Category Archives: Secklow Gate Bridge

Prudential & Primark risk image in MK

Controversial plans to build a huge new Primark over public highways, a listed building and Market Square in Central Milton Keynes are doing nothing to improve the image of the Prudential pension fund, or Primark, who back the scheme. But this weekend the bosses of the shopping centre are repeating a risky step, which involves swamping an official public consultation with questionable submissions.

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

Secklow Gate flies through the Grade 11 listed shopping building in CMK above the popular market

The bosses of centre:mk, which runs the shopping centre, have already sent in  3, 000 postcards to MK Council, claiming they are “in full support” of their planning applications. And they’ve got staff out in force again this weekend armed with thousands more cards.

Lobbying is one thing but this is different.

Eye-witnesses say they are deliberately targeting young shoppers with little or no attempt to give them the facts.  But saying yes to Primark is not the same as saying yes to building on this particular site and damaging access, amenities and important Modernist architecture.

As one witness put it:

“I might, for example, sign up to a canvasser asking if I’d like a Premier league rugby club here.  But it doesn’t mean I’ve automatically voted for them tearing up Campbell Park to build the stadium!”

In contrast, Xplain volunteers have spent many hours talking to people of all ages and offering standard letters of objection. The letters offer rational, factual information for people to sign up to.

So far, we’ve delivered over 1,000 to MK Council and we’re confident this is the genuine voice of the people.

Crucially, wealthy businesses spend years lobbying for their developments, whereas we, the public, only have a few weeks to have our say. I wonder if Primark and the Prudential are proud of the centre mk’s behaviour? Do they even know about the risk to their reputation?

MK Market - a social hub under threat from Primark development

MK Market – a social hub under threat from Primark development

To learn more visit MK Council’s website in the planning section and search for Secklow Gate. The huge list of documents also shows public responses so far.

If you want to object or comment on the plans you can register on the planning site or simply email the senior planning officer via

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Retail wars threaten Milton Keynes

listing postcard 2 centre in trees with Endangered textThe centre:mk wants to demolish Secklow Gate, prime gateway to Milton Keynes. Hammersons wants to demolish the iconic Point, Britain’s first multi-screen cinema. And Legal & General, whose fashion quarter has already broken the back of Midsummer Boulevard, wants to kill it off altogether by building shops over an eco-friendly public transport and pedestrian route.

Why, when there are prime development sites waiting for investment nearby?

The answer is that CMK retailers are in panic mode. Spooked by new regional shopping centres such as Westfield, and new out-of-town centres such as MK1, at the local football stadium, they are prepared to blow up public highways and chop down trees simply to extend their existing retail fortresses.

It doesn’t seem to matter if they disrupt traffic, cyclists, pedestrians and the disabled. They are more than ready to turn CMK into a series of old-fashioned, inward-looking retail malls where people shuffle round from one chain store to another, losing track of time, the outside world and possibly the will to live.

Ironically, this is precisely the boring old model that the original architects successfully smashed to bits in the 1970’s when they designed MK’s astonishing shopping centre, now a Grade 11 listed building. Unlike the gloomy, fortress-like Arndale Centres and Brent Crosses of the day, Stuart Mosscrop’s sleek, minimalist shopping building was flooded with natural light. People were constantly connected to the outside world, both visually and physically, 24 hours a day.

A Zen-like, harmonious structure of steel, glass and marble, it still lifts the spirits with its living greenery and contemporary sculptures.

tropical plants flourish in the south arcade

tropical plants flourish in the south arcade

At first, the shopping building was not a privately owned mall but a top quality, weather-protected High Street for the citizens of Britain’s most ambitious new town. And for years it was a huge success, attracting people from all over the country.

As well as chain stores there were small shops, a market, pubs and generous public spaces. Queen’s Court, with its pool and fountain, and Middleton Hall, the size of Euston Concourse, were great spaces where people could relax, or catch an event, from sumo wrestling to ballroom dancing.

But times change. Our magical public building was sold and is now branded as thecentre:mk. Shadowy pension fund managers in London demand more and more profit. In 2010 Queen’s Court lost its superb fountain and gained some eateries instead. Even on a sunny day it’s now a bleak, empty place where people rarely linger.

Perhaps this is one reason CMK has slipped down the retail league table.

Retail bosses are perplexed. As they contemplate the sterile places they have created, they agonise about increasing “dwell time” and experiment with more free events. A sculpture gallery, temporarily set up by the MK Public Arts Trust near John Lewis’, was one of the better ideas.

At last, they seem to realise that people want more than just “shop till you flop into a Costa Coffee” malls. Ironically, this is something the original architects understood perfectly well, over 30 years ago, and designed into the architecture. The features are still there, waiting for the kiss of imagination to bring them back to life.

