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!
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
11 Aug 2017
Linford Lakes Nature Reserve is a peaceful refuge for all sorts of wildlife, from otters to owls, but nature-lovers are in great alarm over plans to build 250 houses in the adjoining countryside. Although MK Council refused an identical planning application only this March there is a now a real chance that a repeat application will be approved.
“If this goes ahead, there will be enormous and irreversible damage to this very important ecological site and the surrounding landscape”, says Martin Kincaid, vice-president of the MK Natural History Society. He adds “We can think of nowhere in Milton Keynes less suitable for housing than here.”
What can you do? Read on…
20 Jun. 17
Xplain has discovered that MK Council chiefs have drawn up a list of 117 sites for possible infill housing ranging from gardens for sheltered housing schemes in Springfield to children’s play areas in Wavendon Gate, New Bradwell, Wolverton, Woolstones etc. Even the one great civic square in MK – Station Square in Central Milton Keynes – is back on the list (‘suitable’ for 248 dwellings!).
Remarkably, the secretive “Urban Capacity Study” repeats exactly the same mistakes as last year’s ‘Parks for Cash’ fiasco when public outrage forced Council bosses to withdraw a long list of precious open spaces put forward for possible infill housing.
Yet again it seems that the Council has failed to be open, inclusive and transparent about the way it has drawn up such an important list.
Yet again they have put forward sites which are totally unsuitable for development while trying to claim they pass the initial test of ‘good urban planning’.
With planning permission already granted for 23,000 new homes in Milton Keynes, and Plan MK looking to push the city boundaries out beyond the M1, it begs the question – why are they trying to squeeze in 3,500 more homes by returning to sites which were officially withdrawn from this threat in 2016? Apparently, “Sites identified through the Urban Capacity Study help to reduce the number of dwellings that need to be allocated on greenfield sites in the open countryside.” So that’s alright then!
Have MKC leaders forgotten last year’s warnings – shouted from the public gallery – that this sort of short-sighted ‘planning’ would create “back to back housing – the slums of the future”?
Some of the 117 sites are genuine ‘brownfield’ sites, but having checked the list, Xplain reckons that many are not. Some will even need homes and offices to be demolished to gain access. It is as if officers have scoured the maps of MK, with little knowledge of what is on the ground, got out their crayons and changed green to brown.
If you are worried about the future of open spaces in MK please follow our blog, check the Urban Capacity Study and contact your ward councillors.
“I feel betrayed and beleaguered in continually having to defend our rights to keep and enjoy the open spaces within my locality,” says Sylvia from Stantonbury. “Is it inefficiency on the part of MKC’s planning department – the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing? Or deliberate deceit, with determination to get hold of these spaces somehow, some day, some way?”
To check which sites have been earmarked as possible sites for infill development you can download the Urban Capacity Study here.
While the fresh green landscape of Milton Keynes is full of hope and life there is one part of the city centre which is anything but! Here, at ‘the John Lewis end’ of the Grade ll-listed Shopping Building, almost all the trees and shrubs have been cut down to make way for a controversial multi-storey car park.
Council planning officers are still trying to silence dissenting voices and take more powers to decide applications behind closed doors.
After facing universal condemnation for trying to rush through public gagging orders last autumn the same cheeky officers have now produced a Survey Monkey ‘consultation’ which is full of loaded questions.
If you trust these people to make fair decisions, that’s fine – do nothing. But if, like Xplain, you think that local voices are vital to good development then please see our pitfall guide below, and fill in the official MK Council form before 5 pm, Weds 4 Jan. Continue reading
29 Sept 2016
Last night senior officers faced “a wall of condemnation” for trying to push through sweeping changes to planning in Milton Keynes.
If officers had succeeded, the changes would have stifled public dissent, stopped elected councillors hearing from objectors at planning committees, and handed draconian new powers to officers to approve or refuse applications without having to involve an elected committee at all! Continue reading