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Chairman’s Blog August 2020

Headline: Waste site booking system leaves us in a spin

LET’S talk about waste tips.  For here lies fertile ground for what can only be construed as attempts by Milton Keynes Council to make the simplest of tasks as hard as possible for the city’s beleaguered citizens.  Here is one man’s recent experience – let’s call him Mr X.

18 years ago Mr X moved to Milton Keynes and bought a new washing machine.  A couple of weeks ago said washing machine finally decided to give up the ghost.  Irreparable.  Dead.  Mr X bought a new machine and decided to dump his old one.  He had recently attempted to visit the waste tip in Bleak Hall and seen the notices saying it was by appointment only.  So he went online.

The first site that came up after a relevant search was MKFM’s which told him “Update: The booking form has now been taken offline – you can read more details here.”  Their page still claims that, but it is not true.  However, the phone number it gives as an alternative connects to the main council switchboard which, of course, is closed after 5pm and at weekends.  So, Mr X persisted and discovered that the online booking form is indeed live.

However, the site appears to require setting up an online account with the council and demanding a huge amount of personal information.  Once through all of the initial steps it only gives booking dates up to seven days ahead and if they are full; tough bananas. Mr X persisted and a day later when a new date was added secured a slot.

Of course he had to supply his car registration and was warned: “To make a booking (15 min slot) you need to confirm the registration number of the vehicle you plan to use, which site you wish to visit and your email address for the booking confirmation to be sent to.   You will not be allowed on site without your confirmation email and proof of address e.g. driving licence.”

There were several other onerous conditions too including: “Due to time and space restrictions, trailers are not currently permitted at any of our sites.  Residents with vehicles over 2m tall must book at the Newport Pagnell site.  Only bring manageable items you can dispose of by yourself as site staff are unable to help at this time.  If you require assistance you may bring one additional person with you.”  And here’s more:

Household Waste Recycling Centre Site Rules:

  • Wear gloves when unloading waste;
  • Wear sensible footwear (no flip flops or sandals);
  • Wear trousers not shorts;
  • Do not climb over the walls or into skips;
  • Do not use mobile phones on site;
  • No hot ashes or disposable BBQs;
  • No smoking on site;
  • Do not bring pets or children.

So Mr X made his booking, giving away his life’s details to the council and relaxed for a week knowing that eventually he would get rid of the dead Whirlpool.  But then Mr X’s partner’s car, the one whose registration number he had given, suddenly needed a new battery and possibly a new alternator.  It was booked into a garage and therefore was not likely to be available on the day in question.

So, innocently, Mr X called the council waste booking department and spoke to a charming and patient council employee.  Let’s call him Mr Y so as not to embarrass him. Mr X asked him to transfer the booking from his partner’s registration number to his.  A simple matter, you would think.  But, oh no.  According to Mr Y that was impossible. Serco, which runs the waste recycling site, cannot be contacted to make the change.

According to Wikipedia: “Serco Group plc is a British provider of public services and operates in six sectors of public service provision: Health, Transport, Justice, Immigration, Defence, and Citizens’ Services. It is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the FTSE 250 Index.  The majority of Serco’s turnover (which runs into hundreds of billions of pounds) is generated from UK operations, but the company also operates in Continental Europe, the Middle East, the Asia Pacific region and North America.”.

But it cannot change a registration number and so that booking is entirely wasted.

Mr Y kindly and patiently ignored Mr X’s shocked incredulity and offered a new booking about a further week ahead for the other car.  Meanwhile, by good fortune,  Mr X’s partner’s car was rush-fixed and, taking a gamble that nothing had changed the existing booking, they turned up with the dead Whirlpool and a small trolley to help with its movement at the originally appointed time.  The road to the waste tip at Bleak Hall has bizarrely and most inconveniently been made one-way, with half the road coned-off for ‘tip visits’ even though far fewer vehicles are now visiting it than before lockdown when there were frequently ten or 15 cars queuing ahead of you.  In fact, only one other vehicle was there on Mr X’s visit.

Oh, and no one checked Mr X’s driving licence or expensively printed-out booking form as required by the council.  The staff clearly were very comfortable being ‘low tech’ and sitting in their padded chairs majestically waving you in.

So that was that. Whirlpool dumped.  My simple question is this.  Does the council wish to make it so difficult to visit the dump, that the numbers will fall off a cliff, saving the council millions of pounds?

I think the answer is ‘yes’.  What do you think?  Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog July 2020

Headline:  ‘Agents of Change’ policy might save The Stables

Last month I wrote about Abbey Development Ltd and its plans to build housing right next door to that live-music entertainment jewel in Milton Keynes; The Stables, Wavendon, and make The Stables deal with any ensuing noise complaints; probably by being forced to close.

The Stables fought for a deed of easement of noise and won.  The existence of the easement appeared to mean that should a claim for nuisance be brought by a future occupier of Abbey’s land, that claim would be expected to fail as the occupier is bound by the deed and was cognisant of its existence when it acquired the residential unit.

Abbey Development Ltd now refuses to accept the easement and withdrew the application.  Then they submitted a second application.  Abbey is now seeking a certificate which would confirm, if granted, that despite condition 14 of the reserved matters approval requiring a deed of easement of noise, non-compliance with the condition by Abbey would nevertheless be lawful.

However, I’ve been advised that that unlikely champion of music venues, former Prime Minister Theresa May, may be awkwardly and erratically dancing to the rescue.  Her answer to the problem of so many music venues and nightclubs being forced to close after new housing developments complained about already existing noise was to invent the excellent principle that if the live music venue was there first, any adjoining developer/occupier is “the agent of change” and has to accept the situation, and it is up to the developer to mitigate the noise (e.g. with thicker insulation, noise-deflecting bunds etc) not the venue.  MK Council seems unaware of this new policy and did not require the development to have mitigation to protect The Stables.

Thus, the easement/covenant is not the answer apparently, as it is an unenforceable covenant trumped by the Human Rights Act which entitles each of us to be able to enjoy our house and garden.  Abbey Development Ltd may know this, but possibly feels that the easement/covenant will put off buyers.  Abbey is playing it oddly though, because if this goes to appeal the Government policy is clear and the developer must lose – he is “the agent of change” and will have to mitigate to protect The Stables.  On 18th January 2018, the Government announced plans to adopt “Agent of Change” into The National Planning Policy Framework and the latest Government guidance says this:

“How can the risk of conflict between new development and existing businesses or facilities be addressed?”

“Development proposed in the vicinity of existing businesses, community facilities or other activities may need to put suitable mitigation measures in place to avoid those activities having a significant adverse effect on residents or users of the proposed scheme.  In these circumstances the applicant (or ‘agent of change’) will need to clearly identify the effects of existing businesses that may cause a nuisance and the likelihood that they could have a significant adverse effect on new residents/users.  In doing so, the agent of change will need to take into account not only the current activities that may cause a nuisance, but also those activities that businesses or other facilities are permitted to carry out, even if they are not occurring at the time of the application being made.”

“The agent of change will also need to define clearly the mitigation being proposed to address any potential significant adverse effects that are identified.  Adopting this approach may not prevent all complaints from the new residents/users about noise or other effects, but can help to achieve a satisfactory living or working environment, and help to mitigate the risk of a statutory nuisance being found if the new development is used as designed (for example, keeping windows closed and using alternative ventilation systems when the noise or other effects are occurring).”

“It can be helpful for developers to provide information to prospective purchasers or occupants about mitigation measures that have been put in place, to raise awareness and reduce the risk of post-purchase/occupancy complaints.  Paragraph: 009 Reference ID: 30-009-20190722 - Revision date: 22 07 2019”

It goes on to say: “How can planning address the adverse effects of noise sources, including where the ‘agent of change’ needs to put mitigation in place?”

“This will depend on the type of development being considered the type of noise involved and the nature of the proposed location.  In general, for developments that are likely to generate noise, there are 4 broad types of mitigation:

engineering: reducing the noise generated at source and/or containing the noise generated;

layout: where possible, optimising the distance between the source and noise-sensitive receptors and/or incorporating good design to minimise noise transmission through the use of screening by natural or purpose-built barriers, or other buildings;

using planning conditions/obligations to restrict activities allowed on the site at certain times and/or specifying permissible noise levels differentiating as appropriate between different times of day, such as evenings and late at night, and;

mitigating the impact on areas likely to be affected by noise including through noise insulation when the impact is on a building.”,

“For noise sensitive developments, mitigation measures can include avoiding noisy locations in the first place; designing the development to reduce the impact of noise from adjoining activities or the local environment; incorporating noise barriers; and optimising the sound insulation provided by the building envelope. It may also be possible to work with the owners/operators of existing businesses or other activities in the vicinity, to explore whether potential adverse effects could be mitigated at source.  Paragraph: 010 Reference ID: 30-010-20190722 - Revision date: 22 07 2019”

So there you are then, The Stables.  Looks like your problems are sorted.  You’re welcome.  Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog June 2020

Headline:  Two wolves

AN OLD Cherokee chief is teaching his grandson.  “A terrible fight is going on inside me,” he says “a fight between two wolves.  One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.  The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thinks for a minute and then asks the old Native American, “Which wolf will win?”  The old man simply replies, “The one you feed”.

This is an old story but one that for some reason I have seen several times recently on social media.

You might, reasonably, wonder what this typically uplifting yet fairly cheesy story has to do with my column.  I’ll explain.  Sometimes companies act so unfairly that one can only assume the wrong wolf is being fed.  Such a company is Abbey Development Ltd and this time the wolves’ prey is that live music entertainment jewel in Milton Keynes The Stables in Wavendon, which is actually a charity, although that seems to make no difference to Abbey’s baying pack.

Abbey bought the land neighbouring the long-established Stables – the very land where generations of musically gifted children stayed and worked at the hugely successful Stables Summer Camps – and quite reasonably wishes to develop it for housing. However, in recent years whenever housing has appeared next to music or motor-racing venues the noise complaints have followed and the venues have been forced to close.  The Stables is licensed seven days per week until 2am.  Yes, it makes noise and no, there is no “We were here first” defence.  The original application was for 134 dwellings with the so-called affordable homes right up to the fence of the car park with no sound mitigation such as a playground, trees and other sound barriers or permanently-sealed double glazing facing the site.

It is almost inevitable that the people who eventually buy houses or flats here will be disturbed by the noise of the performances and the crowds arriving and leaving late at night.  After a wave of public objections to Abbey’s plans, The Stables fought for a Deed of Easement of noise and won.  The easement allows the venue to transmit noise at existing levels across the development site notwithstanding that the noise might constitute a nuisance.

The rights would benefit anyone lawfully occupying the venue and the freeholder and anyone occupying any part of the development site is bound by the venue’s right to generate noise at the existing levels.  Abbey would be bound to tell prospective buyers of the noise potential and unless it was prepared to specify proper sound mitigation – such as has been done with housing land alongside the M1 where a bund (or earth-mound) now exists sending a good deal of traffic noise skywards – it may have trouble shifting the units.

The existence of the easement meant that should a claim for nuisance be brought by a future occupier of Abbey’s land, that claim would be expected to fail as the occupier is bound by the deed and was cognisant of its existence when it acquired the residential unit. Abbey was told to reconfigure, and for a moment the good wolf won and it did.

However, Abbey Development Ltd now refuses to accept the easement and has withdrawn the application.  Then they submitted a second application.  Abbey fed the bad wolf and appealed against the easement using lockdown to force written submissions only.  A cynic, such as I, might assume that, by drawing this process out endlessly and at great cost for a venue currently shut due to Covid-19 restrictions, they are trying to drain The Stables of energy and cash in a time when it is only losing money. Its current legal fees are rumoured to have topped £100,000.

As we go to press it has just been announced that government planning inspectors have suggested that because of high public interest perhaps only a public meeting is appropriate.  We shall see.  In the meantime, may I suggest Abbey Development Ltd stops feeding the evil wolf and starts cuddling up to the nice one.



Chairman’s Blog May 2020

Headline:  Lockdown city will show its ‘bouncebackability’

SO HERE we are deep in darkest lockdown.  Businesses are seriously hurting.  Some shops will reopen but the number of businesses in deep trouble is expanding almost daily.  Might Debenhams, Oasis, Warehouse, even the whole of intu’s shopping centre not survive?  And what of government help and promises?

Businesses here in Milton Keynes are, as elsewhere it seems, frequently confused by the ever-changing bail-out schemes offered.  There is a good deal of confusion on who can claim, how they can claim, whether to furlough staff or not, what breaks are available on normally time-sensitive payments to HM Revenue & Customs and how to get loans from banks under the government scheme without giving away your true assets; intellectual property, buildings, land, equipment, trucks and cars.

However, these schemes might eventually settle down, one thing is almost certain: come the end of lock-down, businesses worldwide, not just in Milton Keynes, will never be the same again.  We will, I’m certain, see many once thriving businesses gone forever.  Closed down.  Kaput.  And that is a true tragedy.  Personally, I still miss Maplin… and Bunnings.

We’ve all heard voices, some whispered, some strident, asking whether the effects of the ‘cure’ for the COVID-19 coronavirus are worse than the effects of the ‘disease’.  Others are claiming all sorts of other devious motives for what has been happening; some totally bizarre, some definitely worthy of consideration. I shall, however, ignore them all here but please do your own research.

I prefer, in these pages, to be more positive.  I’m genuinely hopeful that of all Britain’s business centres Milton Keynes, with its ‘can-do’ attitude and world-leading ability to start new businesses, will prove itself the No.1 home for sheer bloody-minded, bouncebackability.

