Tag Archives: Milton Keynes

£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!

Residents urge Milton Keynes Council to reject nightmare homes


two massive semi-detached houses where one used to be

This XXL dwelling now dominates the scene

Residents on a quiet street in Milton Keynes are urging MK Council to take a firm line with builders who flout planning rules, warning that otherwise no road, avenue or close will be safe from totally unsuitable development.

The planning nightmare started in a leafy cul-de-sac in Heelands, which for decades was a pleasant close of self-build homes. However, some years ago a builder who had originally built a 4-bedroom house started turning it into two semi-detached dwellings – mostly without planning permission. One has two bedrooms and the other has six, which has effectively doubled the size of the original house. There is also a 1-bedroom ‘outhouse’ in the back, while the garage and most of the front garden have gone. This massive dwelling is now fronted by an unsightly car park.

Yet even though this was done without planning permission the cheeky builder filed a retrospective application to regularise the development in 2019.

Fortunately, MKC refused permission. The senior enforcement officer even went on to assure delighted neighbours that the unauthorised works would be removed.

But MKC failed to act. Unbelievably, it gave the builder a second chance, and in May 2020 it allowed him to resubmit his retrospective application which had been rejected the previous year. The issue is coming to a head at this week’s planning committee.

“The property is completely out of scale and out of place in this cul-de-sac,” explains Dr Michael Devine, one of the objectors. “Indeed, it would be best suited as a factory unit on some industrial estate!”

Robin Bradburn, local ward Councillor, has also written to the Council describing this as an “ongoing saga of planning avoidance, retrospective applications and even granted applications which have exercised the patience of many residents” adding that “the residents view [this] as a person who flouts regulations without consequence.”

Curiously, local residents seem to have a firmer grasp of planning law than the officers. They have been pointing out, to anyone who will listen, that according to the Town and Country Planning Act applicants only have one chance to submit a retrospective application for something they shouldn’t have built in the first place, and if it is refused, that’s it. Game over.

Yet this applicant has got lucky. Not only did the planning department fail to spot his second attempt and throw it out but they are now recommending approval!

Residents say that they are stressed out dealing with this planning nightmare. But this Thursday, 16 July, they are relying on members of the planning committee to reject it once and for all, and to insist that the house is restored to its former state.

If not, what sort of message will it send out?
Dr Devine says “Unless this is refused, MK Council will be saying that anyone who buys a house in MK can convert it into two, larger dwellings without bothering to get planning permission beforehand, knowing they are likely to get away with it!”

Save Our Grid Roads!


Before and After - Countess Way (with text)

MK Council is steadily dismantling our famous grid road system.

Milton Keynes’ grid roads are clearly one our most important assets and vital to our success. The grid system consists of fast, safe roads separated from housing and commercial areas by beautiful landscaping with underpasses and bridges for pedestrians and cyclists to cross the roads in safety.

But over the past 10 years MK Council has made a series of disastrous decisions to replace our innovative grid roads with old-fashioned ‘city streets’. These have slower speed limits, traditional pedestrian crossings, and housing built right up to the roads, making for bleak, treeless landscapes.  These ‘city streets’ in the Eastern and Western Expansion Areas and around the Hub in CMK now suffer from the same problems as traditional towns –  parking,  congestion, and delayed

public transport.  (See ‘before’ and ‘after’ images from Broughton in the Eastern Expansion Area.)

Despite MK Council saying it has “learned lessons” it still on the same destructive path.  In a recent consultation 98.5% of MK citizens who responded objected to building more pedestrian crossings and voted for underpasses to be built between the Western Expansion Area and the rest of MK. Yet MK Council leaders have ignored public opinion. They have decided to keep millions in the bank gained from new housing development and build cheaper pedestrian crossings over busy grid roads (H4 Dansteed Way and V4 Watling Street) and to reduce the speed limit to 40 mph. Result? Danger, delays and traffic jams.

If you want to keep our classic grid road network quick, safe and green, please send an urgent message to all three political leaders in MK.