MK was designed on democratic ideals

MK was designed on democratic ideals

So what is the long-term answer? Tragically, spooked by current retail wars, the bosses of the centre mk and Midsummer Place simply plan to build more chain stores over public boulevards and gateways.

Judging by the objections so far, thousands of local people are furious. They don’t want to break up the highly efficient grid road system, build over Market Square and chop down boulevard trees.

If only the pension fund managers respected MK’s democratic history and principles they would not be making so many enemies. And ordinary citizens would not be fighting to keep the dream alive, caught, as they are, in the cross-fire of retail wars.

row over CMK Primark gears up

The centre mk continues to perform verbal acrobatics on the high-wire of truth. See this week’s MK News front page and website with the headline “Two sides prepare for war over MK Primark”.

Just how much are they offering to spend on this ‘investment’? Last December it was £30m. Now it’s £40m. They don’t say how much of the £30m (or £40m) would be spent tearing down Secklow Gate bridge, ripping out 50 boulevard trees, and making Midsummer Boulevard, the city’s main bus route, into a single-lane highway with a zebra crossing over it.

As for new jobs, last year it was 400. Now it’s 450.

How many jobs are at risk in the market? They don’t say. But the National Market Traders Federation is more forthcoming. They have warned MK Council that if the 220 market traders have to move from Market Square to the much smaller, inferior site proposed, MK Market would “wither and die”. That means an average of 390 jobs, and more than jobs, livelihoods, are at risk.

Yet if the centre mk would only turn their attention to the near-empty Food Centre, just yards away, which they also own, we could have it all – new jobs and old, public infrastructure intact, and a magnificent Grade 11 listed building left in peace. Oh, and for those that like it, a new Primark too!



FOI request refused re controversial Primark for CMK

Xplain’s Freedom of Information request to find out if MK Council have already had talks to sell public highways and land for a hugely controversial plan to build a new Primark in Central Milton Keynes has been refused. Why? Because it’s ‘not in the public interest’ to know.

Excuse me? We’re not talking about building on a vacant development site in CMK – although there are plenty to choose from! No – we’re talking about building over Secklow Gate, the prime gateway into CMK, building over a popular outdoor market in Market Square, losing an outstanding feature of our Grade 11 listed shopping building, damaging the city’s famous grid-road system, chopping down umpteen mature plane trees, replacing safe pedestrian underpasses for barmy zebra crossings over the main bus route – the list goes on!

They have, however, admitted they’ve already had talks ‘in principle’ to sell off public land, ‘without prejudice’ to the planning application which will be determined (by MK Council) in January. But they refuse to say more, or when these talks began.

Could it be in case the talks might date back to the murky months of 2011 before we exposed the scandal of Secklow Gate Bridge? After that £1m fiasco came to light, it turned out that senior figures at MK Council had stepped in to ‘hold off’ repairs to the fire-damaged bridge in order to ‘consider’ this very ‘development option’. Even though their legal duty was to reopen the public highway, not keep it closed in case a planning application landed on the mat, and even though the costs of keeping the bridge closed were spiralling out of control. But of course, senior managers couldn’t have been expected to know that, could they?

Well, shall we contest the FOI refusal, and try to dig deeper?

more heart & soul for CMK?

Here’s some potentially very good news for everyone who loves MK for its superb access and qualities of light and space (captured in the photo, hopefully) but who might like a bit more heart and soul!

The CMK Alliance has launched its new roadmap for developing CMK (including Campbell Park) for the next 15 years.  A lot of residents attended the workshops during its preparation so you might recognise some of your own wishes reflected in the plans.

Highlights include

  • retaining the city’s unique infrastructure
  • space for a new Market Hall & community places near Secklow Gate (in addition to existing market)
  • building lines to go back to their ‘classic’ position, keeping space for our trees, footpaths, cycle routes etc to flourish.
  • new civic square near the Point

More info in the latest article in the Citizen:

Please check out the alliance website where you can read the plan a chapter at a time, or download the whole thing & make comments.

It’s a meaty document but mostly written in plain English so don’t be put off!

This is Localism in action, and the more feedback we the public can give at this stage in the consultation the better.

Athough businesses are generally supportive, certain developers who want to build on Secklow Gate Bridge, Market Square etc are likely to be unhappy with aspects of the plan. For example, the very first policy states that the city’s infrastructure including boulevards, gates etc “will be retained.” That’s the default position. And although there’s a flexible get-out clause for truly exceptional developments, some developers may well wish to water this down so it’s easier for short-sighted, selfish developments to get through.

All for now