I frequently criticise Milton Keynes Council for its ability to blithely destroy those things we love about this extraordinary place.  And I might easily write this month about how they are planning to reduce all the speeds on our much-loved grid road system and install new at-grade crossings to disrupt traffic flow, their consultation on this having now closed.

I might describe how they plan to remove parking spaces in the city centre as our population doubles and build new homes with zero parking spaces and therefore no car-charging points.  But I shan’t go into that here.

I might mention how despite their claims about making Milton Keynes the most sustainable city in the world, we currently have zero electric buses when we should have 19 and how opportunities to get more government funding for them have been entirely wasted.  But you won’t read that here.  Oh no, I’m going to be far more positive in these difficult times.

Indeed, criticising the council is something I’m determined not to do right now, even though I’m tortured by the need to question why they’ve arbitrarily cancelled all green waste and food bins just as the entire population, pretty much, is stuck at home and other than watching Netflix and getting fat, is gardening.  Instead, I’m happy to report their oh-so-convincing reason for this apparent act of cultural vandalism: “Due to reduced staff numbers [seriously, can’t they find anyone right now who really, really, really needs a job, particularly as we are all still paying council tax?] and to protect the weekly collection of black and clear sacks we’re stopping food and garden waste collections throughout Milton Keynes after regular collections on Friday 3 April until the situation improves.”

I might ordinarily ask what exactly are people who live in flats supposed to do with their food waste?  Don’t those geniuses at the council think that they’ll hide it in other waste sacks or just litter the streets with it or, for those with gardens, dump it there?  Surely, both acts will significantly increase Milton Keynes’ notorious rat problem?

But no, not a word from me on any of that. I’m socially distancing myself from it all.

I’m sticking to bouncebackability.  That’s my theme this month and it’s one I truly believe in.

Good luck all.  Cheerio.

Chairman’s Blog March 2020

Headline:  Listen to the people at the heart of the plan

SO WE ALREADY have Plan:MK, the new local plan for Milton Keynes, which was adopted by Milton Keynes Council last year and sets out the council’s strategy for “meeting the borough’s needs until 2031”.

And, as observed previously, the council is already going to extraordinary lengths to ignore Plan:MK’s promises and commitments to maintain and expand those vital aspects of Milton Keynes which we, its residents and visitors, as well as visiting city planners from around the world, find so user friendly and so far-sighted.  These include our brilliant grid squares and grid road system, our separation of pedestrians and cyclists from road traffic on redways and not-at-grade road-crossings and the principles of a polycentric city.

You can, if you like, easily find the adopted version of Plan:MK, its updated Policies Maps, and associated adoption documents on Milton Keynes Council’s website.  But it seems creating, approving and publishing a plan which will then be totally ignored until 2031 is not a long-winded enough slap in the face for its long-suffering citizens.

The MK Futures 2050 Commission, a makeshift assemblage of ‘experts’ – some from outside Milton Keynes’ borders, as well as some locals who are ‘stakeholders’ – was established by the council in 2016.  It published its report with the rather Trumpesque title Making A Great City Greater, which included a recommendation to prepare a Strategy for 2050 that would take an even longer-term view of the future of the city, up to 19 years beyond the remit of Plan:MK.

I have previously commented on the six “big projects” suggested by its initial report and argued that they were generally totally innocuous; a sort of ‘Grandma’s apple pie’ of a report.  However,  it seems that things might now be getting more serious.

The MK Futures 2050 Commission has published its engagement draft of the Milton Keynes Strategy for 2050 which, it claims, “sets the way forward for the next era of making our great city greater”.   More Trumpery, I see.

It claims that “People are at the heart of what this Strategy is trying to achieve.  It is a strategy for everyone living in Milton Keynes today and all those that wish to live here in future.  We’d love to hear views from a wide range of people about the draft Strategy for 2050.”

It wants to hear from as many as possible and will be announcing events and opportunities to get involved on the website and on Twitter and Facebook.

As well as the web-based version at, they will also have copies of the draft Strategy for 2050 in local libraries.  You can email the commission at  It invites comments and feedback by April 17 – a ridiculously tight time frame.  How on earth are they going to hear views “over the coming months” when they are only giving us such a short time to engage?

Surely such a plan of such enormity needs to give the public much longer to read all the documents and/or to attend the various presentations before forming their opinions.  I am fascinated that there is no formal set of questions for this; just a vague request for  comments.  It is almost as if those in power have suddenly realised just how acutely dangerous it is to offer the public any kind of yes or no referendum.

Having read the draft of its Milton Keynes Strategy for 2050, I see that it has subtly changed its thinking from its earlier Making A Great City Greater.  My feeling is that while it appears to support the principles and importance of grid roads, redways and the introduction of an efficient, fast, affordable mass transit system – things I have long advocated – it is all an easily dispersed puff of lovable, heavenly-scented steam disguising its real intentions.

The suggested mass transit system is nothing of the sort.  It is just more buses.  Only this time two of them are stuck together so they won’t get lonely.  In its messianic and ill thought out plan, it wishes to restrict cars from using new bus lanes even if the buses are an hour or more apart.  It also, bizarrely, trumpets the planned Oxford-Cambridge Expressway which was due to transit Milton Keynes, a project that I understand is already dead in the water.

Its other suggested changes include moves to expand Milton Keynes in ways that differ substantially from the original masterplan.  It uses this mythical mass transit system to support non Milton Keynes-style housing expansion, forcing new high-density developments around bus stops with zero or near-zero car parking, does not promote the actual expansion of grid roads, redways and grid squares and punishes motorists relentlessly, attempting to force them out of cars onto buses and removes much existing city centre parking.  And all this despite the meteoric rise of new zero pollution electric cars.

So, let them know what you think.  Perhaps we should all specifically ask for a clear referendum-style ‘yes or no’ questionnaire for its main elements.  That would convert any vague and easily ignored inputs from the public into actionable instructions.  Here are some I’d like to see:

  • Should Milton Keynes double its population to over 500,000?
  • Should expansion areas include proper grid roads, redways and not-at-grade crossings?
  • Should all new homes have enough parking spaces with dedicated access to private recharging points for electric and hybrid vehicles?
  • Should expansion areas include grid squares with shops and employment areas, maintaining the polycentric city?
  • Should the number of parking spaces in Central Milton Keynes be increased in line with population increases?

How can they refuse this reasonable request?  After all: “People are at the heart of what this Strategy is trying to achieve”.  Cheerio.

  • In last month’s column I wrongly stated that the 57-hectare South Caldecotte site was owned by Milton Keynes Development Partnership.  In fact, it is optioned by property company Hampton Brook, which in February failed to secure outline planning permission for an industrial estate there.


Chairman’s Blog February 2020

Headline:  New chair must rise to the task

THERE IS a rather insulting song sometimes sung on football terraces.  It is sung by the opposition’s supporters when a team is playing appallingly.  It goes like this: “You’re *#@! and you know you are, you’re *#@! and you know you are”…

Milton Keynes Development Partnership, the wholly owned subsidiary of Milton Keynes Council,  is the body charged with disposal and/or management of land sold by the Homes & Communities Agency to Milton Keynes Council for £32 million in January 2013.  So far, they have had few successes and been oft criticised for what they have done.

Conservative Cllr Andrew Geary was leader of the council when MKDP was formed.  He told a newspaper in 2015: “We set up MKDP at arm’s length from the council so it could manage the asset portfolio.  It was designed to bring a revenue stream to the council budget.  Thus far it has failed to deliver that.”

And let’s not forget that, as MKDP is wholly-owned by a council, it pays absolutely no tax on any profits so it has a unique advantage over other property owners and yet is still considered by many as an abject failure.  Oh dear!

Now, after seven years of apparent lethargy at MKDP, the council has advertised the position of an independent chairperson for its subsidiary.  An executive who will earn £30,000 a year for working just four days a month.  Nice work if you can get it, I’m sure you’ll agree.  If this lucky new striker or midfielder, to continue my football analogy, was working full time they would be on £163,132 a year.  “Back of the net, son”.

MKDP’s other staff costs are not inconsiderable, either. In the year to March 31 2018, staff costs were £769,000.  In the year to March 31 2019 they had gone up to £967,000 – an uplift of 25.7 per cent.  I wonder how that was justified.  I will admit that their published profits went up in that year too but that was mostly due to revaluations on existing properties so it did not really take any property management geniuses to achieve that, did it?  To be even fairer, however, it appears that MKDP has tried to get more monies rolling in recently.  And yet even here, as previously outlined in these pages, their approach has been at best slapdash and at worst questionably competent.

One such is their planned 4.7 acres Caldecotte Site C Development Brief showing housing, offices and possibly a hotel just west of Brickhill Street V10.  MKDP knows full well that it simply must use part of that site for a link to a new bridge over the railway line which will also take land from another site it owns, a planned industrial development at South Caldecotte subsuming just over 140 acres of farmland.  Eventually it seems inevitable that MKDP will be forced to acknowledge this and then, of course, the value of its land will suffer.

In the meantime, ever unresourceful, it has totally ignored the opportunity to rent out desperately needed car parking spaces in Caldecotte Site C to workers on the Red Bull site opposite, apparently preferring to let it just sit there earning nothing.

Let’s hope that the new independent chairperson for MKDP, once appointed, will spend the majority of his or her four days a month kicking the comfortably padded backsides of the MKDP colleagues.

If any help is required, my number is above.  Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog January 2020

Headline:  All sides play to win in  the regeneration game

IN THIS ISSUE I have the rare privilege of touching upon the recent general election while having absolutely no idea of its outcome.  This is because my deadline for this column precedes the vote but by now we already know who has won and I hope you are content… although somehow I doubt it.

Of one thing I can be absolutely certain whatever the result.  Those whose chosen party lost will be screaming that the winning party lied, lied and lied and that those who voted for them were too lazy, too stupid or too selfish to realise before pencilling their voting slip how catastrophically wrong was their choice.

In Milton Keynes, another very important vote has taken place, in which selected residents of Fullers Slade decide whether their homes would be partly demolished and massively infilled, partially demolished and somewhat restored or left alone.  Funnily enough, they chose partly demolished and massively infilled.  This includes the demolition of 94 homes and 392 new builds.

However, might they expect Milton Keynes Council to now build far more than 392 new homes if what has happened at Serpentine Court in Bletchley is extended to Fullers Slade?  In Bletchley, residents voted for full demolition of 200 flats and around 400 new build homes. These have now, magically, turned into 659 at planning stage more than a year later.

According to outputs given to Fullers Slade, affected homeowners and tenants will only be informed that their home is to be demolished and will only receive individual offers regarding the planned changes to their homes “following the ballot, depending on the outcome.”  So, vote first then learn what you voted for.  Seems reasonable.  Not.  The vote went like this:

  • No redevelopment:  110 votes
  • Refurbishment + new homes:  61 votes
  • 392 new homes, refurbishment and estate-wide improvements:  209 votes
  • Turnout:  65pc

Many residents of Fullers Slade apparently believe that those in the 453 homes affected who got a vote (while residents in 163 homes outside the red line on the estate map did not) were arguably susceptible to being unduly influenced by piecemeal information and perhaps unfair inducements.  The green and empty as well as redeveloped higher-density land released by their vote is expected to raise enough to fund the extensive densification: 453 homes will become 751 (453 – 94 + 392).   However, only 58 new council homes and 55 new affordable homes, capped at Local Housing Association rents, will be available.

So, let’s look at these wild, unsubstantiated claims of undue influence and unfair inducements by some who lost the vote.  Let’s start with how it was that not everybody in Fullers Slade got a vote.  The vote excluded Fullers Slade’s residents living in 163 homes outside the red line because, as the council claims, they will not be directly affected by the changes.  Even if they will be living next door to building sites for at least the next seven years and the roads will be churning with mud, ripped up or closed.  So completely unaffected, then…

The council says the road layout will be changed while the 94 homes are demolished and 392 homes built.  “Option Three will take between six and seven years to be completed, following the submission of a planning application in 2020,” it adds.  And that planning application could take years.

In those households that got to vote, every resident aged 16 or over could easily outvote the sweet old widow with her cat living alone in a privately owned house in which she thought she would spend her final days but which will be compulsorily purchased from her and demolished.

But what about the words ‘unfair inducements’?  I accept that no one at the council has done so in order to get the desired vote.  That would be unconscionable and I would never support that accusation in any way.

However, the Secretary of State, Kit Malthouse, exercising powers conferred by section 30(5) of the Land Compensation Act 1973, enabled the Compensation: The Home Loss Payments (Prescribed Amounts) (England) Regulations 2019 in July last year.  These offer those displaced from council accommodation, for instance, or home owners made to move, home loss payment of between £6,400 and £64,000.

Only about 58 council tenant families whose homes are to be demolished will receive statutory home loss compensation and disturbance costs (legal fees, removal costs etc). The 36 homeowners whose homes will be compulsorily purchased and demolished will receive market value plus 10pc statutory home loss compensation and disturbance costs.  Working out the ‘market value’ of your home after its value has been blighted by plans to demolish it will be fun, won’t it?

You can see how freebies like compensation could turn the heads – and votes – of those facing grinding government cuts elsewhere in their lives.  It could mean a new car or essential nursery fees or food or new iPpads on the table.  You get the idea.  Those officially affected have been told they will be temporarily moved out for six weeks within Fullers Slade but this is at best unlikely.  They will be moved to temporary accommodation which could be nowhere near their schools, places of work or worship.  I hope they enjoy their government ‘disturbance costs’ because they are going to need them.

