Category Archives: trees at risk in Milton Keynes

Who voted for concrete works next to Willen Lake, Milton Keynes?


Despite public objections due to visual impact, noise and damage to the beautiful, sensitive setting of Willen Hospice and Lake, plans to build a concrete works and rock/aggregate sorting plant have been approved by MK Council’s planning committee (22 March 2016).

This 50ft high shed - just 100m from Willen Lake

This 50ft high shed – just 100m from Willen Lake

Several councillors were unhappy but felt it was better to approve the plans, and attach conditions about landscaping, noise monitoring etc, rather than let the applicant take it to appeal. In that case, a planning inspector might overturn any refusal and not impose so many conditions.

The applicant, Mick George Ltd, made a great show of how it trains its HGV drivers to drive safely and supports local charities but naturally failed to mention it was heavily fined last year for polluting pristine brooks in Peterborough.

Who voted and how? Cllrs Brian White, Rex Exon, Carole Baume, Chris Williams, Paul Williams and Hiten Ganatra voted FOR it. Cllrs Geetha  Morla, Andrew Buckley and David Lewis voted AGAINST. The chair, Cllr Andrew Geary, abstained – although this morning on BBC 3 counties radio he insisted he was against it!

Is there something wrong with the planning system? What do you think?

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Willen Lake issue on BBC and ITV news tonight as Milton Keynes Council decides


Watch out for reports on both BBC’s Look East news and ITV Anglian News tonight, 22 March, as MK Council’s planning committee meets to decide if the peace and beauty of Willen Lake will be preserved – or if a huge, noisy, ugly concrete works will be built just 100m from its shores.

Xplain set up the news coverage to raise awareness; as we met reporters this morning Willen Lake couldn’t have looked more peaceful. Tonight’s debate should be impassioned – and rational. Please come along to MK Council’s civic offices or click to follow our blog for news.

 

 

‘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

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!

 

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?

Milton Keynes Councillor denies threat to sell off parks is a “dash for cash”. But public anger rising.


MK Councillors faced a storm of protest on 26 Feb 2015 over plans to build infill housing on pocket parks, children’s play areas, allotments and even Station Square, the gateway to Milton Keynes.
The public gallery was packed as the Executive Scrutiny Panel reviewed Cllr Mick Legg’s decision to put the controversial sites out for consultation on the Site Allocations Plan. None of the residents overlooking these spaces had been contacted by the Council and it later emerged that the Council had no intention of writing to them about the ‘public consultation’ process either.  Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

Residents voiced anger and disbelief that open green spaces and civic squares had ever been considered for infill housing, let alone moved one stage closer in a process that  lacked transparency.

A 10-year old schoolgirl told the panel “Our parents won’t allow us to go to the other park because it’s not safe. A friend got killed trying to cross the road. We don’t want any more children killed because you want to take away our park.”

Senior officer Bob Wilson defended the Plan saying there was no planning policy to protect these sites. Cllr Mick Legg (Lab) lamely tried to insist that the best way of ruling out these pocket parks was to put them on the list without any prior consultation with residents.

However members of the Scrutiny Panel repeatedly challenged the legitimacy and logic of this argument.  Cllr Andrew Geary (Con) described it as a “gross misinterpretation” of planning policy, saying there is “nothing that leads the Council to erode the principles on which MK was built, including its grid roads and open space.”

Cllr Ric Brackenbury (Lib Dem) said “don’t be fooled by the word consultation” and warned that the Plan represents a threat to public open spaces across MK.

Significantly, it became clear that the Council’s planning department and Cabinet had had no obligation to put any of these sites forward for infill housing, but instead had chosen to do so.

Although the Site Allocations Plan is designed to fill a five-year gap in delivering 1,000 new homes, there are already 28,000 homes in the pipeline, and the first round of Site Allocations had found sites which more than plugged the gap, so why this unexpected attack on the City of Trees?

Linda Inoki, chair of Xplain, also addressed the meeting and demanded answers; “What is going on and who is responsible for putting hundreds, if not thousands, of residents through all this stress, without a mandate and without transparency?”

Finally the cross-party panel voted to put the controversial Plan on hold and give the entire Council chance to examine the matter.

The issue will now be debated on Weds 25 March, 7.30 in the main chamber, Civic Offices, near Library in CMK. Public welcome. Go to public gallery, first floor, via stairs or lift.

So the anxiety continues for everyone whose outlook could change from trees, grass and sky to ‘back to back’ housing, and for everyone who recognises this is a threat to the character and continued success of Milton Keynes.

 

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How people saved parks in Detroit


Here’s an inspiring story from Detroit where people power saved threatened parks. See Huffington Post. A topical lesson here for the people of Milton Keynes where civic spaces throughout the successful new town are suddenly under threat.