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.
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.
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.
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
MK Council is promoting their idea of ‘Renaissance’ for CMK with the image below. Find out more at today’s drop-in session at Acorn House, Midsummer Boulevard, MK9 3HP, 4.00 – 6.00, 6 March, including plans for a new university opposite Sainsbury’s.
MKC says, “Some early projects will help to deliver Renaissance:CMK’s, including the redesign of the Midsummer Boulevard East area south of The Centre:MK and the development of a “Gateway to MK” in the Station Square area. Other projects include the proposed Hotel LaTour development, the development of additional private rented sector housing at the Wyevale site (D4.4) and the Stirling development at blocklet B3.3N.”
The Council’s controversial option for replacing Saxon Court with a much larger development has also been cited as supporting Renaissance CMK.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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:
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
Back in 2014 there were so many objections to Hammerson’s sketchy plans to replace The Point with a giant exploding Toblerone (ok, a glorified retail shed) that, although they won outline planning permission, it came with conditions.The retail giant was told it had to listen to local people and produce an approved Design Code before filing the final, detailed plans. MK Council used this condition to ensure that local people had a real say in designing a decent replacement for this much-loved building in Central Milton Keynes.
But Hammerson did nothing of the sort. In fact, they did nothing for 3 long years while The Point crumbled away. Then, with their outline consent about to expire, the giant woke up. Arguing that this condition ‘artificially shortened’ the 3-year deadline to submit final plans they asked if they could put the cart before the horse. In other words, they wanted to file detailed plans first and the design code sometime thereafter. And instead of letting the application lapse, as it otherwise would, officers agreed.
So now Hammerson has up to two more years to sit on their assets which are obviously worth far more with planning permission than without.
Certainly, we can expect them to file a detailed ‘reserved matters’ application by the deadline of 17th Feb (their architects must be on overtime). But once filed, is it really likely they’ll listen to local people who might want a very different design code?
To Xplain, it looks as if MK Council has shown its teeth – only to hide them behind a wobbly smile.
Published 29 Jan 2018
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.
“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…
20 Jun. 17
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.
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.
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.