If corporate vultures have their way the arteries, nerves and beating heart of Milton Keynes will be handed over on 21st Feb in a senseless public sacrifice to private retail greed.
If approved on 21st Feb, thecentre:mk’s plans to build a new Primark over Secklow Gate will literally smash up the core of Central Milton Keynes, replacing a safe, efficient master-planned city centre with a dog’s dinner of chicanes, dead-ends and dangerous zebra crossings.
For 2-3 years bulldozers and heavy trucks will be carting away rubble from the demolition of the massive elevated junction of Secklow Gate & Midsummer Boulevard. Market Square will be history. For market traders, forced onto a 40% smaller, hopelessly inadequate site, this means immediate job losses and inevitable decline. “The market will be dead before Primark even opens its doors!” says Gary Eaton, who has traded in Market Square for over 12 years.
Short of total demolition, it also means substantial harm for the most important Listed building of its type in Britain: “breathtaking architecture” according to English Heritage, that not only continues to work extremely well but “tells a fascinating story” of the new town movement and 20thC Britain.
All this, and the break up of the city’s famously efficient grid road system, just to build a relatively small chunk of extra retail space that could easily be built nearby.
But public outrage is growing.
Over 1,200 people have already lodged individual objections to the plans, and nearly 16,000 people in the last fortnight have signed the Market Traders petition to stop this madness.
But are your councillors and MPs listening? Or are they sitting on the fence, tempted to grab at any development, no matter what the cost, as long as they can tout it as ‘growth’.
It’s time to put them on the spot. Here’s a link to a non-profit website, which is very easy to use. http://www.writetothem.com/
Just pop in your postcode, and a drop down menu listing your local councillors and MPs will appear. Drop each of them a line saying what you think, and asking where they stand. Are they happy to sacrifice jobs, public infrastructure and living heritage for private profits?
We can post replies onto this website. Please send them in as comments on this article. Your details can be edited out if you wish.
It’s probably the biggest petition in MK’s history. In just 5 days, over 10,000 people from all walks of life have signed a grassroots petition to keep the Market in Market Square and stop retailers building over the main highway through Central Milton Keynes.
MP Mark Lancaster visited the market on 1 Feb to talk with traders and collect the petition before meeting with David Hill, Chief Executive of MK Council. He later tweeted “10,000 strong petition supporting market traders delivered to MKC. A strong vibrant market is a must for CMK”
Two weeks earlier, Mr Lancaster had met over 100 traders to listen to their fears that the market would be finished if forced to move from its prime location of more than 30 years beneath Secklow Gate Bridge.
Since the Portas Review, the government has promoted investment in markets to encourage independent retailers. Despite this, the centre:mk has put forward plans to move MK Market to a 40% smaller site with no room for the lively cafes and permanent shops that are so popular with local people, ethnic minorities and visitors to Milton Keynes.
After sending field workers to investigate, the National Market Traders Federation, representing some 300,000 traders, wrote to MK Council warning that MK market could “wither and die” if the plans go ahead. Approximately 450 jobs are at risk.
MP Mark Lancaster assured the gathering he was “committed to a long-term, viable market in Milton Keynes” and would take up their concerns with MK Council. He said he was concerned with the current lack of strategic vision and added “I’m concerned that a whole series of bit-piece applications are coming in that are not in the broad plan or long-term interests of Milton Keynes.”
It was an impressive sight: over 100 traders, muffled up after another winter’s day on the market, trooped into the overheated offices at MK Council to meet Labour parliamentary candidates Emily Darlington and Andrew Pakes.
The burning issue? The real and imminent threat to MK Market.
Traders are convinced that the centre:mk’s plans to build a new Primark over Secklow Gate and Market Square would be the death of MK market and with it over 400 jobs.
“We are not afraid of competition or change, and would welcome improvements to the existing market, but the market is finished if it has to move from an ideal location to a small, third-rate site” said spokesman Chris Lee.
Traders pointed out that MK Market is not only a popular social hub, and a lifeline for families on limited budgets, but also drives the retail economy. “If you ask Alan Sugar he’ll tell you – if you take away the market you take away the soul of the community!” said one trader who originally came from Spitalfields market to MK. Another added, “If you go to the centre on a non-market day it’s like a ghost-town!”
Ms Darlington said she was “shocked and appalled that market traders have not been consulted over plans which will have a massive impact on their livelihoods and could see an end to over 400 jobs.”
She referred to English Heritage’s strong opposition to the plans because they were “not in the cultural or economic interests of Milton Keynes”, and later issued a statement as Labour Parliamentary spokesman for Milton Keynes North.
“I am not opposed to a new Primark being built in Central Milton Keynes but the Council should investigate better locations in CMK where this could be built without destroying the market or our central grid roads.” Emily Darlington continued “CMK Market is an important part of the cultural make-up of Milton Keynes . If we lose it, we lose a part of our history”.
Market traders welcomed the support of Ms Darlington and local Councillor Paul Williams. However they were clearly incensed at what they described as “this charade of a public consultation, run by the centre mk’s marketing machine” and called for a genuine, independent consultation before any decisions are made.
The planning committee is expected to meet on the evening of Thursday 21 February to decide one of the most controversial developments in MK’s history.
Over 100 people packed the public galleries at MK Council on 9 Jan to support Market Traders, whose livelihoods are threatened by development proposals for a second Primark in Milton Keynes.
Traders, who have not been consulted on the plans, say they are not worried about competition from Primark, but the popular market will wither and die if forced to move to “a third-rate site”.