Are we out of Europe yet, by the way?  Oh, and happy new year.  Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog November 2019

EVERY month as I sit down to write this column, I genuinely try to find a positive subject.  Yet the rolling tide of ill thought out planning decisions apparently determined to destroy every last remnant of that which we, its citizens, find most attractive about Milton Keynes, conspires to invade my thoughts.  This column will be different, I swear. I have found a fascinating, uplifting topic and one which I am convinced will be both entertaining and illuminating.

The last surviving manufacturer anywhere in the world for vellum and parchment is here in Milton Keynes.  William Cowley was established in 1870 and still operates today in Newport Pagnell.  It exports vellum and parchment to every continent except Antarctica and its products are in use by major governments and major religious orders worldwide.  It is the material upon which the historical records relating to centuries of UK Parliamentary activity – including Acts of Parliament – are documented.

Vellum is formed from a complete animal skin such as goat or calf, by-products of the meat industry that would otherwise likely be incinerated.  The skin is salted for up to six weeks, then soaked in lime, shaved, scraped, stretched and the fibres are realigned in a highly skilled process known as ‘reading’ the skin.  They are then dried under tension.  Parchment is split skin, generally from sheep.

These products, unlike paper which fades, breaks up, rots, is eaten by insects or rodents, burns, washes away or disintegrates, can last for 5,000 years or more.  Both parchment and vellum are widely recognised as the most reliable storage systems for writing; they are fireproof, waterproof and insects or rodents won’t eat them.  Even tombstones deteriorate faster.  So those who regard their writings as a part of history can use nothing else.  Why wouldn’t, for instance, an author like J.K. Rowling insist on limited runs of her books on parchment?

According to noted conservator the late Chris Clarkson, of the Bodleian Library in Oxford: “Had early civilisations not used vellum that we can still read, our understanding of man’s time on the planet would be greatly diminished because you don’t learn as much from half a broken sandal and a pot.”

Even though William Cowley is the ‘last man standing’, its business is not without issues.  It once employed 52 vellum and parchment makers and now it’s down to just two: general manager Paul Wright and his apprentice.  The decline in its fortunes and the demise of every other vellum and parchment maker is likely because people are simply not aware of its products.

For instance, as recently as the mid-1970s graduates from top universities would get a parchment scroll upon graduation.  Even today these are often called parchment ceremonies.  Today for their minimum £25,000 student fees they get a piece of paper, often rolled up in a plumber’s polypipe with a red ribbon round it.  Great.  Not.

Yet for less than £50, local universities such as the OU, Buckingham, Cranfield, Bedfordshire and the new MK:U could offer beautiful illuminated parchment scrolls that any graduate would be proud of and which could literally last for lifetimes.  Come on OU, Buckingham, Cranfield, Bedfordshire and the new MK:U… let’s start a ripple in a pond that can travel worldwide.  The survival of the world’s last parchment and vellum maker is something of which Milton Keynes should be proud and support.


Meanwhile, indulge me, ever so briefly…

It seems that Milton Keynes Council is seriously considering some appalling modifications to transport links in plans for land at Caldecote Farm east of the M1 motorway next to Willen Road.  Willen Road north and south carriageways either side of the Marsh End roundabout will require the national speed limit of 60mph to be reduced to 40mph.   The carriageways on Monks Way H3 – one of the busiest roads into and out of Milton Keynes at the junction with the Marsh End roundabout – will require the national speed limit of 70mph to be reduced to 40mph.   The Marsh End roundabout will become a fully five-stage signalised junction with massive delays. Unbelievably, this will include a Toucan crossing on both of the east carriageways of H3 Monks Way to facilitate a new ill-thought-out redway crossing Monks Way.

I truly despair.



Chairman’s Blog September 2019

A SECRET BETRAYAL OF FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES.  I HAVE written previously about Milton Keynes Council’s plans for a new Eastern extension of Milton Keynes just over the M1 with no grid roads, no grid squares and the briefest of nods to redways despite every firm commitment in the new, now-approved, Plan:MK.  The plans cover approximately 440 hectares encircled by the M1 to the west, the A422/A509 to the north and Moulsoe and the wider rural area to the east.

The draft Milton Keynes East Development Framework Supplementary Planning Document, which had been prepared by the council’s planning department without extensive public consultation, was taken to a Delegated Decision on June 18 to decide whether or not to consult on the draft document for a period of six weeks.

As hoped for in these pages, the decision was called in by angry councillors and others. However, the council’s cabinet member for transport and planning, Cllr Martin Gowans, still decided to launch an extended consultation exercise for a slightly revised version to give parish councils and others enough time to have their say.

Thus, the public consultation runs from August 7 until October 16 this year, ending at 5pm.  Have your say at

Links to all relevant documents are also on that site.  One such document is the actual Draft Milton Keynes East Development Framework SPD July 2019.  In that document, one of my many correspondents has found this shocking phrase on page 40:

4.3 Movement Framework

4.3.2 The movement network must be designed to discourage car travel, so it should provide short direct pedestrian routes to key generators of movement such as bus stops, shops, schools, and other facilities.

Let me run this past you again: “The movement network must be designed to discourage car travel”.  What planet exactly are these planners living on?  Who or what gives them the authority to betray the principles that made Milton Keynes a model for new cities worldwide?

The government-approved Plan:MK document which they themselves prepared specifically acknowledges and champions our unique grid roads and grid squares with grade-separated pedestrians and cyclists safely on redways and fervently promises to deliver them in this and any other expansion area.  For instance: “The unique grid road network will be expanded and fully integrated into the design and layout of new developments and regeneration areas.”

In an age where more and more of us are buying electric or hybrid cars, exactly what is the excuse of the planners to sneak in an anti-driver phrase like this: “The movement network must be designed to discourage car travel”?  Surely independence of movement in a non-polluting car future is what the citizens of Milton Keynes quite reasonably demand and fully expect?

If the planners find themselves philosophically incapable of delivering it, perhaps the elected councillors should remove them from their posts and bring in those who can.

And the sooner the better.   Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog August 2019

AN ARCHITECTURAL OPPORTUNITY LOST.  WHEN the competition to identify the best architectural practice to design the new £188 million university for Milton Keynes MK:U was launched earlier this year, I was excited.

How full of hope was I that this might herald the most important thing to happen in Milton Keynes since its founding.  The competition was run by Malcolm Reading Consultants, whose work included competitions for University College Dublin and the Royal College of Art.

At the launch, MK:U was being billed as a ‘new model university’, expected to open in 2023 and eventually preparing 15,000 undergraduates for high-technology, cutting-edge careers. I and others were sincerely hoping that it may not only transform the city educationally, socially and environmentally but would also allow it to hold it’s head up proudly and architecturally on the Oxford-MK-Cambridge Arc too.

The site covers 61,120 sq metres in that last great empty rectangle between Sainsbury’s and Milton Keynes Central rail station.  Around 40 per cent of the total site would be built on initially.

After the first stage closed in March, a shortlist of five architectural teams was chosen by the committee.  The competition’s jury features several international names including Santander UK plc chief executive Nathan Bostock, ITV’s non-executive chairman Sir Peter Bazalgette and Professor Dame Madeleine Atkins, president of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge.  It is chaired by Sir Peter Gregson, chief executive and vice-chancellor of Cranfield University.

Each of the architectural companies shortlisted went initially in search of UK-based partners to move to stage two.  They each received a £30,000 bursary to produce outline design concepts for the MK:U masterplan and phase one buildings.  The outline plans from all five have now been released and have been on public display in Middleton Hall in centre:mk during the MK2050 exhibition.

With bated breath, I attended this informal launch.  Oh dear, they are all absolutely terrible.

I was not alone in being bitterly disappointed.  Instead of the anticipated expressions in glass, stone and steel of the soaring imaginations, artistic musings and creative powers of some of the world’s greatest architects, we have five examples of lowest common denominator everyday blocks with scarcely a redeeming feature among them.

So, let’s identify the guilty parties shall we?  First up is Co:MK:U which out of all five is the least terrible in my opinion.  Still boring as hell, but least terrible.  The other four are Hawkins/Brown; Hopkins Architects; Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands and OMA whose plan appears to comprise one single low-rise building enclosing the entire site, somewhat like a dumped, dead, snake.  Make your own mind up – see the proposals at

I understand that the jury has already reached a unanimous decision.  I also understand that the entry which might well make it to selection is one which includes glass frontages echoing to some extent the once-bold and influential design of centre:mk.  This might be a moderately worthwhile concept despite the covered walkways apparently not being designed to keep out rain – similar to those other useless ones at the MK1 retail park next to Stadium MK.  Sadly, however, simply referring to the past in a (somewhat literally) watered-down way does not great architecture make.

MK:U was an opportunity with the most exciting potential, a series of interesting, iconic buildings to set the worlds of both architecture and learning on fire. Instead we have five sets of mind-numbing uninspired, uninspiring blocks.  Those responsible appear to have had all the sense of fun sucked out of them.  This is a shocking display of total anonymity.  The plans need scrapping and MK:U needs to go back to the drawing board.

The exhibition in Middleton Hall included two school-created designs; one from St Paul’s Catholic School and one from Denbigh School.  Both were far more imaginative and exciting.  How is it that children can readily express what surely we’d all like to see built better than these so-called top architects?

If at first you aim for the stars you might at least make it halfway.  If you aim for the gutter, that’s where you’ll stay.  Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog July 2019

SCRAP ‘CITY STREETS’ AND GO BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD.  CAN SOMEONE please have a serious word with our planners and councillors?  I truly wish I could stop writing about how utterly incompetent and hopeless Milton Keynes Council is but they keep handing me new ammunition.

This time it seems the concept of so-called ‘City Streets’ – despite being roundly condemned by even the most town-planning-illiterate councillor or planning executive – is being rolled out yet again in draft expansion plans to form a new Eastern extension of Milton Keynes just over the M1.  Council officers are going against the very plan, Plan:MK, that they, themselves have prepared.

Our magnificent grid roads were and are a distinctive feature of the original masterplan for Milton Keynes.  Indeed, the council’s policy is still that they should be 80 metres wide as advised in The Milton Keynes Planning Manual and extensively agreed upon in their own now finalised Plan:MK.  I quote here from several parts of it which basically repeat the same things as though they really believe them:

  • “Plan:MK sets out important conditions for new development which include: Development should be based on the original principles of Milton Keynes, to keep what makes MK distinct and special.”
  • “To manage increased travel demands through: Extending the grid road pattern into any major new development areas.”
  • “The structure and layout of development within or adjoining the urban area of Milton Keynes is based on the principles that have shaped the original city, especially the grid road system.”
  • “The unique grid road network will be expanded and fully integrated into the design and layout of new developments and regeneration areas.”
  • “Where the grid road system is to be extended, proposals should include management and maintenance plans for the grid road reserves and/or landscape corridors which include proposals for this to be funded over the long term.”

Again and again this is mentioned in Plan:MK.  Seems clear enough.

And let’s not forget the broken promises of the past where, for instance, what was promised to be a grid road corridor reservation for H2 Millers Way into the Western Expansion Area ended up as a City Street only 27 metres wide from house front to house front.  And that included front gardens.

City Streets as seen, for instance, in both the western and eastern expansions of H7 Chaffron Way have been roundly condemned not least by some of the councillors actually responsible.

In the east where Chaffron Way becomes Countess Way, the road is split into two sections, one at 30 mph, one at just 20 mph.  There are double yellow lines and bus lanes in one large section but the bus lanes are totally blocked by impassable raised barriers every few yards – and it’s not even as though anyone can park in these apparently impromptu laybys as they sport those double yellow lines.

So just what are they for?  I’m damned if I can work out why blocking bus lanes and preventing parking helps anyone.

Countess Way has been such a disaster that all lorries are now banned and at one time it featured the most uncomfortable rubber speed hump pancakes ever experienced, now thankfully removed.  Milton Keynes Council has even been consulting on a proposal to install a zebra crossing on Countess Way. What a total farce.

Bovis, which is developing part of Area 10 of the Western Expansion Area, has a ‘City Street’ which eventually curls round from the V4 to join the V2 and H4.  So, although we see claims of ‘linkage to the grid system’, there are in fact no grid roads in an area that effectively permanently blocks the western approaches of our city.

Of course, terminology is important here.  Having realised how utterly mocked and ridiculed our ‘City Streets’ are, developer Barratts/David Wilson Homes, which is developing 180 new homes in part of Area 11 of the WEA, talks about a ‘Link Street’ to the western continuation of H2 Millers Way.  Elsewhere, including in the new eastern extension of Milton Keynes we are seeing the term ‘High Streets’ disguising what are actually ‘City Streets’.  Do they think we won’t notice?

Our grid roads were not only admired and copied worldwide; our citizens clearly loved them too.  In 2008, the council set up the Citizens’ Advice Group on Transport to review the city’s future transport needs.  The group commissioned a survey of 1,000 people by research body ICM which reported that “the grid is beloved of this parish.  There is likely to be strong opposition if the format is radically changed.”  Specifically:

  • 88 per cent said it gives Milton Keynes a unique identity not seen in other towns;
  • 87 per cent said the grid road system is fast and efficient;
  • 84 per cent said the grid road system should not be tampered with.

Wikipedia says: “Following a change of policy back to grid roads in 2011 only a few of these [City] streets will now exist.  The Milton Keynes grid road system is a network of national speed limit, fully landscaped routes that form the top layer of the street hierarchy for both for private and public transport.  The system is unique in the UK: the grid roads run in between districts rather than through them.  These facilitate higher speed limits due to the absence of buildings close to the roads.  High-speed motor traffic is segregated from pedestrian and leisure cycling traffic, which uses the alternative Redway system.”

