Category Archives: Primark

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!

If you want to hear more, please contact us via. 

Secklow Gate Bridge – the inside story

The first battle of Secklow Gate

Secklow Gate - the Iconic gateway to Central Milton Keynes Photo: Caroline Brown

Secklow Gate – the iconic gateway to Central Milton Keynes Photo: Caroline Brown

Why would your local Council keep a busy public highway closed for 18 months, racking up bills of over £1m in the process, when a few months’ work and a few hundred thousand would have fixed it?

This is a story of either serial incompetence, or highway robbery on the civilised grid roads of Milton Keynes. You decide…

In January 2010 a welder’s spark set off a fire in Milton Keynes Market damaging Secklow Gate Bridge, the busy four-lane highway running through the heart of Central Milton Keynes. Two of the nine, massive pillars supporting the southern section needed repairs. The road was closed for safety reasons, and the deck propped up with a forest of hefty bridge props.

Now, with the central route closed, traffic had to detour round the 1km-long shopping building. Trade in the disrupted market took a dive and CMK, famous for its smooth-running grid road system, began to experience the novelty of traffic jams.

Eventually, a leisurely nine months after the fire, a highway manager at MK Council issued instructions to sub-contractors to crack on with the repair process. This was 22 Sept 2010.

Yet within days, repairs stopped altogether and would only resume six months later, in a maelstrom of public outrage.

What had gone wrong?

Official enquiries later revealed that the Chief Executive of MK Council, David Hill, had stepped in to countermand the decision to proceed with repairs. Why? Because suddenly a shinier option was hovering in the air. On 27 Sept, just days after repair instructions had gone out, the Chief Executive heard, in confidence, of the possibility of demolishing the public highway to expand the shopping centre.

The very next day, he sent out an email saying “We should hold off making any decision between the three [repair] options until the implications are clearer”. With that, work promptly stopped and a small group of senior people waited, patiently, for a planning application to land on the mat.

the forest of costly props beneath SGB

the forest of costly props beneath SGB

Of course, we, the public knew nothing of this. Indeed, irate citizens were being assured that repairs were in hand.

Then, just before Christmas, we got a hefty hint that something had changed.

£500k ‘wasted’ on repairs?

Buried among the tinsel, a modest article appeared in the local papers with the title “Bridge to be Demolished”. It dutifully reproduced a Council press release, which stated: It has recently emerged that the damage to the bridge might create an opportunity to move forward development plans for the area. …a range of options for dealing with the bridge are being put on hold while talks go on with developers to see if an appropriate development can be progressed. Discussions will continue next year. Cllr Vanessa MPake, cabinet member for Transport, said “It seems only sensible to delay spending more than £500,000 on repairs to the bridge while there is any chance that potential development might mean the money is wasted.”

What the political spin doctors didn’t reveal, of course, was that the Council had already spent hundreds of thousands on propping up the bridge, and that every month of delay increased the risk to the public purse.

With alarms ringing, Xplain began digging.

We immediately suspected that there was only one developer likely to be interested in demolishing a major link in the grid road system that ran over Market Square. It was the then joint owners of the Listed shopping building, the Prudential and Hermes (Post Office) pension funds.

The dark art of Asset Management

Now, the joint owners had been eyeing up Market Square, built into the middle of the elegant, linear shopping building, for many years. To them, it was the ideal location to build another anchor store. The fact that a major public highway, a popular market, and a superb Listed building stood in their way did not deter them.

Nor, apparently, did it bother certain figures at MK Council. Cllr Cec Tallack (Lib-dem) was then leader of the Council and his own ward includes CMK, and must have known exactly what was going on.

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

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

After several intense months of challenge and protest, Xplain finally discovered through a Freedom of Information request how much the Council was spending to keep the bridge closed. An eye-watering £30,000 a month. This was on an open-ended agreement, and, of course, there was no end in sight!

It was a rainbow moment. We knew that no planning application had been filed. We knew that even if it was, it would be hugely controversial, could easily take two years to go through the system, that no insurance company on earth would pay for the rapidly mounting costs, and that this was a massive, needless risk for the Council to take.

We knew, in other words, that as soon as this hit the media they would be forced to do their prime, statutory duty, and restore Central Milton Keynes to working order.

Secklow reopens – with minutes to spare

With the Bridge-gate scandal now making front page news, and calls for the Chief Executive to resign, the cabinet announced the bridge would now be repaired. Remarkably, Mike Galloway, then Lib-dem cabinet member for planning, volubly defended the delays, did not apologise to the public, and stated that repairs would now proceed because the centre:mk weren’t ready to file their planning application! For an authority that is supposed to be strictly neutral towards planning applications this was a remarkable admission.

In the end, it only took four weeks to repair the damaged pillars and the Bridge finally reopened to traffic just before midnight on 30 June, 2011. Ten minutes later and MK Council could have been sued.

As we celebrated, we couldn’t guess that within months the second battle of Secklow Gate would begin. Only this time the forces ranged against us would be stronger, and detemined to win.