Despite several prime development sites nearby, and the strong disapproval of English Heritage, the owners of the shopping centre are pressing on with planning applications to obliterate Market Square and close down the main highway into CMK by building a new Primark on the site.
“We are not afraid of competition or change,” said Chris Lee, spokesman, “and would welcome improvements to the market. But MK Market is finished it it has to move from an ideal location to a third-rate site.”
Mr Lee painted a picture of a truly multicultural, sociable place which is a lifeline to many local people. “MK Market generates business for MK. It creates jobs and opportunities and serves people from all walks of life, often from the poorest neighbourhoods,” said Mr Lee.
However, all this would be lost if forced to move to a narrow strip of parking near McDonalds and the Point. Crucially, he said, it is 40% smaller than Market Square, the wrong layout for modern market stalls, and almost invisible to shoppers inside the main arcade.
Either the number of stalls would have to be cut from around 220 to130, or every stall would have to be 40% smaller. Either way, trade would collapse, putting 400 jobs and the livelihoods of entire families at risk.
Moments before the speech began, however, the Mayor advised members of the planning committee to leave the chamber in case they were prejudiced by what the traders had to say.
As about 20 members trooped out of the room, two Councillors stood their ground. Cllr Chris Williams (Lib-Dem), former chair of the planning committee, objected, wondering why it was ok for the applicant to put their case direct to councillors, with an officer present, but it wasn’t acceptable to stay and listen to residents with objections?
Nevertheless, the deputation was a great success, and traders were interviewed on BBC tv & radio news. The centre mk was ‘not available for comment’.
In answer to a question, Cllr Andrew Geary (Con.), leader of MK Council, assured the public that the health of the market was a “material consideration” that would be taken into account when the planning committee decides on the application.
For Market Traders, angry and frustrated at the lack of genuine consultation, the deputation may have been brief, but at long last it was a chance to voice their concerns.
Many Councillors must be beginning to realise there are strong grounds to refuse planning permission and thereby protect the physical, social and economic fabric of Milton Keynes.
Since the Portas Review, towns across Britain have been looking again at their markets, realising that they bring vitality, character and choice to the High Street.
Yet surprisingly MK Market, a truly multi-cultural social hub, is threatened with redevelopment plans.
The powerful pension funds who own the listed shopping centre in the heart of Central Milton Keynes are determined to expand their footprint – right over Market Square – to build a new chain store for tenant Primark.
In the process, they would sweep away a vital link in the city’s famous grid road network, breathtaking architecture (pictured in our banner above) and what English Heritage recently called “the ideal site” for the market, created by the original architects of MK.
Although a new site has been found nearby, it is much smaller and full of problems. Both local traders, as well as the National Market Traders Federation, are warning that MK Market “could wither and die” if the plans go ahead.
Please come along and find out more on Weds, 9 Jan, when traders lead a public deputation to MK Council.This is the first time traders will have had their say as, surprisingly, they have not been specifically consulted on the plans.
Public gathering from 6.30 pm at MK Council Offices, Silbury Boulevard (next to Natwest Bank), CMK.
Or if arriving later, please go upstairs to the public gallery, main council chamber, for the formal Council meeting, which begins at 7.30 pm.
ENGLISH HERITAGE DEFENDS MILTON KEYNES FROM PRIMARK PLANS
In a major setback for the centre:mk’s controversial development plans, English Heritage has dismantled their case for making fundamental changes to the design of Central Milton Keynes in order to build a new Primark.
The national heritage watchdog is recommending that MK Council refuse planning permission in order to prevent “irreversible and substantial harm” to the outstanding grade ll listed Shopping Building, and its setting in the city’s famous grid road system.* Altogether, the original, unspoilt design “tells a fascinating story about the idealism and ambition of the 1970s”.
This substantial report will be welcome news to four parish councils, local heritage groups and over a thousand individuals who have objected to the plans. Many locals appreciate Milton Keynes’ unrivalled grid road system, fine collection of Modernist architecture, and colourful outdoor market but will be reassured that growing numbers of national experts value it too.
After describing the “architecturally breathtaking” shopping building as the centrepiece of “the last and most ambitious” of Britain’s post-war new towns, English Heritage praises the dramatic vistas at Secklow Gate, the relationship of the building to the entire urban grid plan of MK, and the creation of Market Square as “the ideal location” for the market – most important for those first arrivals from London’s East End!
All of these attractive features would be lost if the current scheme goes ahead.
MK Council has now postponed the Development Control Committee meeting from January 22 to some time in February. Meanwhile, the centre:mk has had to submit new drawings, due to safety and access problems with their plans.
It will be hard, but not impossible, for MK Council to ignore English Heritage’s advice, and grant planning permission. However evidence of serious damage to MK’s past history, present advantages and future opportunities for better development continues to mount and there is a groundswell of public opinion in favour of rejecting alien development and protecting the original features of MK to underpin future growth.
If you want to object to the plans it’s easy. Just click on the tab ‘How to object to demolition of Secklow Gate’ for info.
* “The proposals would clearly amount to substantial harm to the significance of a grade 11 listed building. The applicant has not clearly or convincingly demonstrated that the harm entailed is necessary to achieve the public benefits of ensuring the long term competitiveness of Milton Keynes Centre as a retail destination, or of opening up the land to the south of the shopping building for redevelopment as a civic space. We would therefore recommend that the application is refused.” Pg 9, English Heritage report, 19 Dec 2012