Tag Archives: Open green space

The Midsummer oak: a sign of something rotten in the state of Milton Keynes


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…

Sad fate of Midsummer Oak

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?

Parks for Cash protest

Parks for Cash protest

The previous Site Allocations Plan, or ‘parks for cash’ fiasco, was withdrawn in March this year after Xplain led the public outcry.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

 

Is democracy dead in Milton Keynes?


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.

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Stand by the Plan rally, CMK

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 head of Parks Trust stands by the Plan

David Foster head of Parks Trust stands by the Plan

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:

cc:  xplain.mk@gmail.com
Subject:  Request SOS to Stand by the CMK Business Neighbourhood Plan
Dear Secretary of State,
I am writing to request that you stand by the CMK Business Neighbourhood Plan by calling-in the recent planning decision by Milton Keynes Council (15/01074/OUT).  This decision
– broke key policies in the Plan to protect public open spaces
– was biased because the Council chose its own policies over those produced by local people in the Neighbourhood Plan
– makes all Neighbourhood Plans everywhere pointless.
The Council’s actions are a breach of public trust among the 90,000 voters, like me, who believe in local plans for local people.
Yours faithfully,
(Name/address)
UPDATE: The decision was called in, and an independent planning inspector is holding a public inquiry at Christ the Cornerstone Church, CMK, from 6 – 13 Sept. Contact Xplain for more info.

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Parks for Cash melt-down in Milton Keynes. A win for the people but big threat remains.


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.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREBut the threat remains and there is new evidence that the 60 or so sites listed in the controversial ‘Site Allocations Plan’ is just the tip of a powerful iceberg.

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.

Q: How?

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?