March, 2013 – ratepayers pick up the tab

And what was the final bill? In March this year MK Council finally released the direct costs of the Secklow Gate Bridge fiasco.

Out of a total bill of £1,079,000 the actual repairs cost £311k. The cost of propping up the bridge for far longer than necessary was £627k, including £172k for ‘traffic management’ costs – which seems rather a lot to pay for a few cones.

market traders and Xplain supporters celebrate reopening of SGB

market traders and Xplain supporters celebrate reopening of SGB

As we predicted, the insurance company refused to pay all the bills, leaving a shortfall of £355k. That is £355k that the ratepayers of MK have to pay for a murky example of official incompetence. But at least we, the public, got our grid road system back, rescued our much-valued market from terminal decline, and won the first battle of Secklow Gate.

thecentre:mk withdraw Primark plans. CMK saved from disaster!

In a stunning victory for common sense and democracy, thecentre:mk announced this morning that it was withdrawing the rest of its planning applications to demolish Secklow Gate Bridge and the market, which has been established in Market Square for over 30 years. The plans have stirred the biggest public outcry in MK’s history, with over 20,000 people signing a petition to keep the core intact in just 3 weeks.

We did it!


This is also a vote of confidence in the original vision for the new city of Milton Keynes – the most successful master-planned city in British history – which owes its success and future prosperity to the superb vision of its original founders, architects and landscape planners.

 Feb 21, 2013.

Over 20,000 signatures in just 3 weeks. Biggest public outcry in MK's history.

Over 20,000 signatures in just 3 weeks. The biggest public outcry in MK’s history.

Primark plans in chaos as centre:mk withdraw plans to move MK Market

Breaking news – the centre:mk has announced it will withdraw plans to move the market for the time being.

However it will go ahead with the main application to demolish Secklow Gate Bridge and build an extension for Primark over the existing Market Square. This application will be heard at MK Council’s planning committee meeting on Thursday night.

The plans have hit a wall of opposition as they would literally smash up major infrastructure and a popular, established market in order to build a relatively minor new store which could easily be built on sites just yards away.

Over 20,000 people have signed a petition started by market traders to keep the market and Secklow Gate Bridge in the heart of Milton Keynes.

However it is VITAL to keep campaigning.

Please come to the public meeting on Thurs 21st Feb at MK Council offices.

Xplain supporters are gathering from about 6.15 outside main doors.
Meeting starts at 7.00 pm.

More soon.

Experts slam plans to move Milton Keynes Market for Primark

CMK Town Council calls for the centre:mk to withdraw plans

Independent experts have slammed thecentre:mk’s plans to move MK Market onto almost the worst possible site in order to build a Primark over Market Square in Central Milton Keynes. The site is 40% smaller than the market’s current location and is currently public highway, housing a taxi rank and disabled parking, which would also have to move out of the way.

MK Market - a social hub under threat from Primark development

MK Market – a vitbrant social hub under threat from Primark development

Major problems include lack of space, no weather protection, and endangering both traders and the public. Quarterbridge Projects, authors of the report, are national experts in market development and they insist that operating a cramped market next to busy traffic on Midsummer Boulevard puts people at risk.

The report concludes that: “The design fails to address many of the most fundamental requirements for the proper operational management of a new Market and the safety of operational staff, traders and shoppers. It attempts to create as much trading space as possible as cheaply as possible on as small a site as possible and in the process introduces unnecessary Health & Safety risks which could easily be overcome on a more suitable site.”

This is in stark contrast to thecentre:mk’s extensive publicity campaign which has been promising a “new, purpose-built location” for the market “which will provide a huge boost to accessibility for shoppers and traders.”

“This [new report] confirms everything we’ve been saying all along,” says Mark Kunder, who has built up one of the largest stalls in the market, a tool and DIY stall, over many years. “As soon as I saw the plans I knew it would kill off the market,” says Mr Kunder, adding, “If the Council wants a market in CMK it has to stay exactly where it is. Of course it could be improved, and we have lots of ideas, but first we’ve got to win this battle for our survival. We’re very grateful that the public at large is rallying to our defence and signing our petition to stay in Market Square.”

Market traders began a petition on 26 January and have been overwhelmed with the level of public support. In just three weeks nearly 19,000 people have signed the petition to keep the bridge, market and grid road system intact.

MP Mark Lancaster received the first batch of 10,000 signatures recently and assured traders that  “A strong, vibrant market is a must for MK,” adding “I’m concerned that a whole series of bit-piece applications are coming in that are not in the broad plan or interests of Milton Keynes.”

local families rely on MK Market

local families rely on MK Market

“It would be far better for everyone if thecentre:mk would now withdraw their plans to demolish this vital part of CMK and focus on redeveloping the near-empty Food Centre. That way we could have new jobs, new shops and keep the grid road system and market at the heart of Milton Keynes,” says Dr Rebecca Kurth, chair of CMK Town Council. She added “Clearly the vast majority of MK residents want to keep this part of CMK as designed, with Secklow Gate Bridge flying through the shopping building, and the market as a vital retail and community focus in the public square below.”