What should concern us now is the draft Milton Keynes East Development Framework Supplementary Planning Document, prepared by the council’s planning department with no extensive public consultation and which, almost unbelievably given their authorship of Plan:MK, features what are essentially ‘City Streets’.  A Delegated Decision for a six-week public consultation on the document was approved on June 18 subject to not being called in.

In my opinion it should be scrapped and those responsible forced back to the drawing board to include proper 80 metre-wide corridors with grid roads.  This is no more than they insist we should have in Plan:MK.

Anything else is a betrayal of trust and a derogation of duty.   Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog June 2019

RAILWAY BRIDGE ROW IS ON THE FAST TRACK TO DISASTER.  WELL, last month’s column has certainly put the cat among the pigeons.  Readers will recall that I wrote about the Milton Keynes Development Partnership’s Caldecotte Site C Development Brief showing an aerial plan view but no elevation of what they described as “a bridge (that) could be constructed on the existing line of Brickhill Street, subject to more detailed technical work and planning permission.  Feasibility work undertaken by the council suggests that this would not require the safeguarding of any land within Caldecotte Site C.”

A copy of that “feasibility work” had been requested under Freedom of Information legislation but at the time of writing that column, with no result.

Guess what?  It is now in and it says: “No feasibility work for a bridge over the railway was carried out or commissioned by the council – the layout included in figure 1.3 being provided by the developer’s consultant as part of their planning and design work supporting the preparation of a potential future planning submission”.

That is rather worrying, I hope you will agree, especially as the plan also had a council-source notice on it.  So, could the actual source of this pretend bridge plan be the same major housing developer with its fingers in almost every housing development in Milton Keynes?  I know and I am keeping it to myself for the moment but I think you can probably guess the answer.

The second consultation has now closed on Caldecotte Site C, but is going ahead on South Caldecotte with the content of the document approved for consultation at the Delegated Decisions meeting on March 12.  They, Milton Keynes Council, have now outrageously changed the document to remove the terminological inexactitude regarding the feasibility study.

Is such a fundamental change even legal on an official, formally approved council planning document?  I believe we should be told and we now await the council legal department’s ruling on it.

South Caldecotte, readers will recall, is the employment area due to be flooded with Magna Park-style mega warehouses unless, of course, a major bridge over the railway has to take up valuable building land.

Have we now reached the position where Milton Keynes, far from being planned by its planning department, is now entirely at the whim of those developers who stand to have the most financial benefit?

This seems to be the case because back in 2015 residents were invited to a presentation at Bow Brickhill by Network Rail, at which it showed proposals for a bridge over the railway connecting a rerouted V10 Brickhill Street over the railway line.  Both the drawings showed substantial land take would be required from both Caldecotte C and South Caldecotte.

In fact, Milton Keynes Council planning officers wrote to Network Rail in June 2015 to ask how much land would be required and were sent the drawings which clearly showed major land take.

Why was this information not included in Plan:MK?   Why was the need for this land take not included in the development briefs for both Caldecotte Site C and South Caldecotte? Is the appearance of the pretend bridge an attempt to get out of the hole created because the council had forgotten that eventually, when traffic comes to a grinding halt in that corner of Milton Keynes once the East West Rail line is complete, someone will need to build a bridge?

If you are thinking that there may be an option to build the bridge on the eastern side of Brickhill Street, you would be right.  Land was reserved by the far-sighted Milton Keynes Development Corporation in Tilbrook on the east side of Brickhill Street and they even created a bund of soil and hardcore to facilitate it running along the north side of the railway there.

The idea was to acquire the two houses at the bottom of Station Road to facilitate the bridge’s landing point.  This explains the large triangle of land once owned by Milton Keynes Council and The Parks Trust between the industrial units, Bradbourne Drive and Brickhill Street.  However, those kings of unjoined up thinking at the council, by selling the land to Red Bull, have neatly closed that option.

And if you think that it is now all a total disaster, we have not even begun to consider the situation at the Woburn Sands level crossing yet…  Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog May 2019

A BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED PLANNING WATERS:  ONCE upon a time, under its Development Corporation, Milton Keynes enjoyed joined-up thinking.  No planning was agreed until the effects of other nearby developments were first taken into consideration.  And no humpback bridges very likely incapable of taking 18-wheel articulated lorries over railway lines between two very closely spaced roundabouts would even be considered without a proper, publically accessible feasibility study.  Sadly, those days appear to be gone.

In Milton Keynes Development Partnership we have a body charged with disposing of land sold by the Homes & Communities Agency to MKDP’s owner Milton Keynes Council for £32 million back in January 2013.  So far, they have had few, if any, successes and been oft criticised for what they have done.

Now, after six years of apparent lethargy, they have girded their loins and are going ‘hell-for-leather’ to get monies rolling into their (and the council’s) coffers.  In their own words: “MKDP takes a commercial and entrepreneurial approach to sell and develop these assets with third party developers and investors, whilst ensuring full community and stakeholder engagement in the preparation of development briefs for the sites”.

So that’s all right then.  Or is it?

One planned development which may well cause unthought-through chaos is outlined in their 1.9-hectare (4.7 acres) Caldecotte Site C Development Brief showing housing, offices and possibly a hotel west of V10 Brickhill Street and bordering the railway line soon to be part of the restored and much busier East West Rail.

Across Brickhill Street, directly opposite Caldecotte Site C, a development which will definitely have an impact is Red Bull Racing’s approved plans for change of use to form new access from Tilbrook roundabout, a car park, the permanent closure of Bradbourne Drive (have they really thought about potential tailbacks on the level crossing here?) and the erection of gatehouses, landscaping, and associated works.

Across the Bow Brickhill level crossing is a third and still bigger planned industrial development at South Caldecotte subsuming 57 hectares (140.8 acres) of farmland and likely to massively impact decisions taken in the Caldecotte Site C Development Brief. Draft plans by property developers Hampton Brook show similarly humongous warehouses to Magna Park but with just one access point on to and off what is currently a single carriageway.  This potential white elephant is a problematic ten roundabouts or so away from the M1.

The consultation draft for the Caldecotte plan, which ended on April 29, had this to say: “Currently there is one passenger train per hour each way between Bedford and Bletchley on weekdays and Saturdays, the level crossing gates at Bow Brickhill are closed for 14-15 minutes per hour, more if a freight train uses the line.  There are notable queues of traffic on Brickhill Street on both sides of the level crossing when the gates are closed and also along Station Road into Bow Brickhill, particularly during the morning and afternoon/evening rush hours.  The number of passenger trains on the railway line is due to double in 2024 when the upgrade is complete.  A solution to these delays is the provision of a bridge.”

“Whilst Network Rail has no plans to provide such a bridge [nor at Woburn Sands, as I have written on several occasions], land can be safeguarded to enable a bridge to be provided at some future date.  Feasibility work undertaken by the council suggests that a bridge could be constructed on the existing line of Brickhill Street, subject to more detailed technical work and planning permission.  This would not require the safeguarding of any land within Caldecotte Site C.”

A copy of that ‘feasibility work’ has been requested under Freedom of Information legislation but as yet with no result.  The council’s draft plan does seem to prevent anyone from Station Road turning right over the railway and one has to be sorry for the residents in the two houses at the end of Station Road who might be severely affected.  Interestingly there is no elevation published.  I wonder why.  Did they lose it?

A bridge is an essential idea.  Once the East West Rail line is opened, the existing level crossing will be closed at least 50 per cent of the time and likely even longer once freight trains between Southampton and Felixtowe join the route.  But the land available is just far too small and I am certain both MKDP and Hampton Brook would be extremely reluctant to lose development land for a proper solution to crossing the railway to be built.

I have stood on the site and the ‘feasibility work’ plans are simply hard to accept. There is a complete lack of vertical sections to demonstrate how the road bridge could be constructed with acceptable gradients across the double-track railway and within the footprint shown.

Interestingly the adopted Walton Neighbourhood Plan, which featured meetings with MKDP, says this about the Caldecotte Site C: “This site is another part of the land bank owned by MKDP.  The site is adjacent to the railway line and is potentially required to facilitate a bridge that will replace the nearby level crossing as part of the East West Rail upgrade.  A Planning Statement should identify how the proposal will not preclude the delivery of a new railway crossing.”

If access for the likely hundreds of 18-wheel articulated lorries per day is really to be over a hump-backed bridge on to a single carriageway V10 Brickhill Street, won’t we all have fun?

So, come on MKDP, show us the elevations.  I can’t wait.  Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog April 2019

DOUBTS ARE GROWING ABOUT EAST-WEST CONNECTIVITY.  READERS of this column will recall that I have written previously about government plans to develop the already-funded East-West rail link, restoring the old Varsity Line between Oxford and Cambridge via Bletchley, and to build a new East West Expressway linking the cities by a fast, new, road designed for longer distance journeys, as opposed to hop-on, hop-off local traffics.

On balance, these have seemed a good thing.  However, a recent column in New Civil Engineer, based partly upon the government’s National Infrastructure Commission’s Annual Monitoring Report 2019 and its perhaps more revealing annex, appears to add some very serious doubts to the already niggling doubts cast elsewhere.

All this proposed expansion of road and rail links is predicated by this HM Treasury-dictated wish, expressed as the government’s overwhelming desire to flood this region with a million new homes: “The government supports the National Infrastructure Commission’s ambition to build up to one million high quality homes in the arc by 2050 to maximise its economic potential [my italics].”

Thus: “The government is accelerating development work, completing option selection and detailed design work on the ‘missing link’ elements of the Expressway between the M1 and Oxford, which would be open by 2030, subject to necessary consents.  On September 12 2018, the government announced that it had selected Corridor B – the central corridor following the route of East West Rail – as the area for the Expressway, with options passing to either the east or west of Oxford.  A connectivity study to support this is being led by England’s Economic Heartland.  It will examine how communities not directly on the route of the new road will be able to benefit from it.”

Oxford is a medieval city that has long set its Cotswold-stone heart against all engine-powered forms of the car and severely punishes all those who would dare to use one.  On January 28, Oxford City Council voted unanimously to oppose the East West Expressway after substantial lobbying and briefing of its councillors by the luddite No Expressway Alliance.

Meanwhile, the National Infrastructure Commission appears to want to blame the government before the whole scheme goes badly wrong.   “There have been no requirements made of local authorities to develop long-term transport strategies to complement strategic east-west connections and enable the development of the arc’s towns and cities, nor has government moved to establish pipelines of long term infrastructure projects, conditional upon housing delivery milestones,” it claims.

“The commission would welcome a clearer timeline from both central government and local partners for the decisions required to develop more housing in the arc in combination with transport schemes.”

Other local partners may well be holding out, but Milton Keynes Council appears to have lost any sense of propriety and respect for all that makes Milton Keynes different by proceeding with its Plan:MK and other crass and misjudged infill/demolish/densify/de-green initiatives.  While the western section of the East West Rail line between Oxford and Bedford is under construction, nothing appears to be moving over the severe problems expected at level crossings such as those at Woburn Sands and Bow Brickhill, which will never handle the increased rail traffic.

Others in positions of influence are beginning to issue warnings too.  Martin Tugwell, programme director at England’s Economic Heartland recently wrote: “The earliest that the proposed ‘expressway’ could open is some ten years after the next stage of East West Rail and some five years after we will see rail services over the entire route between Oxford and Cambridge.  So, when it comes to investing in our road network, we need to ensure that it complements, rather than competes with, our investment in rail and digital connectivity.”

“We urgently need to invest in our road network to look after our existing roads better and to invest in support of planned growth. And we need to invest in improved connections to/from the East West Rail services. What we need is an integrated and co-ordinated approach to identifying transport investment priorities, one that connects people and places with opportunities and services.”

He does not mention that the East West Expressway has no reserved routes, so developers are quickly filling every last plot – often on appeal.  Nor that it is within the Highways’ England thinking to make part of the Expressway route near Milton Keynes a single carriageway.  It is possible that they will attempt to rebrand parts of existing roads such as the A421 as the East West Expressway.  Some Expressway that will be.  This makes claims of shaving 40 minutes off the journey time between Oxford and Cambridge via Milton Keynes beyond unlikely.

Perhaps the current Brexit ‘snafu’ has awoken citizens to how utterly appalling and inefficient government can be and this is just more self-generated evidence.  Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog March 2019

MK:U DESIGN MUST DELIVER THE WOW FACTOR.  ON THE penultimate day of January I was among the guests at an event in business adviser Grant Thornton’s offices in Avebury Boulevard, attended by the great and the good.  It just might herald the most important thing to happen in Milton Keynes since its founding.

It was the launch, by Milton Keynes Council and Cranfield University, of the MK:U international architectural design competition and where we heard about the vision for the new university.  If this unique opportunity is grabbed with both hands it may well not only transform this new city architecturally, socially and environmentally, but also will allow it to hold its head up proudly on the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge Arc – CaMKox – educationally, too.

MK:U is billed as a ‘new model university’ in the heart of Milton Keynes, expected to open in 2023 and eventually preparing 15,000 undergraduate students for high-technology, cutting-edge careers.

The international design competition, which I understand has already received interest from leading architectural firms from the UK, India, Brazil, Japan, Germany, Indonesia, Australia and basically everywhere else, is organised by Malcolm Reading Consultants which claims to be ‘the leading organiser of international design competitions’.

The chosen site for the planned MK:U, which will feature student accommodation cheek by jowl with academic facilities, is the last great empty plot in Central Milton Keynes, between Sainsbury’s and Milton Keynes Central rail station.  Its undergraduate intake will specialise in 21st- even, arguably, 22nd-century subjects including entrepreneurship, robotics, artificial intelligence, cyber and analytics.

