Category Archives: protecting CMK

standing up for the original vision of CMK and protecting it from short-sighted development

£200m investment saves Milton Keynes ‘Tardis’ building


In good news for fans of Modernist architecture, an important piece of Milton Keynes’ history will be saved from demolition. Saxon Court will become the centrepiece of a major investment in Central Milton Keynes. Mixed-use developer First Base and Patron Capital, the pan-European institutional real estate investor, announced today (20/10/20) that it is acquiring Saxon Court to create a mix of workspace, homes and community spaces.
Barry Jessup, director, First Base, said: “This is an exciting opportunity to create a new mixed-use district in the heart of one of the UK’s fastest growing cities. Our investment will bring nearly £200 million into the Milton Keynes economy and we very much look forward to working with the Council and the local community to develop our plans.”

Corner view of Saxon Court showing harmonious Modernist facade
“Superior to other, simpler, lesser buildings of the same and later eras” (Heritage report)

Saxon Court might look like a modest building from the street but its Tardis-like interior packs a punch – full of light, space and greenery. Like many other landmark buildings in CMK, Saxon Court was the product of a talented team of architects hired by MK’s charismatic chief architect, Derek Walker, to design an entire city centre on a grand scale. But before a single building went up they designed the framework for everything that was to follow: a spacious public realm, cased in granite, generously landscaped, and based on a timeless grid pattern of boulevards and ‘gates’.

MK is designed for walking and cycling too!

Along with its twin across Saxon Gate, Saxon Court was a significant landmark on the grid. It was also probably the first office building in the country built around an atrium – and a generous one at that.
During the 1980’s high-flyers from the Milton Keynes Development Corporation were based in Saxon Court, from where they launched their mission to sell the ambitious new town to the rest of the world. MK Council eventually took over the building after MKDC was wound up, in 1992.

Yet despite its importance, Saxon Court could easily have been demolished. Read on for the story of how local people fought for their heritage…

Xplain supporters campaign to save Saxon Court (2018)

In 2018 MK Council no longer needed the building and issued a brief for developers which basically described it as a dull office block ripe for demolition. Worse, the Council’s ‘Head of Place’ was clearly in favour of building over the surrounding network of leafy footpaths, cycle-paths and side-streets. But this is classic CMK infrastructure – part of the city’s famously safe and easy grid road network! Plus, it was protected in the Neighbourhood Plan. Was it any wonder residents saw red?
Xplain led the public campaign to save Saxon Court. We warned that MK could end up with another ‘Hub’ – a local byword for bad design and wretched planning. In protests and publicity, we urged the Council to ‘Stand by the Plan’.

Mock-up showing another 'Hub' type of building on Saxon Gate
Xplain’s mock-up showed how another ‘Hub’ would damage the gateway to CMK

Political leaders began to have second thoughts. The heritage officer stuck out his neck and wrote that “Like other key buildings within the city centre it, and its sister building, make a key contribution to the aesthetic value of Milton Keynes.”
With pressure building, the all-important development brief got re-written and a few months later the Council’s highly-paid ‘Head of Place’ left for pastures new.

Original architects Ivan Pickles (by red bike) and Robert de Grey (in beret) outside Saxon Court

So it’s great to hear that Saxon Court will now be retained and reinvigorated by an interesting developer, First Base.

It’s not only a vote of confidence in the pure, architectural vision that laid out CMK nearly 50 years ago, but also in the future of Milton Keynes as a city that is open to change. As long as it’s sympathetic and different by design!

Is ‘X’ the worst symbol for Milton Keynes?


Xscape wants to fix a massive black ‘X’ on its famous façade in Central Milton Keynes.

Xscape elevation

Some people say the 11 x 11 m (33 x 33 ft) sign will feel menacing – like a Nazi swastika on a Luftwaffe hangar. Others say it’s just an exercise in corporate branding.

In this guest column for Xplain, social psychologist Linda Corlett explains the remarkable power of X – for good or ill.

“Symbols and signs often evoke emotions that are triggered by our past associations with them. ‘X’ is a curious letter because it’s one of the few letters that is used alone. Historically it has portrayed negative and positive meanings as well as mystery.
Children in our part of the world grow up in an education system where a red ‘X’ denotes incorrect schoolwork. This is perhaps the earliest association we have with X where it triggers negative emotions.

When X it is printed as a CAPITAL letter, in BLACK and printed in BOLD, its meaning can be negatively interpreted because historically it is commonly associated with symbols of evil, torture, danger and death. For eg:

basic swastika

image courtesy Wikipedia

SWASTIKA X – the most nihilistic symbol of all; when the Nazis adopted this ancient symbol of life they turned the swastika into the very essence of hatred and evil. In Germany, its use is outlawed unless it’s for legitimate purposes such publishing articles like this!
SKULL AND CROSS BONES X – this is the universal warning symbol of death by poison.

skull, crossbones

Image courtesy acclaimclipart.com

CAMP X – the Second World War training camp that taught sabotage, explosives-making and silent killing.

CRIME X – X is used to mark the scene of a murder.

GRAPPLE X was the code-name for Britain’s first thermo-nuclear weapons test in the Pacific Ocean. Grapple X nuclear test Christmas Island 1957
XXXX denotes macho bravado as in ‘who gives a F**K?’ The clothing industry uses X to describe increasing degrees of ‘fatness’ eg. XL, XXL, XXXL.

X-RATED signs denote pornography, the illicit and forbidden. X-rated graphicDRUGS which include the letter X in their names often have negative associations, eg Zovirax – blisters and cold sores, Ziprexa –schizophrenia, Xylocaines – pain, Xarelto – blood clots.

