, with a lot of willing volunteers from the local community including dancers, musicians, and chefs. The day was a great success and looks set to be a regular fixture.

MK Market Celebration

MK Market Celebration, Aug 2013. Photo (c) Anne-Louise Mellor


Chinese fan dancers celebrate community life in CMK

MK Market is now recognised as an Asset of Community Value

MK Market is now officially recognised as an Asset of Community Value

What next?

CMK is set for major growth, but we can still live up to the dream of a ‘city in a forest’. Most residents value the open spaces, leafy boulevards and convenience of Milton Keynes as it was originally designed. Xplain is here to remind politicians and developers to respect these public assets as the city grows.   

In Feb 2014 we will take part in an intensive, 3-day design workshop, looking at future development in and around Midsummer Boulevard. The workshop is a joint initiative from MK Council and CMK Town Council/CMK Alliance, and is another welcome move away from the piecemeal development that has been threatening our carefully planned city for too long.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURENeil Higson, former Chief Landscape Architect for MK Development Corporation, leading our walk in Campbell Park

Walks for 2014

After our recent successful walk through Campbell Park, led by its original landscape architect Neil Higson, Xplain is planning a series of guided walks in CMK. This is a chance to explore MK’s architectural and artistic heritage.

discovering public art in CMK

discovering public art in CMK

Xplain walk in Campbell Park, with impromptu litter-pick!

Xplain walk in Campbell Park, with impromptu litter-pick!

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