After the initial stage closes on March 6, a shortlist of five teams will be selected to move to stage two and be invited to Milton Keynes.  They will each receive a £30,000 bursary to grease the wheels and then each will produce outline design concepts for the overall MK:U masterplan and the phase one buildings.  These have a construction budget of approximately £188 million, will cover 61,120 sq metres – circa 40 per cent of the total site – and are due to open in 2023.

The jury which will select the winning entry is chaired by Sir Peter Gregson, vice-chancellor and chief executive of Cranfield University who was chair of the MK Futures 2050 Commission written about in previous columns, generally favourably, in columns passim. Also on the still largely secret jury is Sir Peter Bazalgette, president of the Royal Television Society and deputy chairman of the National Film School, former chair of Arts Council England and English National Opera and executive chairman of ITV.  He was also creator of the concept of the ‘celebrity chef’.  I won’t hold that against him, although those like the sadly recently departed Paul Bocuse, who were famous chefs when God was a boy, may well disagree.

Of far more importance to me is that Sir Peter is the great-great-grandson of Victorian civil engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette who literally changed the world as much as, or arguably more than, any other when he designed, engineered and built the London sewers and waste treatment works.  They were the first in the world, which allowed London and all subsequent cities with modern enclosed sewers to expand, exist and have good health.  In my opinion, he was nothing less than the father of civilisation.

I encouraged Sir Peter, when I learned of his place on the jury, to vote for any design that, once erected, causes those who view it to exclaim: “Oh, wow, look at that amazing building”.  The identities of the remaining members of the jury are currently a secret as is the process by which they have been selected despite several requests for clarity.  Let’s hope that whoever is responsible for selecting them has the sense to select those who can think creatively.  Nothing less will do, in my opinion.

Despite my misgivings on so much currently going on in this city that we all love, these are indeed exciting times again for Milton Keynes.  Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog January 2019

INVESTRMENT PLANS PROMISE MUCH TO SAVOUR:  IN THE IMMORTAL words of one J. Lennon esq; another year over; a new one just begun.  Despite what you may imagine given my somewhat trenchant views on those in charge of what happens in this amazing city, not all that awaits us in 2019 and ongoing is bad.  Some things are good.  Of course, every change has a potential downside and sadly not everyone will be happy with any changes made.

The already-funded East West Rail link restoring the old Varsity Line between Oxford and Cambridge via Bletchley – which, incidentally I feel should be rebranded Milton Keynes South – is on balance a good thing.  However, there are still issues with level crossings, at Woburn Sands and Bow Brickhill for instance.  When high speed trains are passing every few minutes these will simply not cope and proper planning and investment is required so that bridges and/or tunnels take the road traffic.

Another issue is that those who bought houses with a quiet, hardly ever used rail line at the bottom of their gardens are probably in for a rude awakening, literally, when endlessly long freight trains roll through at ungodly hours.

Another positive development, in planning by Highways England, is the East West Expressway between Oxford and Cambridge.  This is intended to be a fast road system with few junctions – so not intended for local traffic such as parents dropping kids off at school – linking Oxford to Cambridge via Milton Keynes.

This will be a major anchor feature of what has been rather inelegantly dubbed the Camkox Corridor.  Highways England also describes it as “a southern bypass to Milton Keynes, reducing congestion and helping support its continued growth”.

I recently attended a consultation meeting organised by Highways England in Bicester. Between the M1 and the M40, the government has selected a route near to the proposed East-West rail link although the actual route is far from clear.  This lack of clarity prevents them from objecting to planning applications to develop land on this route.

It may be that the selection of any route will, in 2019, become ever tougher and more expensive to realise.  I raised this at the meeting but Highways England seemed content to plod rather than look for an express way to deliver the route.

When questioned, a Highways England presenter baldly stated that it is possible that part of the Expressway near Milton Keynes might be single carriageway.  I was shocked, frankly, and thought I had misheard.

Nevertheless, in my opinion, any new road taking traffic away from our ever more busy roads is a good thing.  I just hope they do not attempt to rebrand parts of existing roads such as the A421 as the East West Expressway.

Another positive for Milton Keynes is the huge amount of investment coming in.  Clearly the smart money feels that Milton Keynes is a vibrant, well connected, exciting city and well worth investing in.  One new investment is the £150 million technology hub for Santander.  There will also be a 256-bedroom Moxy by Marriott hotel, at the corner of Avebury Boulevard and South Fifth Street.

Nearby will be another huge investment led by Palmer Capital which is also behind the Moxy Hotel.  This is Aubrey Place, a 300-flat ‘Build to Rent’ scheme.  As the tallest new buildings in Milton Keynes, at 18 storeys, it will provide ‘affordable on an average income’ flats to rent only, in Central Milton Keynes near the station.

The new multi-storey car park near John Lewis at centre:mk has opened.  The 250-bedroom with conference centre Hotel La Tour overlooking Campbell Park is soon to be completed and an Easyhotel inside Norfolk/Ashton House is due to welcome guests later this year.

The rental flat development on the former Wyvale garden centre site opposite Xscape will again underscore confidence in the future of Milton Keynes.  Hermes, owner of centre:mk, is looking to expand the grade II listed building on its flanks near John Lewis to match the rest of the building.

There really is much to look forward to this new year.  And while I acknowledge that not all of it will be without issues or problems, my feeling is that on balance all the potential problems can be ameliorated with careful planning and oversight from Milton Keynes Council, our MPs and central government.  They may require just the occasional well-aimed kick from us, the citizens of Milton Keynes, but it is just possible that the good will outweigh the bad in 2019.

Happy new year and cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog December 2018

‘DAMBUSTER’ MPs RESTRAIN THE DEVELOPMENT TIDE:  FOLLOWING my recent articles about ill-planned expansion in and of Milton Keynes, it seems that the dam holding back a tsunami of righteous objections may have finally been breached.  And the somewhat unlikely dambusters concerned, according to a recent story in The Sunday Telegraph and elsewhere, are Milton Keynes’ two Conservative MPs; defence minister Mark (bomber) Lancaster and Government whip Iain Stewart.

At the last minute they are said to have persuaded Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond MP to drop a planned announcement within his budget speech for approximately 100,000 new houses to be built in Milton Keynes.

This may be because they realise, correctly, that virtually no real thought has been put to ‘I before E’ (infrastructure before expansion) such as road capacity, hospital beds, schools, emergency services in a city designed for 250,000 whose population already exceeds that number by some 20,000 and counting.

Readers of this column will recall that Kit Malthouse MP, the Minister for Housing, gave Milton Keynes Council and other authorities on the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge Arc just six weeks in the ‘everyone-is-on-holiday’ summer to identify where to build one million new homes by 2050, at least 100,000 of which would have been in Milton Keynes, doubling its population to over 500,000.

Milton Keynes Council’s own plans to double the city’s size had been put forward to Messrs Hammond and Malthouse without, it transpires, any real discussion with the local MPs – even though Iain Stewart is the government’s ‘champion’ of the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge Arc – nor with the full council nor consultation with residents.  So, it seems we were all to be sold down the river for a mess of pottage.

Meanwhile the scandal of some 20,000 new homes within our borders already with planning permission – some unreasonably extended by the council – but not being built out by developers continues.  It is easy to see how the well-funded and well-advised developers maintain this drip-drip housing supply in order to artificially inflate prices and buyer demand as well as giving them perfect leverage for appeals against on-going planning refusals because Milton Keynes Council has failed to meet its five-year housing target.

It is like big fat cats toying with a tiny, scared mouse, isn’t it?

However, our local MPs’ dambusting, while promising, may not have stopped the expand-Milton-Keynes juggernaut just yet.  It seems Housing Minister Malthouse is still ploughing ahead with plans to build those 100,000 new homes here, as is the council.  They have even thrown a couple of little sweeteners into the pot, firstly promising that a new Milton Keynes Development Corporation – not necessarily a bad thing – would be set up to mastermind the expansion.

The second sweetener would be funding for a new mass transit system in Milton Keynes such as a tram – something for which I and Urban Eden have been calling for years.  I dubbed it TraM:K.

My very real fear though is that just as the massive infill expansion is finished, there will be news that there is no money left for the tram system.  Just as there was suddenly no money for the promised underpasses on the V4 or new grid roads in the Western Expansion Area.

Council leader Pete Marland must think we are all mugs.  Perhaps we are.


…and a welcome to council’s new chief executive:

MILTON Keynes Council has a new chief executive, this time promoted internally.  Former corporate director of people Michael Bracey is now on the magnificent salary of £176,000 a year plus benefits.   His salary boasts a splendid uplift of just over 12 per cent – considerably higher than inflation – from the chief executive’s salary in the last financial year when it was £157,095.

For comparison, the Prime Minister Theresa May is paid £149,440 a year.

So, while many sleep in the underpasses and the council slashes services hither and thither, its new chief executive enjoys an annual salary which exceeds the Prime Minister’s by £26,560.

This seems entirely reasonable.  Someone has to scrap (sorry, ‘recycle’) hundreds of perfectly good brown desks and replace them with 943 tiny white ‘hot-desks’ at a cost of £63,687, as he did while corporate director of people.  Although how people are supposed to work effectively when there are only six tiny desks for every ten office-based employees, literally, I have no idea.

Perhaps the deskless four in every ten are busy penalising the other six for daring to leave items on the micro-desks for more than two hours or for daring to eat food at them (both banned activities).

Still I have no doubt whatsoever that he will be just as good as his predecessor Carole Mills.


Chairman’s Blog October 2018

DARK WRAITHS CAST A PALL UPON THIS SUNNY LAND:  HAPPY is he, or she, who moves home to an area with generally good housing, leafy open spaces with millions of trees, speedy and efficient roads laid out to avoid hold-ups, separation of cars from pedestrians, good schools, great jobs at innovative and successful companies including many start-ups and the wherewithal for a high quality of life.

And happy have been the vast majority of that happy band, that lucky many, who have moved here to Milton Keynes.  And yet dark wraiths of destruction have cast a pall upon this sunny land, with ever-increasing attempts to destroy those things we love.

I have written previously about those with too many fingers in the pie.  One such is the National Infrastructure Commission, a division of HM Treasury whose objectives clearly do not include protecting the things you love.  Its plans include doubling the size of the Milton Keynes population to over 500,000, without any consultation, and increasing total travel times in the morning peak by 54 per cent.  And that is just for starters.

It seems that the NIC has now merged its plans with those of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government whose Minister of State for Housing, Kit Malthouse, wrote in July to every local authority on the planned Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge Arc giving them just six weeks to tell him where to build one million new homes here by 2050.  What’s that, another four or five million people?

The delivery date for this was September 14.  Surely ‘new towns’ on this scale require years of careful planning.  Instead local authorities were given just six weeks – during the summer holidays when many stakeholders are absent – to pull lists of empty fields out of a hat.

I quote from Malthouse’s extraordinary letter: “The Government believes that the corridor between Cambridge and Oxford has the potential to be a globally significant economy.  A combination of innovation, entrepreneurship and highly-skilled workers has established it as one of the most productive and fastest growing areas in the UK. It also includes some of the least affordable housing markets in the country.

The National Infrastructure Commission has stated that realising its full potential as a world class economic hub would require delivery of up to one million new homes here by 2050.  The Government welcomes this ambition.

Last year, we set out a significant programme of investment in infrastructure, housing and business to support it.  Realising the ambition of one million homes here will require additional action from central and local partners.  This action includes Government’s planning reforms, our national programmes such as the Housing Infrastructure Fund, the forthcoming national prospectus inviting proposals for locally-led new garden communities, and further work to understand the potential for housing growth across the corridor.

Government will also soon begin detailed analysis to explore potential locations for new settlements across the corridor, their alignment with transport infrastructure, and any environmental considerations.”

Apart from the above-mentioned and risible “detailed analysis”, Malthouse also promises “a significant programme of investment in infrastructure, housing and business”.

With regards to infrastructure, yes, we have seen funding to restore the original Varsity Line, the direct rail link between Oxford and Cambridge via Bletchley.  And yet already this has run into major problems over the replacement and upgrading of existing level crossings.  Will these be properly funded and replaced with bridges or tunnels, for instance at Woburn Sands and Bow Brickhill, or will it be a series of horrible compromises with flashing gates stopping traffic every five minutes as passenger trains and endless freight trains trundle through?  We’ll see.

And as bad as the prospects for East West Rail appear, the prospects for the promised East West Expressway appear worse.  The government has announced, having considered three options A, B and C, that the route of the Expressway will be through the south of Milton Keynes, roughly following the line of the East West Rail line.  “Corridor B was judged to offer greater benefit to the region – outperforming the other options by providing better links to jobs, education, leisure and health services”, says Highways England.

But, clearly they too have not thought this through.  What many regard as the only available spaces to bring the Expressway through the south of Milton Keynes are already occupied, or very nearly so.  Firstly, by two meadows south of Bletchley alongside Watling Street which (as mentioned in the approved Eaton Leys planning application) are to be parkland because the ancient Roman town of Magiovinium and its fort lies beneath them.

Possibly the oldest known gold coin found in Britain was dug up here in 1849, a gold stater of the mid-second century BC.  Perhaps more importantly, Magiovinium is a scheduled monument of national importance under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act, 1979.

The second blockage is at Levante Gate, at Galley Lane, Little Brickhill.  Levante Gate was an outline proposal with all matters reserved for development of land to the south of the A5 and east of the A4146 for up to 500 homes, a one form entry primary school; a local centre and open space.  This application came up at Milton Keynes Council’s development control committee in September which refused it, amazingly.

Highways England, which had previously asked for an extension of time to consider it, removed any objection. So, clearly they are not thinking things through at all, are they?

