Category Archives: Neighbourhood Plans

Government ‘reforms’ could ruin Milton Keynes in 20 years


Civic groups have issued an urgent warning to MK residents that sweeping government plans to “reform” England’s planning system would have devastating consequences for Milton Keynes – Britain’s biggest and most successful New Town.

citizens protest in sunny local park threatened with infill development
Protests like this one will be futile if the White Paper prevails

In a bid to speed up house-building the government White Paper says that all land will be classified into just three zones: areas for growth, renewal or protection. Anyone living in a growth or renewal zone, which would include most of MK, would be powerless prevent the loss of local parks, landscaped grid roads, transport corridors or wildlife refuges since, under new rules, outline planning permission will be guaranteed.

“This is development by government diktat,” says Linda Inoki, chair of Xplain. “It means that our innovative city of trees could be choked by infill development.”

What’s more, local democracy will be cut to the bone because, after MK Council hastily draws up new zoning maps and design codes, residents will have no further say. Dialogue with developers, Neighbourhood Plans, planning committee meetings and even protests will be things of the past, as all this involvement will be swept aside by centralised rules.

Local groups are not the only ones raising the alarm. The Town and Country Planning Association insists that “ripping up the planning system will not deliver the homes we need” while the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds says that the overall thrust of the White Paper is “more about speeding up major planning decisions in favour of short-term business interests” rather than putting sustainability at the heart of planning reform.

Please help us save MK by sending your own message to the government and to your local MP (Iain Stewart for MK South iain.stewart.mp@parliament.uk or Ben Everitt for MK North ben.everitt.mp@parliament.uk) by 29th October.

Here is a suggested letter, but please use your own thoughts and words if possible. Submit via www.gov.uk/government/consultations/planning-for-the-future or email planningforthefuture@communities.gov.uk

Tearing up the current planning system as proposed in the current White Paper will not deliver the affordable homes we need, and will not deliver sustainable, quality development which is crucial for people, the planet and wildlife. Please make the following changes to the White Paper:

  1. Localism needs to be retained, building on the work of Neighbourhood Planning which has been so successful in Milton Keynes. Don’t throw away all this progress which has found new sites for housing and produced locally sympathetic policies. Volunteers have spent huge amounts of time and effort creating Neighbourhood Plans, which have reduced planning battles and improved development standards.
  2. MK has a healthy supply of housing land and 16,000 new homes with planning approval. But we are waiting for developers to build all these homes. The problem with housing delivery is therefore not democratic involvement in the planning system but developers who keep land in ‘banks’ and control the housing supply to maximise demand and profits. Instead of giving builders automatic planning permission for infill development, as proposed, new policies should encourage them to build housing more quickly. Planning consents could be given deadlines before they expire and incomplete homes could be liable to Council Tax after a suitable time lapse.
  3. The duty of neighbouring boroughs to cooperate should be retained. Expansion areas just outside MK’s borders have a major impact on MK’s infrastructure, therefore cooperation, including sharing any funding from the infrastructure levy, is vital.

Who will put down roots at the old Wyevale Garden Centre in CMK?


After 10 years quietly sprouting weeds the old Wyevale Garden centre site in Central Milton Keynes looks set for redevelopment. Aviva Investors and Abbeygate Developments have filed a new planning application to build 328 apartments on this prime site opposite Xscape. But they are not for sale. As more people give up the idea of buying their own home, or need longer to save for a deposit, the ‘PRS’ or Private Rental Sector is growing in popularity. One PRS scheme is already being built in CMK and this would be another. It is aimed at people who want a well-managed apartment building and are ready to pay for extras such as attractive lobbies and landscaped space.

