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…
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?
The previous Site Allocations Plan, or ‘parks for cash’ fiasco, was withdrawn in March this year after Xplain led the public outcry.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!
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.
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’?