Category Archives: trees at risk in Milton Keynes

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.

FURY AS “MADMEN” AT MILTON KEYNES COUNCIL PURSUE PARKS FOR CASH POLICY


Feb. 2015

Furious residents have accused MK Council of greedy land-grabbing after it added children’s play parks, allotments, wildlife corridors and community gardens onto a late list of potential sites for infill housing – and then published the list for consultation on the say-so of a single Cabinet member.

The big question is why, when MK is expanding on all sides and thousands of new homes are already in the pipeline?

The suspicion is growing that the Labour-run Cabinet, facing economic turmoil, is making a ‘dash for cash’ and attempting to strip MK of its green assets. Ironically, many sites are in disadvantaged areas and this shock move comes just as the City of Trees is approaching its 50th anniversary, winning plaudits for the quality of its landscape design.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREAlthough the Cabinet insists that the list, or ‘Site Allocations Plan’, is just going out for consultation, other Councillors are so alarmed at the selection process they have ‘called it in’. It goes to the Executive Scrutiny panel this Thurs, 26 Feb, 7.30 at the Civic Offices in CMK.

Angry residents are expected to fill the public gallery as they anxiously wait to hear if the List is thrown out, upheld, or sent back for revision.

This housing proposal strikes at the heart of Milton Keynes and New Town urban planning. If MK Council gets away with cramming new houses onto precious green areas such as this, nowhere is safe.
These are not scraps of leftover land or brownfield sites suitable for regeneration. They are open green spaces that were carefully designed into the fabric of Milton Keynes, improving the quality of life for all. Even Station Square, the gateway to Central Milton Keynes, is not immune. CMK’s last, great remaining civic space has been earmarked for infill with 97 flats.

Local resident Liz Green tells Xplain:
“I think I am living in a town run by madmen. Where on earth are they going to build on next? As for building houses on the green areas at the back of people’s houses it is lunacy. That was one of the many things that attracted me to MK when we moved here nearly thirty years ago. I remember my daughter and all the other children playing out there for hours, especially in the warmer weather. I’d just call out of the back gate for her to come in. She has fond memories of untold freedom playing outdoors. If they build on these areas future generations will never have that pleasure.”
One of MK’s original architects, Jon Muncaster, says “Even to suggest that these sites should be built on shows an alarming lack of understanding by the authors (presumably professionals?) of the planning and design principles of the original layouts. They provide much more than what the authors of [the Plan] dismissively refer to as ‘some amenity value’ and if they proceed, all coherence and credibility of the grid square planning will be smashed.”

Sites include green spaces in Walnut Tree, Emerson Valley, Conniburrow, Springfield, Wolverton, Stony Stratford, Stantonbury and many more. For an interactive map of sites up for housing follow link to MK Web.

Please help us stand up for MK and attend the Council meeting this Thursday 26 Feb. 7.30, in the main Council Chamber, Civic Offices (next to Natwest Bank, Silbury Blvd) CMK. Or contact us for more info.

 

A TRAGIC END TO CENTRAL MILTON KEYNES?


Opposition is growing to the massive multi-storey car park slated for Central Milton Keynes, which, if permitted, would blight a particularly lush and promising part of MK. In this guest column for Xplain, design historian Carola Holz considers its impact.

A TRAGIC END TO CENTRAL MILTON KEYNES?

By Carola Holz

Listed shopping building reflects nature.

The much-loved shopping building reflecting nature.

Twenty years after Prince Charles’ criticism of modern British architecture the term ‘carbuncle’ has regrettably returned in the current debate about a proposed multi-storey car park in Central Milton Keynes. The site is at the eastern end of the Milton Keynes Shopping Building and, crucially, next to Campbell Park.

Campbell Park - moments away from  eastern CMK

Campbell Park – next to  east end of CMK

Since the practical aspects of the project have been discussed elsewhere, this article expresses views purely from a design history perspective.

The ‘much-loved friend’ this time round is not an iconic national gallery in London, but a modernist icon at the heart of Central Milton Keynes; the shopping centre. Built in the late seventies it follows the tradition of Miesian architecture with its steel-frame construction; an elegant skeleton on a 600 mm planning grid with glass cladding. Reflecting glass panes are used to reflect internally the extensive landscaping of the arcades, a carefully chosen selection of hardy and non-hardy plants in accordance with daylight supply, and externally the plane trees of the city centre.

Landscape architecture was essential to all planning in Milton Keynes. The integration of the largest building in the city centre into the strictly symmetrical street layout was paramount to the architects’ plans and those of the urban planners at the time. The formality of the street layout is emphasised by four rows of London planes running alongside the boulevards. At the eastern end, where the building is set back, two additional lines of trees underline the symmetry of the planting scheme. The carefully designed landscape architecture extends into the adjoining ground level car park and provides a link to Campbell Park.

CMK's distinctive boulevards

CMK’s distinctive landscape (c) Mark Coster

Visitors driving up to the shopping centre from the east see the building slowly emerging behind the trees. The reflecting glass panes effectively smooth its modernist appearance by reflecting their green surroundings. The building is part of its ever-changing natural surroundings; a beautifully finished, easy to understand ‘bone structure’ with the unoppressive sense of a sheltering canopy.

However, when the shopping centre was Grade II listed in 2010 the owners lost no time in making their disappointment known, claiming that the decision would impact on the future evolution and growth of the shopping centre. Now they are proposing a very unsympathetic design for a multi-storey car park which simply fits in with their ill-conceived requirements for more parking spaces.