And although the application was refused – and I congratulate Milton Keynes Council on that – it is almost certain that the developer will win on appeal given that the council’s five-year housing plan is incomplete. Just how, to these jaded eyes, developers like it and a situation they appear to strive to maintain.

In other words, it seems Highways England does not want to use that last available space and, despite the route announcement, cannot now put the Expressway immediately south of Milton Keynes without unbelievably costly and disruptive tunnelling.

Meanwhile the dark wraiths of destruction continue to gather over Milton Keynes… Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog September 2018

SPEED LIMIT REVIEW MERELY INFANTALISES US ALL:  BELIEVE it or not, this is my 150th column for Business MK.  I don’t know whether to be proud of having achieved such a high number or sad that so many of the issues I have written about over the past few years remain unresolved.

It is evident that the planned marvel that is Milton Keynes continues to suffer a death by a thousand cuts and those with the power to influence change here appear utterly rudderless.  This month’s column casts a wary eye over the apparent efforts to infantilise us as we use the redways and grid roads.

So, let’s start by stating the obvious.  Yes, driving fast can kill.  So can so many things that make life worth living.  I’ll leave you to compile your own mental list.  And surely driving fast and legally on roads specifically designed to be driven on fast and legally is fine?

Given the recent efforts of Milton Keynes Council to slow us down, disrupt our journeys and otherwise impede us, however, I’m genuinely surprised that they have yet to introduce a new city-wide speed limit of zero miles per hour.

In my mind’s eye I can see our illustrious council leader being interviewed on TV declaring that he has permanently solved the problem of road accidents in Milton Keynes before risibly going back to his office on his skateboard.

Indeed, recently the council admitted to spending £108,000 – I suspect more – painting meaningless hatched lines and installing solar-powered central islands on sections of the H7 Chaffron Way.  This so-called local safety scheme work – roughly from V7 Saxon Street to V11 Tongwell Street – is most noticeable at the junctions of Woolstone and Woughton on the Green, Oakgrove-Monkston Park and Middleton to Monkston.

The justification given for this particular phase of infantilism is cumulative accident statistics along the stretch of road, including at least one fatality and several others with serious injuries and cars overturned.

I happily acknowledge that every life is precious.  But would it not perhaps have been better to find out who is having these accidents and if particular groups are identified – for instance, persons who obtained their driving licences abroad under different road use laws or young people who are overly confident – then address the issues by retraining them?

As part of its ongoing efforts to infantilise us all, it has emerged that the council is now conducting a semi-secret speed limit review of all horizontal and vertical grid road speeds in Milton Keynes.

Readers will be aware, of course, that several grid roads have already had speed limits slashed drastically – mostly, it seems, because of a few accidents generally caused by people doing stupid things.  These include pedestrians being in collision with vehicles while attempting crossings on grid roads when there are perfectly good, useable and safe underpasses or overpasses.

Surely, we have all seen people pushing infants in pushchairs across 70mph roads, often with several more tiny children in tow?  I know I have.  Shouldn’t these people be penalised or at least trained in safely crossing roads?

Other accidents have involved vehicles turning right where the driver appears to have not bothered looking before doing so.

So, because of the unthinking actions of these few, Milton Keynes – arguably the most user-friendly city in Europe – must slowly grind to a halt?

A Freedom of Information Act 2000 request has revealed that the review will look at the national speed limit on the grid roads that still enjoy them and will be for a 10mph reduction from 70mph to 60mph on dual carriageways and from 60mph to 50mph on single carriageways.

The full criteria being used to assess appropriate speed limits are based on the January 2013 Department of Transport guide to setting speed limits.  However, it appears to make no distinction for Milton Keynes’ unique grid roads, grade separated crossings and safe redways for cyclists and pedestrians.

Interestingly there are currently no plans whatsoever for public consultation on the proposals that emerge from the review as the “document is still in draft”.  In my opinion, this needs to be out in full public awareness before the council gets the idea that it can do the whole thing out of sight and spring it on us as a completed project in a few months time.

Whether you agree with me or not, I wonder whether you are happy being treated like an infant?

Just asking.  Cheerio.



Chairman’s Blog August 2018

PLAN:MK – WHAT ABOUT THE PEOPLE?   THE NEW development plan for Milton Keynes, Plan:MK, is currently undergoing a Public Examination by inspector David Spencer.   As you read this, the Plan:MK Examination Hearings Stage One were due to have taken place on July 10-20.  My feeling, having read the Inspector’s Matters, Issues, Questions is that there is no way this will be easily concluded.

The inspector has a good grasp of contentious issues.  To say that every element of the plan is subject to fundamental review and vigilance would be an understatement.  And that, I contend, is admirable.

As the examination started, serried ranks of housing developers occupied many seats as the inspector, a thoughtful gentleman with a sense of humour, set about establishing the soundness of the plan.  The examination was public and it would have been good if more members of the public were there.  And yet, it ploughed ever on, with developers making representations despite the ongoing uncertainties over the route of the East West Expressway.

Plan:MK was formally submitted to the Secretary of State on March 29 this year after a consultation process in November and December 2017.  The main areas for Plan:MK development are:

  • Central Milton Keynes;
  • Uncompleted city estates;
  • Existing expansion areas and strategic land allocations;
  • New strategic growth areas such as South-East Milton Keynes;
  • Land east of the M1 and at Eaton Leys;
  • Selective infill, brownfield, regeneration and redevelopment opportunities, including on key estates by the council via Your:MK;
  • Newport Pagnell, Olney, Woburn Sands and other villages in compliance with adopted local neighbourhood plans and within defined settlement boundaries.


If formally adopted, Plan:MK will replace the Core Strategy adopted in 2013 and saved policies from the Local Plan (adopted 2005).  Milton Keynes Council has been under pressure from central government which requires it to build a minimum 26,500 new homes by 2031.  No one at the council had the foresight or courage to object to this madness despite it threatening to permanently destroy everything that makes Milton Keynes different.

Indeed, the council had introduced a paid-for ‘Select a Planning Officer’ service until the obvious potential pitfalls and ‘administrative irregularities’ were brought to its attention.  Thankfully, the initiative is now scrapped.

The inspector has to consider whether the plan meets the requirements of relevant legislation and complies with the requirements of the National Planning Policy Framework.

The Framework indicates that a sound plan is positively prepared, justified, effective and consistent with national policy.  Whatever the inspector decides, however, nothing will be permanent, no red lines will be laid down that cannot be crossed and no ‘up-with-this-we-will-not-put’s will be spoken.  Plan:MK will be reviewed every five years.  Thus, even once decided, things may easily change in 2023.

At the end of this process very little will have been about the people of Milton Keynes.  The vast majority of it will have been about its legal compliance, developer profits and the council’s desire for economic and developmental growth.

Sadly, the things that make life great here will only count where they touch upon legal compliance. Is this really the Milton Keynes we want?  Cheerio.



Chairman’s Blog July 2018

THERE ARE TOO MANY FINGURES IN THE PLANNING PIE:  I HAVE written recently about the current fragmented ad hoc agenda of multiple planning authorities, multiple infrastructure and government agencies and speculative land banking which are likely to make the planned expansion of Milton Keynes an unmitigated disaster.  This is all especially depressing as MK is actually well-positioned both geographically and in terms of its ‘can-do’ attitude to be an enormous success at the ‘Heart of the Arc’.

However, as though by magic, two new mushroom spores of potential ineptitude have been secretly developing fruiting bodies from their respective dark, dank, places.  They join the existing tsunami of authorities with competing agenda I mentioned previously, namely:

  • The National Infrastructure Commission;
  • Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government;
  • Milton Keynes Council with its infill-every-green-space-plans and its Plan:MK, arguably a bulldozer to destroy MK as we know it. It is currently out for public examination;
  • Aylesbury Vale District Council,with its own plans to dump houses on our western border;
  • Northamptonshire County Council;
  • Central Bedfordshire Council, Buckinghamshire County Council and several other local or Oxford – Milton Keynes – Cambridge Arc councils.


But who are these new organisations that have sprung up overnight?  Firstly, we have the England’s Economic Heartland group.  It claims to be “a voluntary partnership of councils and local enterprise partnerships. England’s Economic Heartland represents the key growth corridor from Oxfordshire through Milton Keynes and across to Cambridgeshire.”

So now we even have people who were responsible for the appalling mistakes of the so-called Milton Keynes Partnership – the planning permissions for the Western Expansion Area, for example – getting their sticky fingers back in the planning pie.  A disaster in waiting, perhaps?

Secondly, out of the blue, Dominic Raab, the Housing Minister who took over from Sajid Javid when he became Home Secretary, has announced that councils will have powers to set up new New Town Development Corporations to deliver expansion locally.  Is this a good thing?  Will it cut through the confusion?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Particularly not if it too involves the people responsible for the planning aberrations of the so-called Milton Keynes Partnership, which I strongly fear it might.

ON ANOTHER matter entirely, Hammersons which owns The Point and which is no longer pursuing its takeover of intu which could have provided real synergy in the redevelopment of The Point, held a Design Code Workshop at the offices of Milton Keynes Council offices recently.

Hammersons was in attendance, as were some new architectural advisers from Benoy, its Newark-based retained agency.  They also had a Savills representative there.  They appear remarkably open to input and their keenness to interact was regarded by many attendees as an opportunity to say what they really felt.

Many suggested a taller, more ‘iconic’ (yes, a hugely over-used word) building would be more acceptable than their teeny, doomed-to-fail shopping centre while retailers are falling like flies (the very next morning House of Fraser quit Milton Keynes).

I pointed out that unless they could secure Harrods, Harvey Nicks or Selfridges it would fail.  They quickly countered that there would be a leisure offer too, maybe including a cinema.

So, replace a failed cinema with a cinema in a city with two multiplexes already, one with an i-Max screen, and potential screens at intu and MK Gallery?  Great idea.  Not.

I mentioned, again – as I had at least two years ago – that it was, with its own multi-storey car park, an ideal site for a luxury hotel with conference and events facilities to rival DoubleTree by Hilton at Stadium MK, and it could service Casino MK at Xscape better than the new, Premier Inn hotel on 12th Street.

It could also incorporate flats.  Importantly, it might recreate the famous neon-lit pyramid on the roof creating a new beacon for Milton Keynes seen from miles away as once The Point did before it was overshadowed by Xscape and intu and its lights died.

I also came up with the idea that they might use it as a single venue where all major online fashion retailers could maintain racks of every item they sell online-only, in every colour and every size for people simply to touch, assess and try on.

Customers could then, if they liked the item, buy online as they do now but without the current huge likelihood of having to return it.

It was suggested that this would get media attention not just locally but worldwide too and that they start talking with Asos, Net a Porter, BooHoo, Missguided, In the Style, Pretty Little Thing etc, immediately.  We will see.

There will be a second workshop eventually. In the meantime, enjoy the summer.  Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog May 2018

Securing a safe future at the heart of the Arc: THIS month’s column incorporates thoughts from one of Milton Keynes’ founding fathers, Brian Salter, who was forestry and conservation officer for Milton Keynes Development Corporation from 1971 to 1978, recreation unit manager from 1978 to 1992 and thereafter the founding chief executive of The Parks Trust until 2003.  Much of the non-commercial arts and sports as well as the green infrastructure we witness today has his fingerprints somewhere on it.

He, more than most, knows that Milton Keynes accepts innovation and has an exemplary history of embracing it.  Indeed, its creators were well ahead of the curve in so many ways and might reasonably be lauded as true visionaries.  As we face the challenges and opportunities of this, its second 50 years, one set of challenges looms greater perhaps than others; the almost inevitable expansion of the city as the epicentre of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc and our place within it.

Surely, we cannot let 50 years of experience remain voiceless in the planning maelstrom that is now buffeting its very identity and the principles that made it a success story, copied worldwide?

So, what were the main drivers that fueled Milton Keynes’ remarkable success as the zenith of the new towns movement? They included:

  • A coherent and flexible plan based on clear goals. In other words, a vision;
  • Bold public investment in infrastructure, which embraced roads, redways, underpasses and open space (including heritage) and both foul and surface water drainage including our numerous balancing lakes;
  • A delivery vehicle (which initially from 1967 to 1992 was the Milton Keynes Development Corporation) with land assembly and planning powers;
  • Facilitation of the private sector to respond creatively as well as profitably to digestible opportunities in short- to medium-term time frames where speculation was minimised and investment risk was not excessive or extensive.

Consequently, Milton Keynes enjoyed much privately funded development always subject to design-brief principles laid out in, and sensitively developed from, The Plan for Milton Keynes;

  • Sustainable alternatives to the public sector for its ongoing management which were designed to be able to defeat later interference and political ad hoc opportunism.

These ‘safeguarding organisations’ included the Parks Trust and Community Foundation.  Sadly, the ability to defeat later interference has not proven wholly unbreachable. In general, though, we have not yet been excessively disappointed.

Some problems now becoming increasingly obvious are:

  • Insufficient tax base within the subsequent unitary authority to maintain infrastructure and other facilities which serve a greater region.

Milton Keynes is having to embrace a regional role which was previously played by Bucks County Council with its much larger tax base. This was a fact that was never given due weight at the time of the unitary authority initiative.

  • Poor infrastructure management in Central Milton Keynes.

The high-quality finishes in granite and street furniture require quality care. The prosperity of the centre and its potential tax base was hijacked by new rules which sequestered the business rates of the centre direct to central government.  Rate support grant did not reflect the contribution made by Central Milton Keynes and its special demands.

Recently, in an initiative by the Amazing CMK Business Improvement District, central businesses have agreed to chip in to a fund to solve some cleanliness and maintenance issues in the city centre.  This, of course, is very welcome but why must businesses pay twice for the same thing?

