As the American saying goes – why predict the future when you can make it? Take a look at this artistic short film by The Gray Circle produced to celebrate and question Chicago’s past and future for the Zaha Hadid pavilion. Daniel Burnham, the architect who built the Flatiron and other superb skyscrapers, wanted every citizen to live close to a park. In 1909 he published ambitious plans to make Chicago a beautiful city – only parts of which were built. MK may be a lot smaller and younger than Chicago but the parallels are there. Please let me know what you think.
14 Sept 2015.
A handful of Milton Keynes Councillors, “pushed” by supposedly neutral officers, have just shredded the most ambitious Neighbourhood Plan in the country – less than 100 days after it won a historic, landslide vote at a public referendum.
Despite town planners, town councillors, business leaders and local people urging MK Council to ‘Stand by the Plan’ MK Council has failed the public at its very first test. If democracy isn’t dead in Milton Keynes it’s certainly on life support!
The crisis has been triggered by a rogue planning application by retail giant ‘intu’ to build over public open space and infrastructure that is clearly protected in the CMK Business Neighbourhood Plan. Even though intu could have built their new shops nearby, without flouting the CMK Plan, they lobbied hard and got their own way. This amounts to a land-grab, which slashes public rights of way and space set aside for a new public transport route by 40%.
Only two councillors, John Bint (Conservative) and Chris Williams (Lib-dem), stood by the Plan and voted against intu’s proposals. The others betrayed the trust of 90,000 people and nearly 400 businesses who voted ‘Yes’ for the Plan and for a decent, joined-up development strategy that would have brought thousands of new homes and jobs to Milton Keynes.
Unless we urgently ask the Secretary of State to overturn this unsound decision it means that:
- No neighbourhood plan in the entire country, let alone in Milton Keynes, is worth the paper it’s written on.
- No public open space, green or otherwise, is safe from infill development.
- No grid road, boulevard, public square or public parking area is safe either
- And MK’s unique, master-planned city of trees is once again open to attack from poor, short-term, piecemeal development, whether for housing, retail, offices or leisure.
Business leaders who voted for the Plan are reportedly dumbfounded.
David Foster, chief executive of the Parks Trust (which owns a third of all land in CMK) didn’t pull his punches. Before making their decision he told the planning committee that “Neighbourhood plans are designed to provide much needed clarity to investors and developers, and reassurance to residents that the right types of development will be built in the right place. What is the point of people all over this borough working so hard to prepare neighbourhood plans, and to get them through referenda and to get them adopted, if this is how the council treats them? It sends a terrible signal. We understand that the officers are trying to encourage development and investment. Hats off to Intu for wanting to invest in CMK. But shame on the Council if it disregards the business neighbourhood plan in such a callous way and allows a chunk of prime public space to be built over.”
As for local volunteers – who trudged miles delivering 35,000 information leaflets in the run-up to the referendum – their trust in the government’s promise of ‘local plans for local people’ has been betrayed. And the contagion is spreading. Campbell Park Parish Council has called an immediate halt to producing their own Neighbourhood Plan and other parishes may follow suit.
If, like many others, you believe MK Council has made a serious mistake, please write an urgent email to the National Planning Casework Unit asking the Secretary of State (the Right Hon. Greg Clark, MP) to review the decision. Here’s how:
Architect Derek Walker, who passed away in the early hours of Monday morning, leaves behind a remarkable legacy in Milton Keynes. Not only a pioneering City of Trees, built on a grid – but also an MK state of mind.
“Milton Keynes has the most passionate, informed, determined people who care about their city that I have ever seen.” So said Paul Hunt, head of John Lewis in MK, speaking shortly before the country’s first ever vote of its kind. This was the referendum on a pioneering plan for the future of an entire city centre – Central Milton Keynes.
Here is a plan that defies convention; it was not produced by salaried officers but freely created by local people; business leaders, community groups and experts in their fields.
And the very first policy in the plan? To protect the city’s unique, original framework of grid roads, leafy boulevards, safe pathways and green open spaces for future generations to enjoy.
This framework is just part of the legacy of Mr Walker, who assembled a talented team of architects to turn the windswept fields of Bradwell Common into a city. Less than 50 years later, CMK is a regional powerhouse; home to 3,000 residents and 35,000 workers, as well as wildflowers and birds.
On May 7th, just four days before Mr Walker passed away, nearly 90,000 people across Milton Keynes voted a resounding YES to keep this vision alive.
Yes, we were voting for growth. For well designed housing, innovative transport and bringing more heart and soul to CMK. But we were also voting yes because we believe in Milton Keynes.
The memory of Mr Walker lives on – in our blossoming City of Trees.
While CMK has leafy boulevards, plenty of chain stores and sheep grazing in Campbell Park, it still lacks a certain something. How about more local shops? Independent eateries? More places to hear live music, socialise or just relax without having to spend lots of money?
Now, all these things are a real possibility thanks to a pioneering Business Neighbourhood Plan, the first of its kind in the country, which goes to a Milton Keynes-wide referendum on May 7th.
Significantly, the plan has NOT been produced by officers at MK Council but by local people with a great passion for their City of Trees.
Local business people, architects, entrepreneurs, community groups and individuals have spent two years crafting the plan under the democratic banner of Localism. After all this (unpaid) effort they hope it will both boost the flagship of the regional economy and give it more heart and soul.
Highlights include a new Market Hall (perfect for artisan bakers), new civic square, more community centres and a sleek new public transport shuttle to get you from the Station to John Lewis and back in an easy hop.
180,000 residents and 7,000 businesses have been invited to vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to adopting this Plan at the polling stations on May 7th. But apart from people who live in CMK (or follow Xplain) most people still have no idea what it’s about.