 

Please tell MK Council you want to save our grid road system by emailing the leaders of the three parties who collectively run MK Council:

peter.marland@milton-keynes.gov.uk

(Labour leader of the council)

douglas.mccall@milton-keynes.gov.uk
(Lib Dem leader in an alliance with Labour)

alex.walker@milton-keynes.gov.uk

(Conservative opposition leader)

No more City Streets!

●       No more dangerous pedestrian ‘Toucan’ crossings

●       No more housing built next to busy roads

●       No more concrete jungles

Below: “City street” Countess Way (top) was once part of the Chaffron Way grid road (below) before MK Council dismantled it. Is this the future we want for MK?

 

Is ‘X’ the worst symbol for Milton Keynes?


Xscape wants to fix a massive black ‘X’ on its famous façade in Central Milton Keynes.

Xscape elevation

Some people say the 11 x 11 m (33 x 33 ft) sign will feel menacing – like a Nazi swastika on a Luftwaffe hangar. Others say it’s just an exercise in corporate branding.

In this guest column for Xplain, social psychologist Linda Corlett explains the remarkable power of X – for good or ill.

“Symbols and signs often evoke emotions that are triggered by our past associations with them. ‘X’ is a curious letter because it’s one of the few letters that is used alone. Historically it has portrayed negative and positive meanings as well as mystery.
Children in our part of the world grow up in an education system where a red ‘X’ denotes incorrect schoolwork. This is perhaps the earliest association we have with X where it triggers negative emotions.

When X it is printed as a CAPITAL letter, in BLACK and printed in BOLD, its meaning can be negatively interpreted because historically it is commonly associated with symbols of evil, torture, danger and death. For eg:

basic swastika

image courtesy Wikipedia

SWASTIKA X – the most nihilistic symbol of all; when the Nazis adopted this ancient symbol of life they turned the swastika into the very essence of hatred and evil. In Germany, its use is outlawed unless it’s for legitimate purposes such publishing articles like this!
SKULL AND CROSS BONES X – this is the universal warning symbol of death by poison.

skull, crossbones

Image courtesy acclaimclipart.com

CAMP X – the Second World War training camp that taught sabotage, explosives-making and silent killing.

CRIME X – X is used to mark the scene of a murder.

GRAPPLE X was the code-name for Britain’s first thermo-nuclear weapons test in the Pacific Ocean. Grapple X nuclear test Christmas Island 1957
XXXX denotes macho bravado as in ‘who gives a F**K?’ The clothing industry uses X to describe increasing degrees of ‘fatness’ eg. XL, XXL, XXXL.

X-RATED signs denote pornography, the illicit and forbidden. X-rated graphicDRUGS which include the letter X in their names often have negative associations, eg Zovirax – blisters and cold sores, Ziprexa –schizophrenia, Xylocaines – pain, Xarelto – blood clots.

X can also be used as a symbol of protest.

For example, Malcolm X was born as Malcolm Little but famously replaced his slave-era surname with a capital ‘X’ to symbolise stolen identity and the fight for justice. Here, X reminds us of a torturous time in history.

X is also used to symbolise the mysterious or unknown: ‘The X Files’ denotes strange paranormal phenomena while the German scientist who discovered X-rays in 1895 named them ‘X-rays’ because the science behind them was unknown. STATION X was the code-name for Bletchley Park, the ultra-secret headquarters of Britain’s Second World War code-breakers. Although we make positive connotations with Bletchley Park, code-breaking is hacking which we associate with illegal entry – so the name may still make us feel uncomfortable.

In contrast, when presented in liquid metallic fonts, X signifies hi-tech precision technology, e.g. the X-planes airplanes and rockets, the Jaguar X-Type, BMW X5, Mac OS X and iPhone X.

X can also be used in positive ways. For example, we use x every day in our messages to one another. In lowercase ‘x’ means ‘thanks’, or ‘I like you’; ‘xxx ‘ means ‘I love you’.
The colour of text is important too. In red and gold, X can be glitzy and entertaining eg The X-Factor, or it can be festive, such as Happy Xmas. But a red cross on its own also signifies that something is incorrect or wrong. Red X’s are often used in the porn industry so they should be used with caution in public spaces!