The plans will be decided or rejected on Thursday 21st Feb in a public meeting at MK Council chamber starting at 7.00pm. Local Councillors speaking against the plans include John Bint (Con, Middleton),  Margaret Burke (Lab, Stantonbury) Paul Williams (Lab, Campbell Park) and Ric Brackenbury (Lib Dem, Linford South). Cllr Brackenbury says, “I don’t think I have ever had so many objections to a single planning application. The council received over 700 direct comments from members of the public, and states that only one of these was in favour.”

near-empty Food Centre could be redeveloped for Primark leaving the Market where it needs to be

near-empty Food Centre (bottom left) could be redeveloped for Primark leaving MK Market where it needs to be

Even so, the Development Control Committee must weigh the evidence carefully and decide which course of action is in the best interests of Milton Keynes.

If you want to send your views to your elected councillor and MP, please use this easy, not-for-profit website to find who they are and drop them a line.

Hot news! Hope for CMK!

The Council’s planning department has just published its report to the Development Control Committee and is recommending REFUSAL of planning permission to knock down Secklow Gate Bridge, move the market, and damage the Listed Building.

every shop in MK Market is an independent business supporting a family.

every shop in MK Market is an independent business supporting a family.

Brilliant news. BUT the committee can still decide to ignore their advice.

So let’s keep up the pressure, keep those petitions going and contacting your ward councillors, MP’s and anyone else who’ll listen to say “Hands off CMK – we need it to stay intact, as designed, to serve current and future generations.”

PLEASE come along on night of 21 Feb, starts 7 pm, in main council chamber, MK Council Civic Offices, to send a strong message that the public wants them to heed this advice.

Plus, please drop a line to your ward councillors urging them to listen to the public voice. write via non-profit website

Corporate vultures are circling. Will you stand up for Milton Keynes?

Secklow Gate flies through the listed building in CMK above the popular market

Secklow Gate flies through the Listed building in CMK above the popular market – but for how much longer?

 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.

This is the night a bundle of destructive plans go to MK Council to demolish Secklow Gate, close up the optimistic gateway to Central Milton Keynes, cripple the famous grid road system, kill off the vibrant market and crush the finest and rarest Listed building of its type in Britain. 
And for what? Another Primark!
While promising new jobs this scheme will actually destroy around 400 jobs in the market.
While promising ‘growth’ it will isolate nearby development sites, hampering competitors, and leaving thecentre:mk a clear field to extend their retail empire still further.
On 21st Feb, before a watching public, just nine Councillors will decide if the scheme goes ahead.
Worryingly, MK Council has a tainted record regarding this scheme. In 2011 Xplain exposed the scandal of Secklow Gate Bridge, when the Council spent over £500k keeping the fire-damaged highway closed, much longer than necessary, while quietly waiting for thecentre: mk to file new plans to ‘develop’ the site. When Xplain discovered the spiralling costs, senior figures at the Council said they hadn’t known (or thought to ask) about the costs, and hastily decided to repair the bridge. The final bill was over £1,027,000, most of which was spent on propping up the bridge for 18 months.

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

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

But a few months later thecentre:mk filed their predatory plans.
As well as breaching many planning policies, English Heritage is strongly opposed to the plans, saying they are simply geared to the needs of Primark. EH insist there is no justification for sacrificing the unique character of the most ambitious new town in British history.
"Breaktaking architecture". As designed, Market Square is a sunny, popular, safe spot for locals and visitors to enjoy. All lost if sold for a new Primark.

As designed, Market Square is a sunny, popular, traffic-free safe public square for locals and visitors to enjoy. All lost if sold for a new Primark.

So we still have a chance to fight the vultures off.
What can you do? It’s easy.
First, drop a line to your MP and local ward councillors via this easy to use, non-profit website. Just pop in your postcode and the drop down menu will bring up their email addresses. Tell them what you think and ask them if they are listening to your views.
Next, please help the Market Traders with their petition to keep the market where needs to be, in order to survive, in the public square below Secklow Gate Bridge. Just an hour gathering signatures will really make a difference.
Traders have been doing a fantastic job but they’d appreciate some help with the petition at peak times.

Mark Lancaster MP receives 10,00 signatures in support of MK Market and Secklow Gate.

Mark Lancaster MP receives 10,00 signatures in support of keeping the market where it needs to be, in Market Square, and Secklow Gate open as part of the grid road system.

Please contact xplain via this site if you want more info. Or go straight to The Phone Doctor’s stand, run by Gary Eaton, and either he or another friendly trader will give you forms and a clipboard. Gary’s stand faces the main doors from Midsummer Arcade, more or less opposite TK Maxx. Market open every day except Mon & Weds.
Plus, please sign the e-petition on MK Council website. When registering, put in your postcode in capitals with space between as in MK1 2AB