The proposal is for two L-shaped buildings ranging from 3 to 12 stories in height. The ground floor offers flexible commercial space which would possibly attract independent outlets – something most people want more of in CMK.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

‘Vizion’, like the Hub, ate into CMK’s famous grid

There are clear similarities with Abbeygate’s ‘Vizion’ development, the younger sister of the notorious ‘Hub’. But crucially this new development would not eat into CMK’s unique grid layout, disrupting traffic and pedestrians and degrading the public realm. Instead, it would sit at a comfortable distance from heavy traffic, leaving the surrounding grid of leafy boulevards, ‘slow streets’, pedestrian and cycle routes intact.

The architecture is quiet and confident and although the 12-storey height on the corner of Secklow Gate and Avebury Boulevard might shock a few people this does, apparently, fit the Council’s Development Brief. Typically MK features include double-height colonnades to protect pedestrians from sun and rain.

A glassy, egg-shaped café looks towards the private courtyard garden which would be visible from the boulevard and occasionally be open to the public.

The materials are silver and dark grey brickwork with coppery metal panels. Most of the balconies would be flush with the façade which (among other benefits) reduces the amount of private clutter on public view.

To view the application go to MK Council’s planning portal re application number 18/01591/FUL

 

Taxpayers foot £2m bill for ‘The Hub’. Yet despite “lessons learnt” Milton Keynes Council aims for another at Saxon Gate.


Despite a rise in traffic jams, accidents and parking issues around the ‘Hub’ development in Central Milton Keynes, and the £2.1m cost of altering highways*, MK Council (MKC) is gearing up for a similar project at Saxon Gate.

Designed by Milton Keynes Development Corporation architects to suit the ethos of MK.

Saxon Court (right) in classic CMK layout

Saxon Gate is one of the busiest gateways to CMK. Here, opposite Debenhams, the Council owns Saxon Court; a subtle piece of Modernist architecture it now wishes to sell. But instead of promoting the most sustainable option (to refurbish the heritage building and develop the empty site at the back) the Council’s Draft Development Brief firmly steers would-be investors to option 3.

‘Son of Hub’ for Saxon Gate?

This is to demolish Saxon Court and build a huge new development right up to the grid road, wiping out most of the side streets. If these tributaries of the grid road network disappear, they take with them:

  • direct access to and from the grid road (Saxon Gate)
  • 400 public parking spaces
  • dedicated footpaths and cycle routes
  • around 140 mature trees.

Slide4

Is CMK destined for another Soviet-style project, looming over bleak, deforested boulevards? Will frustrated drivers stop on grid roads to drop off a parcel or pick up a passenger, jamming up traffic and causing accidents?

Deliveries to The Hub

Daily jams at The Hub

Unless Council leaders persist in this corporate amnesia there is still time to change the development brief.

PLEASE SEND YOUR VIEWS on the future of Saxon Gate to MK Council by the consultation deadline of 5 pm Fri, 16 Feb to this officer:
david.blandamer@milton-keynes.gov.uk

Why not copy your Ward Councillors too? You can find them on the Council website via find my Councillors

* “Lessons Learnt”, published by MKC’s Urban Design Department, 2011

Don’t lose your voice! MK planners are at it again. Weds 4 Jan deadline.


Council planning officers are still trying to silence dissenting voices and take more powers to decide applications behind closed doors.

Xplain protesting over the long closure of Secklow Gate, 2011.

Xplain protesting over the scandalous closure of Secklow Gate, back in 2011.

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

The Midsummer Oak, Milton Keynes: dead but not forgotten!


The people of Milton Keynes are unlikely to forgive or forget the sad fate of the Midsummer Oak, in Central Milton Keynes, which retail giants Intu finally carted away on 25 April 2016.

When the new city centre was laid out in the 1970’s the architects took great care to preserve this flourishing oak tree. In the 1990’s local people campaigned to save the oak when a controversial new shopping centre was built, breaking Midsummer Boulevard in two. Artists Boyd & Evans published this image of the oak tree surrounded by new shops nine years ago, before it gave up the ghost.The famous Midsummer Oak in 2007 (c) Boyd & Evans

The famous Midsummer Oak, in 2007 (c) Boyd & Evans

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!

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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!

 

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.

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?