Don’t miss your chance! Watch the short video on the Vote Yes for CMK website set up by local volunteers.
It might even encourage you to go to the polls!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Although 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.
It’s not just Xplain that is horrified at Hermes’ plans to fill a prime location between John Lewis and Campbell Park with a vast, concrete multi-storey car park. Many other groups oppose it too, and add that Hermes has ignored advice offered during pre-application consultations to improve the scheme. Here are extracts from just some of the objections…
Twentieth Century Society
“Overbearing in its scale and massing…The Twentieth Century Society objects to this application, the width of which causes direct harm to the listed [shopping] building by obstructing light to the side arcades. It is unfortunate that the design fails both to respect its context and fulfil the potential of the site for a carefully designed civic building on a civic scale.”
Milton Keynes Development Partnership
“MKDP supports Hermes desire to invest in CMK, but we are keen to enter discussions with them to bring back a more appropriate and commercially viable form of development – one which addresses the Council’s policy objectives for the site and aspirations for the city. In this respect, we have offered to pool our land with Hermes land at advantageous terms and to share costs in bringing forward a joint scheme. In our view, the proposal for a standalone car park should be withdrawn by the applicants or refused by MKC.”
The Parks Trust
“The CMK skyline is a key element in determining the setting of the west end of Campbell Park and this building will not enhance it – an opportunity missed”
Milton Keynes Forum
“This is the most outstanding site left in the development of the City Centre, which can be seen from the motorway exit to Milton Keynes. Therefore any development on this site should strive to create a memorable and important building. The building proposed is …a boring square block and has none of these qualities.The vitality of the City Centre is at stake.”
Central Milton Keynes Town Council
“The multi-storey car park is too big, access is hugely problematic and there are no active frontages. Furthermore, the proposal to use this prime development site solely for parking undermines the strategic objectives for CMK as stated in the Core Strategy and also contravenes many local and national planning policies.” The Town Council even produced New Horizons, a detailed alternative, to show what could be built on this important site (image below).
What do you think? Should MK Council heed the warnings and refuse this deeply flawed scheme?
Why? Because Hermes, the developer, plans to put traffic lights on a major bus route just to get cars in and out of this massive 1416-space car park.
Instead of providing several points of access off surrounding dual-carriageways, Hermes has insisted on using a short, narrow stretch of single-lane road (Marlborough Gate) as the sole entrance. Marlborough Gate is a vital link in the grid road system used by thousands of people every day.
After MK Council transport officers said the resulting congestion was unacceptable, and could even endanger the travelling public, the applicant has made last minute attempts to ‘square the circle’ by adding even more traffic lights and tacking a short queuing lane on the side of the road.
But it will only take 6 or 7 cars waiting here before traffic backs up to a nearby T-junction and jams up another busy bus route – Midsummer Boulevard!
Deliberately interrupting traffic flow through CMK, both for passing cars and thousands of bus-users, can hardly be described as sustainable development.
Especially when MK Council is desperate to wean people off their cars and into public transport in order to avoid grid-lock around CMK. Around 25,000 people travel to work in CMK every day, and thousands more are expected in the next few years.
Outside London, CMK is the biggest area of planned employment growth in the region. One of its biggest assets is free-flowing traffic. What is the point of damaging this regional asset, and sacrificing future transport efficiency, for a private car park which cuts across adopted strategy?
Ironically, MK Council has just paid transport experts to come up with fresh ways of using all the empty parking spaces in CMK and trialling new kinds of public transport.
The planning committee makes the final decision on 8 Jan. Please come along to the public gallery, Civic Offices, 7 pm, to hear the debate. Will MK Council use all the planning and transport policies at its disposal to turn down this damaging scheme? Or will it open up this parking ‘Pandora’s Box’?
PARKING BOMBSHELL FOR CENTRAL MILTON KEYNES
1 Dec 2014
MK Council is planning to hike parking charges in CMK: up from 40p to 50 p per hour for purple standard rate bays, and from £1.40 to £2.00 per hour for red ‘premium’ bays. The cost of buying CMK employee permits will also go up, as discounts will be cut from 50% to 25% by 2017/18.
These details are in the draft budget due for Council discussion 8 Dec. and open to public ‘consultation’ until end Jan. But last time the Council hiked rates to this extent, in 2011, they simply ignored warnings from businesses, workers and residents and the result was acres of empty parking spaces. People voted with their wheels. Trade fell in the city centre, and just as predicted, hard-pressed workers migrated to nearby residential roads searching for free parking, which still causes problems for people living near CMK.
However, if people do eventually pay up, this would raise Council parking income to £14m p.a. with some of the surplus used to invest in more off-street parking.
MK News recently launched a ‘Fair Parking’ campaign to bring the plight of office workers to the attention of MK Council. But has this given the Council the perfect ‘excuse’ to raise rates? The consolation prize is providing another 2,000 parking spaces. But where would they be? When delivered? And what form would they take? Hopefully not a lifeless, multi-storey car park on a prime site. Or a badly-lit, litter-strewn temporary car park, which makes a shabby welcome to CMK.
Local Tory leader Edith Bald has hit out saying the price hikes will ‘seriously damage the economy of the city centre’ and, by implication, of the entire region. CMK is the engine of the regional economy, but it’s already in danger of stalling due to competition from the uncontrolled rise of out of town developments (offering free parking) and failed parking and public transport policies.
This year, MK Council started a full parking review for CMK, promising an entire package of smart solutions to be revealed in 2015. But judging by this latest bombshell, let’s hope the current Labour cabinet, just like the Lib-Dems in 2011, have not been blinded by fool’s gold!
Note: xplain is not linked to any political party – we just tell it like it is.