  • Inflexible public transport for the city grid.

Innovation and deregulation using smart technology are overdue.  Bedevilled by short-term thinking with short-term time horizons based on experience gleaned from existing monocentric cities which simply do not and cannot suit polycentric cities such as ours, the misguided ‘bus priority/get the people out of their cars’ mentality prevails despite some new eco-friendly cars, radical self-driving pods, and even robot pizza delivery initiatives in Central Milton Keynes.

Greater numbers within the authority boundary – although we are already squeezed up against the boundary in most directions – assist the tax base but are unlikely to solve the problem without destroying the very environmental credentials that make Milton Keynes attractive, “a place with the amenities of a city but with the qualities of the countryside”, as it was touted.  Must we pay for our future by destroying the green spaces that define our past?

The Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge Arc presents opportunities but without taking the experience of the last 50 years to heart, it is doomed to prolong the problems. The drivers that fuelled Milton Keynes’ remarkable success with new, modern enhancements to reflect the opportunities and hopefully to learn from the past, are keys to effective delivery of an acceptably expanded Milton Keynes as the ‘Heart of the Arc’.

Milton Keynes can, will and must play its part in a regional role without being compromised by other hubs of development elsewhere in the Arc. Focused political and planning leadership and authority at a regional level to be defined is vital to embrace the opportunities.

The current fragmented ad hoc agenda of multiple planning authorities, multiple infrastructure and government agencies and speculative land banking must be firmly and emphatically resisted.  Then, and only then, can Milton Keynes be safe and prosper as the ‘Heart of the Arc’.  Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog April 2018

Not everything in the garden town is rosy: READERS may recall my column in January, in which I opined upon the unelected, unaccountable National Infrastructure Commission’s plans for the Oxford-Cambridge Arc with Milton Keynes at its heart.

The NIC was established permanently, as an executive agency of HM Treasury rather than the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, in January last year. Its plans included doubling the size of Milton Keynes’ population to more than 500,000 and increasing total travel times in the morning peak by 54 per cent.  And at no point were the people of Milton Keynes asked what they wanted.

It seems that housing secretary Sajid Javid was not too happy with another government department apparently treading on his department’s toes.  So, in a poker analogy, he has decided to ‘see’ the NIC plans and ‘raise’ them by declaring five new Garden Towns to be built along the East West Rail link and planned East-West Expressway.  Mr Javid has already announced he will give the green light to two new towns in the next few weeks and may push for up to three more which will apparently all be part of the soon to be published new National Planning Policy Framework.

The Secretary of State has already worked out how he will deal with local councils objecting to this house-dumping or raising reasons to block it.  Apparently the NPPF will decide how many new homes a council should build a year – if they fall short, the government will strip them of their right to decide what is and is not built in their area. Instead, the decisions will be made by independent planning inspectors.

It makes me wonder why we would bother to vote for local councillors ever again if they are to have no power over planning, transport and population density issues.  In a perfect irony, the opening lines in the government’s description of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s job is “to create great places to live and work, and to give more power to local people to shape what happens in their area”.

Now, considering that Milton Keynes Council has had such trouble even meeting its current five-year housing plan, it seems its councillors are metaphorically lying on the East West Rail track with their hands and feet bound to the rails, waiting for the Savid Javid Express.  Indeed, several arguably inappropriate or undesirable planning permissions have been acquired on legal appeal based on the council’s recent inability to fulfill its five-year plan.

A NIC document explains: “Speculative development can remain a threat even when local authorities have prepared and adopted local plans.  The current NPPF requires local authorities to identify and update annually a supply of specific deliverable sites to provide for five years’ housing against their overall housing requirement.  Where a five-year supply is not identified, ‘relevant policies for the supply of housing should not be considered up to date’ and speculative development is more likely to be approved.”

Analysis by real estate plc Savills on planning appeals lodged between January 2014 and April 2015 found that over half of appeals upheld nationally cited a lack of a five-year land supply as a material factor, the document adds.  It might have helped if the council had insisted on developers actually building houses for which they have permission rather than unnecessarily extending permitted development timescales.  Surely it is time for Milton Keynes Council to take a serious look at its options and responsibilities.

So to summarise; let us assume that the NIC plan is still extant and goes forward.  The outcome is doom for Milton Keynes and everything we love about this city.  Or let us assume that Mr Javid’s plans for a new NPPF enforced by independent planning inspectors applies. The outcome is doom for Milton Keynes and everything we love about this city.

Or let us assume that both the NIC plans and Savid Javid’s NPPF plans will apply. Might it be time to pack our bags and quit Milton Keynes?  You decide.  Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog March 2018

Crossings plan flies in the face of public opinion: THE WESTERN Expansion Area of Milton Keynes is the size of Buckingham.  It comprises 350 hectares between Stony Stratford, Two Mile Ash and Crownhill and will have 6,500 new homes, employment land and parkland. A large part of the land was owned by Milton Keynes Council.  Stupidly they imposed no conditions to make the WEA like the rest of Milton Keynes when they sold it, despite my entreaties.

For years Urban Eden and others have fought to have grid roads included and for there to be pedestrian underpasses under the H4 Dansteed Way and V4 Watling Street roads which abut it.  Occupation of homes in the WEA began late in 2015 and is increasing fast.  However there are no safe pedestrian crossing facilities across the V4 Watling Street.

I have previously written how Milton Keynes Council in 2011 renegotiated with Redlawn/Gallagher, the principal owners, a ‘Collaboration Agreement’ in order to agree significant variations to the original consented scheme.  It secured new network connection principles and an extension of grid roads into the scheme, with protected grid road corridors extending right across it.

The non-binding agreement stated: “Grid roads will be extended into the development at V4 junctions with H2 and H3.  These junctions will be roundabouts.  The grid road extensions will initially be constructed as single carriageway, with development set back from the road as elsewhere in Milton Keynes.  The roads will include a landscaped corridor.  Space will be available to both widen these roads and to extend further into the development should the need arise.  Land required to do this will be made available to the council initially as highway verge land or public open space.  The existing V2 grid road will be extended along the reserved corridor west of Grange Farm and will be connected to the WEA transport corridor at a new junction with the H4.”

How innocent was I… Grid roads were and are a distinctive feature of the Milton Keynes masterplan.  Indeed, the council’s policy is now that the space taken up by grid road and ancillary land between properties either side should be 80 metres as advised in The Milton Keynes Planning Manual.  The grid road corridor reservation for H2 Millers Way into that area is 27 metres from house front to house front, and that includes front gardens.

In October 2016, the council asked that residents be consulted on options for the J4 crossing point on the V4 Watling Street, at the Kiln Farm roundabout between Fullers Slade and the new Fairfields development.  In June last year a consultation was carried out and found that 67 per cent of residents preferred an underpass, 20pc a bridge.  So effectively no one wanted dangerous, traffic-slowing, at-grade (street-level) crossings. A petition was submitted in December from residents in Whitehouse for safe road crossing facilities on H4 Dansteed Way.

Until recently there was hope that underpasses on the V4 in particular would still be built. Indeed on October 11 2016 Cabinet (Minute C60) approved the recommendation for:

  • The construction of a pedestrian underpass at J25, the roundabout between Two Mile Ash and the new Whitehouse development;
  • A decision on the type of pedestrian crossing to be installed at J4 (Kiln Farm) to be deferred to allow residents likely to be affected by the crossing to be consulted on the type.

Recently however, the council in its outline feasibility design study determined that there are “insufficient funds for an underpass at J4”.  In addition, the design of the underpass at J25 (Two Mile Ash) shows that “the overall costs for the underpass have been calculated to exceed the budget available”.

Meanwhile the council clings to the innumerate madness that building at-grade crossings at J4 and J24 on Dansteed Way does not preclude building underpasses at each location should funding become available in the future.

Nevertheless, it states that it is vitally important and urgent to “provide safe and affordable pedestrian crossings on the V4 and H4 for residents.  As there is insufficient budget available to construct underpasses, it is proposed to urgently install pedestrian crossings at J4 Kiln Farm Roundabout between Fullers Slade and Fairfields; and J24 of the H4 Dansteed Way, Whitehouse.  It is also essential that future safe crossing provision is planned for as the development progresses.”

At the council’s Delegated Decisions meeting on January 30, they accepted the recommendation for approval of further crossings in the Western Expansion Area at J24 V4 and 3/26, V4; at-grade pedestrian crossings along the V4 and H4 corridors at J4 V4 and J24 H4, with implementation as quickly as possible; spend for the two identified at-grade crossings and the value engineering and design completion of Whitehouse underpass at J25 V4.

They also approved that the value engineering exercise for J25 V4 for the Whitehouse underpass be noted and a decision to consider this crossing and the location and type of crossing of J3/26, V4 be considered at a later date.  In order to “ensure the safety of the pedestrian crossings” they also agreed to reduce the speed limits along the V4 and H4 from 60 mph to 40 mph. So further grid lock beckons.

Essentially this means that Milton Keynes Council will be building pedestrian crossings on Watling Street and Dansteed Way – reducing the speed limit on both grid roads from 60mph to 40mph – and will be going against the wishes of 87pc of residents.   Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog February 2018

THE BANBOOZLED MUST KEEP A CLEAR HEAD:  THE SOCIAL housing tenants and owner-occupiers in the Milton Keynes estates targeted by the council and its agent Mears Group in the strangely titled 50-50 joint venture Your MK are not stupid.  But I have rarely seen such a bamboozling campaign as they are being subjected to.

The words YMK uses to explain what it is doing such as “the importance of involving the community at every stage” outweasel the weaseliest of weasel words in Weaselville.

Their unstated aim is as follows; to demolish all the spacious yet poorly maintained homes in Fullers Slade, Tinkers Bridge, Netherfield, Bean Hill, Coffee Hall, Lakes Estate and North Bradville and infill every scrap of those plots and all surrounding green spaces with up to five storeys of intensive urban densification – probably flats not houses – with minimal parking, minimal play areas and no gardens front or back.

Their survey shows that only one per cent of the council houses on these estates are in good condition, 45pc are average and 54pc are in poor condition.  Their consultative arrangements currently include anyone, whether in council or private accommodation, although at present they have no remit for any work to private housing and apparently little contact with the private landlords.

YMK is wholly responsible for the repair and maintenance of all the council’s housing stock as well as for regeneration.  Mears was appointed for its supposed expertise in this area and yet it has all become a mess.

Fullers Slade is a perfect case in point. Here, the first thing YMK did was to reject any input from the estate’s officially recognised and democratically elected residents association, ostensibly because some on its committee lived outside its planned-for-development ‘red line’ but probably because it was run by residents who know what they are doing and care about Fullers Slade.  And we can’t have that, can we?

Instead it engineered a self-selected posse of residents called The Residents Steering Group that it could heavily influence with no formal constitution and from whose ranks and meetings members of the Fullers Slade Residents Association were specifically barred.  I suspect that members of the RSG are unwitting puppets in a larger game between YMK and the FSRA.

And the bamboozling continues.  The YMK website claimed that “houses… built to last 20 to 30 years are still in use.”  But the houses built by Milton Keynes Development Corporation were built to the then-current building regulations and were financed by 60-year loans from the Treasury.

Indeed, YMK published documents in August which refer to maintenance expenditure over the next 60 years of £86.94 million while, in September, it was seeking householders willing to allow their homes to be used for surveys that “will determine the condition of the building fabric, which will help us to understand the cost of the refurbishment work”.

You’d think that building surveys would come before publication of remedial costs.

Surveys have now been carried out on a group of houses and – surprise, surprise – have revealed that there are no “systemic” problems with the constructions.  No damp, no fire safety problems, no faulty structures, nothing.  The houses are not insulated to current high standards but that is true of most homes.

So, YMK, there is no need to demolish the houses.  None, zip, zilch, nada. And yet the endless promises of ‘shiny new homes’ to replace those that YMK should be restoring is clearly designed to further bamboozle.

Add to that heady mix the offer of up to £6,000 per tenant ‘compensation’ upon demolition and some residents may succumb when it comes to the now delayed local vote on the matter. And for those in right-to-buy private accommodation, a potential above market value offer – and failing that a Compulsory Purchase Order – will deal with them.

What the surveys mean is that the budget figure of £86.94 million does not properly represent the day-to-day management costs of these houses over a 60-year period. Sure, improvements are necessary for instance to improve insulation but they cannot possibly cost almost £90 million.

And why would the need to improve insulation trigger demolition?  Could this be all about profit and nothing about residents’ needs?   Let’s look at the figures.

There are 278 council homes out of 453 in the red-lined area in Fullers Slade. The others are privately owned, some of them en masse by private landlords. The options likely to be put to bamboozled residents are as follows:

Option 1 A basic refurbishment of the 278. Surely something that should be done now.  After all, the council is sitting on a nest egg of circa £70 million plus 667 additional new homes on every scrap of green space.  That would make 1,120 homes in the target zone.

Option 2 An enhanced refurbishment of the 278. This option has been rejected by YMK out of hand as not viable.  Why?  I have no idea.  But this might be a clue: YMK is constrained financially by the Housing Revenue Account and the caps both on rents and the council HRA.  They hope that the cap on rents will be removed soon otherwise the council’s HRA may become unviable.

Option 3 A partial refurbishment and a partial demolition and rebuild.  There would be 87 homes refurbished and a further build of 1,008.  That would make 1,095 homes in the target zone.

Option 4 The nuclear option.  No building out of the 453 to be left standing.  They’d build 1,250 homes in the target zone.

Option 5 The suggestion from the Fullers Slade Residents Association as a ‘best of the worst options’; to build 278 new infill homes for any existing council tenant to move into and then put the empty homes on the market for £120,000 each ‘as seen’.  This would regenerate £33.3 million of income at a stroke.

