Category Archives: urban planning

£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!

Government ‘reforms’ could ruin Milton Keynes in 20 years


Civic groups have issued an urgent warning to MK residents that sweeping government plans to “reform” England’s planning system would have devastating consequences for Milton Keynes – Britain’s biggest and most successful New Town.

citizens protest in sunny local park threatened with infill development
Protests like this one will be futile if the White Paper prevails

In a bid to speed up house-building the government White Paper says that all land will be classified into just three zones: areas for growth, renewal or protection. Anyone living in a growth or renewal zone, which would include most of MK, would be powerless prevent the loss of local parks, landscaped grid roads, transport corridors or wildlife refuges since, under new rules, outline planning permission will be guaranteed.

“This is development by government diktat,” says Linda Inoki, chair of Xplain. “It means that our innovative city of trees could be choked by infill development.”

What’s more, local democracy will be cut to the bone because, after MK Council hastily draws up new zoning maps and design codes, residents will have no further say. Dialogue with developers, Neighbourhood Plans, planning committee meetings and even protests will be things of the past, as all this involvement will be swept aside by centralised rules.

Local groups are not the only ones raising the alarm. The Town and Country Planning Association insists that “ripping up the planning system will not deliver the homes we need” while the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds says that the overall thrust of the White Paper is “more about speeding up major planning decisions in favour of short-term business interests” rather than putting sustainability at the heart of planning reform.

Please help us save MK by sending your own message to the government and to your local MP (Iain Stewart for MK South iain.stewart.mp@parliament.uk or Ben Everitt for MK North ben.everitt.mp@parliament.uk) by 29th October.

Here is a suggested letter, but please use your own thoughts and words if possible. Submit via www.gov.uk/government/consultations/planning-for-the-future or email planningforthefuture@communities.gov.uk

Tearing up the current planning system as proposed in the current White Paper will not deliver the affordable homes we need, and will not deliver sustainable, quality development which is crucial for people, the planet and wildlife. Please make the following changes to the White Paper:

  1. Localism needs to be retained, building on the work of Neighbourhood Planning which has been so successful in Milton Keynes. Don’t throw away all this progress which has found new sites for housing and produced locally sympathetic policies. Volunteers have spent huge amounts of time and effort creating Neighbourhood Plans, which have reduced planning battles and improved development standards.
  2. MK has a healthy supply of housing land and 16,000 new homes with planning approval. But we are waiting for developers to build all these homes. The problem with housing delivery is therefore not democratic involvement in the planning system but developers who keep land in ‘banks’ and control the housing supply to maximise demand and profits. Instead of giving builders automatic planning permission for infill development, as proposed, new policies should encourage them to build housing more quickly. Planning consents could be given deadlines before they expire and incomplete homes could be liable to Council Tax after a suitable time lapse.
  3. The duty of neighbouring boroughs to cooperate should be retained. Expansion areas just outside MK’s borders have a major impact on MK’s infrastructure, therefore cooperation, including sharing any funding from the infrastructure levy, is vital.

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.

Conservatives back ‘Village Green Revolution’ in Milton Keynes


Springfield space under threat, 2015

If Milton Keynes Conservatives take control of the Council in this May’s elections they have pledged to start a ‘Village Green Revolution’. For several years, MK residents have been struggling to protect green open space from crowded infill housing which many fear would create slums of the future.

Village green status can include green spaces that are used for recreation, dog walking, community events and as wildlife buffers. In MK, this adds up to a healthy environment with access for all. Achieving this status gives a firm layer of protection against inappropriate planning applications but, according to the Conservatives, “the Labour-Liberal Partnership Council has been fighting residents in areas such as Woolstone, Springfield and Stantonbury for almost two years, attempting to block village green applications and spending £100,000s of taxpayers money in the process*.” 

In contrast, the Conservatives say that they will voluntarily register any green space that fits the relevant criteria and is put forward with community support.

“This will make a huge difference for communities in all grid squares of Milton Keynes who are continuously worrying about when the next housing development will be proposed on their local green space” says Cllr Alex Walker, Leader of the Conservatives in MK, adding “One of the best things about Milton Keynes is our abundance of well used green space. We should support residents who want to protect their community, not fight them.”

The announcement comes in the week Cllr Liz Gifford (Lab), Cabinet Member for Place, finally registered a number of Village Greens in Woolstone, Springfield, Bletchley and Stantonbury after sustained pressure and in recognition that ‘public confidence in the protection of the named sites has been undermined [and] should be restored.’

*Residents’ applications can shuttle between the Regulatory Committee, Cabinet member and officers for years. In some cases (eg Old Woughton Parish Council) officers have recommended refusal based on legal technicalities which members of the Regulatory Committee have eventually set aside. All this rigmarole can be avoided if MKC decides to use its right, as landowner, to voluntarily register suitable sites under Section 15(8) of the Commons Act.

“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.