X can also be used as a symbol of protest.

For example, Malcolm X was born as Malcolm Little but famously replaced his slave-era surname with a capital ‘X’ to symbolise stolen identity and the fight for justice. Here, X reminds us of a torturous time in history.

X is also used to symbolise the mysterious or unknown: ‘The X Files’ denotes strange paranormal phenomena while the German scientist who discovered X-rays in 1895 named them ‘X-rays’ because the science behind them was unknown. STATION X was the code-name for Bletchley Park, the ultra-secret headquarters of Britain’s Second World War code-breakers. Although we make positive connotations with Bletchley Park, code-breaking is hacking which we associate with illegal entry – so the name may still make us feel uncomfortable.

In contrast, when presented in liquid metallic fonts, X signifies hi-tech precision technology, e.g. the X-planes airplanes and rockets, the Jaguar X-Type, BMW X5, Mac OS X and iPhone X.

X can also be used in positive ways. For example, we use x every day in our messages to one another. In lowercase ‘x’ means ‘thanks’, or ‘I like you’; ‘xxx ‘ means ‘I love you’.
The colour of text is important too. In red and gold, X can be glitzy and entertaining eg The X-Factor, or it can be festive, such as Happy Xmas. But a red cross on its own also signifies that something is incorrect or wrong. Red X’s are often used in the porn industry so they should be used with caution in public spaces!

The present Xscape logo is blue on silver. Xscape original signage captureBlue represents the sky and sea; the colour that most symbolises escape from everyday pressures. The sea often glistens with silver, a colour that is universally attractive and welcoming. Also the shape of the X is elegant, stretched and energetic; it symbolises exercise and health. These features are the whole point of MK’s Xscape, so in my opinion the original blue logo is clever, appropriate, attractive and perfectly adequate. It’s an appealing feature on the MK skyline.

Xscape's new logo

Xscape’s proposed new 11m x 11m illuminated sign in ‘Galano Grotesque’ font

Of course, some people may like the proposed solid X, but I suspect many people will associate it with negative meanings and find it repellent.  If there has to be a massive X on the building I’d suggest an elegant font in pale blue illuminated glass. But do we really need it?”

To comment on this planning application you can email MK Council’s case officer andrew.pommells@milton-keynes.gov.uk quoting ref number 18/01456/ADV. Or log onto MK Council’s planning portal to read details and file comments direct.

Parks Trust drops ‘eye-sore’ billboards in Campbell Park, Milton Keynes


18/06/18
The Parks Trust has withdrawn a controversial application to plant two huge billboards at the gateway to Campbell Park after irate residents described them as “completely over the top and tasteless” and “an acute waste of money”. One objector said “We are talking about Campbell Park, the serene heart of MK where sheep graze, not Blackpool Pleasure Beach!”

Campbell park signs

Mock-up of the two billboards

According to the Parks Trust the two billboards, each covering four square metres, would be “large enough to be visible from across the V8 grid road, encouraging visitors to cross the pedestrian bridge and visit their premiere city centre green space and the MK Rose.”

campbell park sign rear Capture - Copy

The billboards would also obscure views of CMK

But landscape architect Neil Higson, who originally designed much of MK’s landscape, warned that “this brash act of commercialism” could have the opposite effect. Ward Councillor Ric Brackenbury told planning officers he had been “inundated” with complaints from residents and was concerned that the billboards could set a precedent.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE
Landscape architect Neil Higson, 2nd left, walking in Campbell Park

Xplain has welcomed the Parks Trust’s decision to reconsider its plans and hopes that it will let the quality of the landscape speak for itself. With lots of new development arriving around Campbell Park, including Hotel La Tour, the upgraded MK Gallery and the new Campbell Wharf marina there will be more than enough people to visit this beautiful park.

And it’s not only locals who appreciate Campbell Park.frosty morningWinter in Campbell Park (c) Caroline Brown

“It is one of the largest and most imaginative parks to have been laid out in Britain in the later 20th Century and is probably of national significance,” says a recent study by the Bucks Garden Trust. “The detail of the materials, types of horticultural features and planting all work together with the natural and artificial topography to produce an outstanding, unified design.”*

*’Understanding Historic Gardens in Bucks; Campbell Park, Feb 2018′ by the Bucks Garden Trust.

“I will not be forcing another Hub on CMK” vows senior Milton Keynes Councillor on Saxon Gate issue


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.

Saxon Gate montage

Xplain’s mock up of Hub-scale development on Saxon Gate

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.

16551186171_9b5c6b1c2f_z

Saxon Court – part of MK’s modern heritage. (c) Iqbal Alaam

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

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

“What butchers!” The Milton Keynes Car-buncle moves closer to reality.


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.

A landscape tragedy, CMK

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Intu tries to stop Guardian journalist in Milton Keynes. Could you be next?


Did you know that retail giant Intu can stop you using the public concourse in Midsummer Place? Reasons include: wearing a hood, having a dog, sitting on something, shouting or anything else they decide is “inappropriate behaviour”.

your pavement - or theirs?

your pavement – or theirs?

Now the same business is preparing to privatise even more public space in the heart of Milton Keynes.
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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

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‘Scrub’ fit for parking or precious green space in Milton Keynes?


Tarmac or trees? Norfolk House, CMK (c) HvA

2nd garden for the chop between Norfolk House & YMCA housing, CMK (c) HvA

6 Feb 2016 According to its owners it’s a ‘poorly connected’ piece of grass and scrub which they need for executive parking. According to ecologists, landscape architects and experts of 20th century architecture, it is part of the living fabric of Britain’s most remarkable New Town – Milton Keynes – and should not be destroyed. 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!