The present Xscape logo is blue on silver. Xscape original signage captureBlue represents the sky and sea; the colour that most symbolises escape from everyday pressures. The sea often glistens with silver, a colour that is universally attractive and welcoming. Also the shape of the X is elegant, stretched and energetic; it symbolises exercise and health. These features are the whole point of MK’s Xscape, so in my opinion the original blue logo is clever, appropriate, attractive and perfectly adequate. It’s an appealing feature on the MK skyline.

Xscape's new logo

Xscape’s proposed new 11m x 11m illuminated sign in ‘Galano Grotesque’ font

Of course, some people may like the proposed solid X, but I suspect many people will associate it with negative meanings and find it repellent.  If there has to be a massive X on the building I’d suggest an elegant font in pale blue illuminated glass. But do we really need it?”

To comment on this planning application you can email MK Council’s case officer andrew.pommells@milton-keynes.gov.uk quoting ref number 18/01456/ADV. Or log onto MK Council’s planning portal to read details and file comments direct.

Who will put down roots at the old Wyevale Garden Centre in CMK?


After 10 years quietly sprouting weeds the old Wyevale Garden centre site in Central Milton Keynes looks set for redevelopment. Aviva Investors and Abbeygate Developments have filed a new planning application to build 328 apartments on this prime site opposite Xscape. But they are not for sale. As more people give up the idea of buying their own home, or need longer to save for a deposit, the ‘PRS’ or Private Rental Sector is growing in popularity. One PRS scheme is already being built in CMK and this would be another. It is aimed at people who want a well-managed apartment building and are ready to pay for extras such as attractive lobbies and landscaped space.

The proposal is for two L-shaped buildings ranging from 3 to 12 stories in height. The ground floor offers flexible commercial space which would possibly attract independent outlets – something most people want more of in CMK.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

‘Vizion’, like the Hub, ate into CMK’s famous grid

There are clear similarities with Abbeygate’s ‘Vizion’ development, the younger sister of the notorious ‘Hub’. But crucially this new development would not eat into CMK’s unique grid layout, disrupting traffic and pedestrians and degrading the public realm. Instead, it would sit at a comfortable distance from heavy traffic, leaving the surrounding grid of leafy boulevards, ‘slow streets’, pedestrian and cycle routes intact.

The architecture is quiet and confident and although the 12-storey height on the corner of Secklow Gate and Avebury Boulevard might shock a few people this does, apparently, fit the Council’s Development Brief. Typically MK features include double-height colonnades to protect pedestrians from sun and rain.

A glassy, egg-shaped café looks towards the private courtyard garden which would be visible from the boulevard and occasionally be open to the public.

The materials are silver and dark grey brickwork with coppery metal panels. Most of the balconies would be flush with the façade which (among other benefits) reduces the amount of private clutter on public view.

To view the application go to MK Council’s planning portal re application number 18/01591/FUL

 

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.

Fresh workshop on The Point after MK Council raps developer for lack of vision


A fresh public workshop will take place on June 6th 2018 after Hammerson’s, one of UK’s biggest retail groups, failed to get their design guidelines for the new ‘Point’ approved by Councillors – despite the planning department urging its speedy approval.

new-point-image-00475511

‘Quality landmark’ to replace The Point?

Xplain, MK Forum and CMK Town Council waited three hours to make the case against approval at a late-night meeting of the Development Control Committee (DCC).

Xplain flatly contradicted Hammerson’s claims that they had fulfilled the Council’s requirement to produce a very high quality design in conjunction with local citizens. Linda Inoki, chair of Xplain, described how the applicant, “in total isolation from the community” produced their own Design Code which was designed to deliver the same, “garish retail shed” that triggered the condition in the first place.  Continue reading

What’s your idea of a renaissance for Central Milton Keynes?


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.renaissance cmk

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.

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

What’s ‘The Point’ of having teeth if Milton Keynes Council doesn’t dare use them?


Britain’s first purpose-built multiplex cinema (c) Mark Coster

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