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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

Planning officers ‘for hire’ in Milton Keynes – but corruption risk ‘low’.


The people of Milton Keynes are used to madcap moments in the planning department, but the latest idea has got heads spinning. Go on the Council’s website and you can see a line up  of planning officers with ‘premium service’ booking fees attached. Now, instead of having a distant officer assigned to their case, applicants can choose their own. Prices for the new service range from £150 for a minor application up to £7,500 for a ‘super-major’ planning application, handled by a senior officer.

Fortunately the Head of Service, Brett Leahy, is not available for hire.

Mr Brett Leahy

Mr Brett Leahy, head of planning

But although Councillors who sit on the scrutiny committee feel that the risk of corruption is low, some have admitted to the local ‘Citizen’ newspaper that it doesn’t look good.

Of course, many applications are decided in public by elected committees rather than by officers working behind closed doors. But not as many as before, due to other controversial ‘improvements’ in the way applications are processed.

But surely, despite applicants paying extra, the great tradition of neutrality in public service is as strong as ever? Well, you might like to read a recent article on the Royal Town Planning Institute’s blog called ‘How One Planning Department is smartening up their customer approach’. The smart author says, “Now more than ever local authorities need to use all the commercial tricks of the trade to generate income and capture repeat business from satisfied customers.”

Would this be the same Brett Leahy that tried to gag objectors at planning committees while extending rights for applicants? Indeed it would!

 

 

 

 

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

Milton Keynes’ most important nature reserve threatened by land speculators


11 Aug 2017 

Linford Lakes Nature Reserve is a peaceful refuge for all sorts of wildlife, from otters to owls, but nature-lovers are in great alarm over plans to build 250 houses in the adjoining countryside. Although MK Council refused an identical planning application only this March there is a now a real chance that a repeat application will be approved.

Great Crested Grebes at Linford Lakes, by Tony Bedford.

“If this goes ahead, there will be enormous and irreversible damage to this very important ecological site and the surrounding landscape”, says Martin Kincaid, vice-president of the MK Natural History Society. He adds “We can think of nowhere in Milton Keynes less suitable for housing than here.”

What can you do? Read on…

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Labour leader defends “potentially explosive” study of open spaces in Milton Keynes which might be used for infill housing


22 June 2017

Last night the leader of MK Council defended a controversial list of green open spaces which senior planners have drawn up as part of the massive housing targets for Plan MK. Curiously, nobody seemed to know about the list, apart from an inner circle of people at MKC.

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“Slums of the Future” warning as Council chiefs target more green space in Milton Keynes


20 Jun. 17

Children’s play area New Bradwell (opposite New Inn)

Xplain has discovered that MK Council chiefs have drawn up a list of 117 sites for possible infill housing ranging from gardens for sheltered housing schemes in Springfield to children’s play areas in Wavendon Gate, New Bradwell, Wolverton, Woolstones etc. Even the one great civic square in MK – Station Square in Central Milton Keynes – is back on the list (‘suitable’ for 248 dwellings!).

Remarkably, the secretive “Urban Capacity Study” repeats exactly the same mistakes as last year’s ‘Parks for Cash’ fiasco when public outrage forced Council bosses to withdraw a long list of precious open spaces put forward for possible infill housing.

Yet again it seems that the Council has failed to be open, inclusive and transparent about the way it has drawn up such an important list.

Yet again they have put forward sites which are totally unsuitable for development while trying to claim they pass the initial test of ‘good urban planning’.

With planning permission already granted for 23,000 new homes in Milton Keynes, and Plan MK looking to push the city boundaries out beyond the M1, it begs the question – why are they trying to squeeze in 3,500 more homes by returning to sites which were officially withdrawn from this threat in 2016? Apparently, “Sites identified through the Urban Capacity Study help to reduce the number of dwellings that need to be allocated on greenfield sites in the open countryside.” So that’s alright then!

Have MKC leaders forgotten last year’s warnings – shouted from the public gallery – that this sort of short-sighted ‘planning’ would create “back to back housing – the slums of the future”?

Some of the 117 sites are genuine ‘brownfield’ sites, but having checked the list, Xplain reckons that many are not. Some will even need homes and offices to be demolished to gain access. It is as if officers have scoured the maps of MK, with little knowledge of what is on the ground, got out their crayons and changed green to brown.

Franklins Croft, Wolverton

If you are worried about the future of open spaces in MK please follow our blog, check the Urban Capacity Study and contact your ward councillors.

“I feel betrayed and beleaguered in continually having to defend our rights to keep and enjoy the open spaces within my locality,” says Sylvia from Stantonbury. “Is it inefficiency on the part of MKC’s planning department – the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing? Or deliberate deceit, with determination to get hold of these spaces somehow, some day, some way?”

To check which sites have been earmarked as possible sites for infill development you can download the Urban Capacity Study here.
https://www.milton-keynes.gov.uk/planning-and-building/planning-policy/urban-capacity-study

 

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“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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