If anyone expected that Grade II listing would result in a respectful new interpretation of the iconic original – they could not have been more mistaken. Despite claiming to have based the structure of the car park facade on the 600 mm grid, the simple elegant structure and unique features of the current building are not at all apparent in the architects’ plans. Perhaps because their grid pattern is filled with opaque, multi-coloured elements this massive car park appears as one impenetrable block.

JL carpark 3DIt de facto obstructs views onto the original facade of the Listed building and bears no link whatsoever to the surrounding landscape. Despite claiming to keep the existing landscape features, closer examination of the plans reveals that a line of trees north of the new building would be removed, thus disturbing the carefully laid out symmetry of landscape architecture at this end of CMK.

If the original building said ‘I’m in tune with nature around me’, this new project shouts domination and self-importance, not only ignoring landscape features but also a nationally important and ‘historic’ building in our city.

It is not just a carbuncle; it is also a door stop. A dead end to any future integration with Campbell Park, and the end of civic aspirations for an iconic building or feature which would complete this crucial part of Central Milton Keynes in a respectful and sympathetic manner.

This attractive street fronting Campbell Park would be choked with car park traffic

This attractive street fronting Campbell Park would be choked with car park traffic (c) Mark Coster

FOR AN EASY WAY TO SUBMIT YOUR VIEWS TO MK COUNCIL OR FIND OUT MORE, PLEASE GO TO CMK TOWN COUNCIL’S WEBSITE, AND FILL IN THE SIMPLE FORM  http://cmktowncouncil.org/

 

Would you tarmac this garden in Central Milton Keynes?


WOULD YOU TARMAC THIS GARDEN IN CENTRAL MILTON KEYNES?

naturalistic landscape under threat in CMK

naturalistic landscape under threat between Norfolk & Ashton House in CMK

 

This tranquil garden is just minutes away from the busy shopping centre in Central Milton Keynes. In summer, blackbirds scuttle across the grass and in winter redwings hunt among the leaves. It is part of the original landscape designed for Ashton and Norfolk House; some of the best Modernist architecture in Milton Keynes.

This area captures the “less is more” philosophy of the founding architects who designed Central Milton Keynes as an organic whole. Their ambition was to create a beautifully clean, modern, rational layout for CMK, using a formal grid system, softened by greenery and a quality public realm. And it worked! Talk to office workers and visitors and many will tell you they appreciate this original part of CMK.

part of the original setting of Norfolk & Ashton House, CMK

part of the original setting of Norfolk & Ashton House, CMK

But the owners of Norfolk House want to turn the western garden into a private car park. Grass will give way to tarmac; open paths to barriers.

They tried this in 2012, in a bigger scheme which involved cutting down healthy oak trees. Xplain objected to the plans, which were thankfully refused. This time, no trees would be felled but the garden would be lost, and the scene dominated by parked cars.

The applicant says it is difficult to find tenants due to lack of parking. But there are a lot of empty office spaces in CMK. How will building 27 parking bays solve all his problems? Besides, on any weekday there are dozens of empty spaces nearby. These are mostly ‘red’ bays (£1.40 an hour) but purple bays (just 40p an hour) can also be found.

empty parking bays outside Norfolk House, weekday Nov 2013

empty parking bays outside Norfolk House, weekday Nov 2013

Please speak up if you want to protect this part of Milton Keynes.

Just email the planning officer with your views via mailto:anna.holloway@milton-keynes.gov.uk

Or post your comments on the MK Council planning portal. http://publicaccess2.milton-keynes.gov.uk/online-applications/

Search for Norfolk House or use application number 13/02276/FUL

This landscape captures the character of Milton Keynes. Please don’t let it be lost for want of an email!

Why are they chopping down two fine oak trees in Central Milton Keynes?


MK Council is planning to chop down two healthy oak trees in an old hedgerow running between North  12th and North 13th St, CMK. Why? Because an insurance company claims that the trees are causing subsidence in a nearby flat, and the claim against MK Council as landowner could amount to £50k. Officers valued the trees at just £15k, and decided they had to go. Oddly, very few people heard about this case and only one objection was lodged (from a partner at David Lock Associates, urban designers, whose property adjoins the lane.) Sadly, MK Council gave permission to tear up the Tree Protection Orders and have the oaks felled.

photo: David Chandler

Rough justice for these old oak trees?  photo: David Chandler

Enter one tree surgeon, with a conscience.

Instead of giving the Council a quote for axing the trees, one tree surgeon asked if was really necessary to fell the oaks, and eventually alerted Xplain. The trees are two of the few remaining oaks in Central Milton Keynes, forming part of the historic Saxon route known as Common Lane.  They also provide food and shelter for a huge variety of wildlife.

All too often, says the tree surgeon, trees are blamed for subsidence when the problems are really due to poor construction. In this case, cutting down the oaks will not only fail to solve the problem but probably create a worse one which is ground heave (caused by upsetting the water balance in the surrounding soil).

Xplain has put this case to a chartered surveyor, several architects and two more tree experts, and they all agree: felling the oaks is not the solution, and will probably make things worse.  

Xplain understands that another tree surgeon has now agreed to fell the trees, but it’s not too late.

Please email the leader of MK Council Councillor Andrew Geary asking for an urgent stay of execution while options are pursued. These include:

  • digging a root trench between the trees and nearby flats
  • investigating previous problems with this development which were due to poor construction*
  • challenging the insurance company’s ‘evidence’ that the trees are to blame

*I know, because I used to live there. Around 1986, just a few years after completion, ‘subsidence’ cracks appeared in flats near the oak trees, and NHBC had to pay out for remedial work. Significantly the trees were not blamed – surveyors put the problems down to inadequate foundations and shoddy construction.