Option 6 The council, under intense pressure from the residents’ association and others, has agreed in principle to a ‘none of the above’ option. We shall see whether the bamboozled can withstand enough of the bamboozlement to come to their senses.  As I said, the residents are not stupid.

It has become clear that none of this is about regeneration.  It is about harvesting the green spaces for development including the front and rear gardens of every existing home, every playground, every green verge, every tree and every pond to provide income to cover future YMK management costs.  And when we reach the end of the 60-year cycle, must we go again?

The Fullers Slade figures applied across all of the council’s rental estate means, according to figures from MK Forum, losing enough green spaces for 27,600 homes.  This is simply wrong and flies in the face of what makes MK MK.  Cheerio.



Chairman’s Blog January 2018

GRIDLOCK IS INEVITABLE IF NIC GETS ITS WAY:  LAST month – and last year, come to think of it – I wrote how localism as government policy is already dead.  So please do not think for a second that your thoughts as a voter, a council tax or business rates payer or as a ‘stakeholder’ count for anything.  They just do not.  And while Milton Keynes Council is still trying to deliver its five-year housing plan quota, and its renamed Site Allocation Plan under a new name – the Urban Capacity Study – which lists 117 areas mainly open or earmarked for demolition for probable intensive development, there is a further huge threat acting completely outside of these bad-enough schemes.

The government’s unelected, unaccountable, non-consulting National Infrastructure Commission has been hard at work.  Hard at work planning for Milton Keynes to double in size, to become a commuter town to serve those far too important to be ruined cities of Oxford and Cambridge (both protected by their Green Belts, something Milton Keynes has been denied) and to be subject to endless gridlock.  Nice.

As NIC says in its own extensive report: “If East West Rail and the Expressway were to be developed along the same broad corridor, analysis of land constraints suggests that key opportunities for growth over the next 30 years could include: the re-establishment of Milton Keynes as a development location of national significance, through the intensification and expansion of the town to a population of at least 500,000, in line with local aspirations.  This presents an immediate opportunity for growth”.

Current population is approximately 270,000 and I do not recall any of us being asked for our “local aspirations”.

I am certain that the vast majority would respond negatively to a doubling of size for the city and endless gridlock.

And that is even if East West Rail and the East West Expressway are actually completed, the latter of which is looking increasingly unlikely as developers fill up plots en route with housing, permissions for which are often acquired on appeal based on Milton Keynes Council’s recent inability to deliver its five-year housing plan.

“Speculative development can remain a threat even when local authorities have prepared and adopted local plans,” the NIC document explains.

“The [National Planning Policy Framework] requires local authorities to identify and update annually a supply of specific deliverable sites to provide for five years housing against their overall housing requirement.  Where a five-year supply is not identified, ‘relevant policies for the supply of housing should not be considered up-to-date’ and speculative development is more likely to be approved.”

Analysis by estate agency Savills on planning appeals lodged between January 2014 and April 2015 found that over half of appeals upheld nationally cited lack of a five-year land supply as a material factor, the report adds.

Milton Keynes Council’s wholly owned Development Partnership which manages the last of the undeveloped land in Milton Keynes, bought for £32.5 million five years ago from the Treasury, seems entirely unmoved and sanguine about this huge threat to the place we love.

When questioned at a recent meeting its chief executive Charles Macdonald merely said that he regards the NIC’s plans as a “great opportunity”, presumably to make more money from its land bank.  But what about that MK Renaissance you talk about?  Is that just hot air?

One of the biggest problems facing those who seek a renewal of what happened under the old Milton Keynes Development Corporation is that any land acquired will have to be bought as building land, not as farm land, as then.  This has very serious consequences.  As the NIC says, agricultural land might be valued at around £25,000 per hectare but land with planning permission might range in value from £1.6 million per hectare in Northampton to £2.7 million in Milton Keynes and up to £5.7 million per hectare in Cambridge.

Lack of commitment by a supine Milton Keynes Council in recent years to extending the grid roads – something that was always intended to happen – means this, according to the NIC: “In Milton Keynes – a city designed with private car ownership in mind – peak period congestion at some junctions, particularly those serving the M1 and the A5, is severe.  Congestion in Milton Keynes is expected to grow substantially over the next decade and the forecast impact of planned growth will be to increase total travel times in the morning peak by 54 per cent.”

So once again we are doomed to an active and gradual ending of those things that make MK unique.  We have a city copied all over the world from South America to China, Africa to Europe but soon we will have nothing but gridlock and crowded new estates with nowhere to park and nowhere to play to proudly show those city-planning delegations that visit every year.

Happy New Year.  Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog December 2017

A THRICE_WOE TRAGEDY FOR NEIGHBOURHOOD PLAN: IN THE 1970 TV comedy series Up Pompeii, starring Frankie Howerd, Cassandra the Soothsayer would regularly exclaim: “Woe, woe and thrice woe!”  This month’s column is definitely a three woe-er.

Greg Clark, then Localism Minister, introduced legislation in 2011 to enable Business Neighbourhood Plans, of which the one for Central Milton Keynes was a frontrunner.  In 2015 89,801 voted in favour of it, with 17,133 against.  Uniquely, electors in every MK postcode voted because of the significance of the central area, as did all businesses in MK9, with 356 voting in favour, 47 against.

Many were jubilant including those who gave countless hours preparing the plan.  They believed, wrongly as it soon transpired, that Milton Keynes Council would take note of the people’s views; that they would henceforth protect our grid roads and green spaces and that the plan made by local people, not the council, had precedence.  Neighbourhood plans were quickly under way in almost every parish in the borough, with many formally adopted.

Soon, however, the cracks began to show in local and national government’s commitment to localism.  intu’s controversial plans to expand its shopping centre was arguably the first such crack.  Council planners recommended approval, and the planning committee largely accepted their advice against, it appeared, the precepts of the Central Milton Keynes Business Neighbourhood Plan.

Instantly the whole point of neighbourhood plans was called into question.  It seemed to many, including I, that the local planners had misunderstood the primacy of a properly voter-adopted plan, misinterpreted it and failed to give it the primacy required by the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2008, the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and the National Planning Policy Framework which should not have been able to override the council-adopted plan.

Urban Eden was among those who requested the call-in.  The next stage was a public enquiry and in July this year the Department for Communities and Local Government published its decision.  Despite the best efforts of those who objected – and as I publicly predicted in these pages – intu won the right to build over the Midsummer Boulevard and infill the space where a mighty oak once stood.

The DCLG stated that a public transport link reduced to 14 metres in width would survive but, frankly, the chances of this ever happening now are south of zero.

Meanwhile the council’s new housing plan, Plan:MK, marches on.  It will replace the Core Strategy adopted in 2013 and saved policies from the 2005 Local Plan. Admittedly the council is under the cosh from central government which requires a minimum of 26,500 new homes to be built in the borough before 2031.  And of course, no one at the council has the courage or vision to stand up to this madness despite it threatening to permanently destroy everything that makes Milton Keynes… well, Milton Keynes.

In further attacks on the plans Gavin Barwell, then Minister of State for Housing & Planning, made a statement in December last year on the five-year housing land supply rendering all neighbourhood plans obsolete after just two years, subject to certain housing criteria.  So, will unfinished neighbourhood plans survive?  In at least one case, probably not.

Take Bow Brickhill Parish Council’s Neighbourhood Plan as an example.  A working group, aided by planning consultants, over three years produced a draft plan which went to public consultation in February last year.  Comments received included a proposal for 36 dwellings in open countryside on a site named by developers as Tilbrook Pastures and large-scale greenfield housing development between the railway, Bow Brickhill and Woburn Sands.  Two planning applications were subsequently submitted; at Rectory Farm and at Tilbrook Pastures.  These were both approved by Milton Keynes Council in the light of its deficit of the five-year housing land supply.

The working group examined the draft neighbourhood plan and concluded that much of it had to be rewritten.  Neither the planning consultants nor the council could advise whether further community consultation would be required.  The likelihood of the amended plan being approved at referendum was in any case slim.  Furthermore, by the time the plan had advanced further, yet more sites would likely be brought forward and would almost certainly be approved.

The working group has concluded “that it is impossible to continue with the BBNP as it would be subject to constant amendment (site by site) to the point where it could never be ‘made’.”  The majority of the members resigned and a public meeting was held in January this year to consider the BBNP’s dilemma.

It was agreed to wait for the government’s planning White Paper and for consultation to begin on draft Plan:MK, as its proposals would in any case clearly overrule even an adopted neighbourhood plan.

Consultation on Plan:MK is due to close on December 20.  The draft proposes a greenfield employment site it names South Caldecotte and the large urban housing extension mentioned above.  Both conflict with the contents of the draft Bow Brickhill Neighbourhood Plan.

Depressed yet?  They are.  You should be.

Bow Brickhill Parish Council agreed that the neighbourhood plan was to be stalled until Milton Keynes Council’s five-year housing land supply quota was fulfilled.  Shortly thereafter the council indicated that it had been achieved but Bow Brickhill resolved to wait for the outcome of Plan:MK, realising that further work on its neighbourhood plan was pointless given the current housing development issues and the unknown nature of the route of the proposed East-West Expressway.

Is it dead yet?  Well, it is not moving.  Meanwhile Milton Keynes Council continues its much-vilified Site Allocations Plan under its Urban Capacity Study, which lists 117 mainly open or earmarked-for-demolition areas for probable intensive development.

Recreation and play areas, football pitches, tennis courts and the green lungs of our city are not safe.

So, it is most definitely: “Woe, woe and thrice woe”.



Chairman’s Blog November 2017

A LEGACY OF NEGLECT, SUBSIDY AND STUPIDITY: MILTON Keynes is ‘The City of the Car’. Everyone knows that, right? But is it true?

Milton Keynes Development Corporation had fairly radical ideas on public transport and although subsequent leaders have sought to both demonise car users and downgrade our grid roads, we might have all been using a monorail, tram or underground railway as well as cars and buses if they had not proved themselves without vision or commitment.

Milton Keynes was never designed to be ‘The City of the Car’.  The Plan for Milton Keynes Volume 2, March 1970, Ch.15 – Transport includes the following:

  • Freedom of choice between public and private methods of transport;
  • A high quality public transport system from the beginning of the development [my emphasis] not only for those who need it but for those who might choose to use it instead of private transport;
  • Provision for use of the car unrestrained by congestion;
  • Flexibility in the transport system to allow for expansion and change [again, my emphasis];
  • A safe and environmentally attractive transport system; one which minimises nuisance from noise and pollution,

In all of these the people of Milton Keynes have been betrayed in so many ways. Milton Keynes Partnership and its successor Milton Keynes Council have removed our choice between public and private methods of transport by denying us the right to even park outside our own property, building homes with narrow access and inadequate parking spaces.  But that does not mean it has done anything to introduce or maintain a high quality public transport system.

This city was originally designed to take a tram, monorail, even an underground rail system.  Most of the grid roads, built between 80 and 100 metres wide, had rapid transit reserves at the sides.  Failing investment in a monorail, tram or underground rail system, Milton Keynes was designed to be flexible enough to take an express bus system running on the grid roads.  That is why grids are a kilometre square, so no one would be more than 500 metres from a grid-side bus stop.

Today, buses have been forced under council and other pressures and millions of pounds of subsidies to enter the grids where they tortuously circumnavigate estate roads.  Few use the buses because they are too slow to match the needs of any but the free-travelling retired and their failure breeds further failure. It is a lose-lose situation.

Part of the blame lies at the door of bus deregulation, the transfer of bus service operation from public bodies to private companies in the 1985 Transport Act. The Act required that operations were transferred to separate legal entities.

As of 2010 the big five operators Arriva, First, Go-Ahead, National Express and Stagecoach, controlled 70 per cent of the market.  With the sale of Arriva to Deutsche Bahn as well as Abellio, ComfortDelGro, Transdev and Veolia Transport owning operations, 24pc of operators were in foreign ownership.

So our bus chaos is determined by foreign companies, motivated solely by profit. Excellent. Not. And almost unbelievably Milton Keynes Council is subsidising these profit-hungry operators to the tune of £2,339,227 in 2017/18 or almost a tenner per head of population.

It is not all gloom.  For a long time Milton Keynes did quite well out of deregulation.  MK Citybus and later MK Metro provided a wide-reaching, reliable low fares network with a mix of bigger, longer-distance routes and slower minor ones.  Sadly, that changed when Arriva took over.

Arriva has consistently cut back its network since 2010 to a few select high-demand routes.  Most of the rest of the network lies in the hands of the council’s subsidised contract routes, resulting in hourly services run by a group of small Aylesbury-based independent companies.

The council’s approach in dealing with this has entirely missed the point of having a deregulated system, or at least its few available advantages set among a sea of disadvantages.  It seems to treat Arriva as the primary operator, even where other operators’ routes outnumber theirs.  Arriva has demonstrated an intention to scale back the Milton Keynes operation further with the latest cuts announced to routes 1 and 2.

The proper thing at this point might be to look for other operators who could come in commercially on those corridors.  Instead Milton Keynes Council is pursuing its usual strategy of appealing to Arriva, directing lost passengers to Arriva and resorting to contracting at council taxpayers’ expense whenever a route is lost.

If an operator knows that any commercial routes cut will be maintained at taxpayers’ expense, you should not be surprised when more and more routes are cut.

There are two other major national operators in Milton Keynes; Stagecoach and Uno, both of whom run an arguably higher standard of service and have shown an interest in expanding here.  In the case of the cuts to the 1 and 2 by Arriva, perhaps Uno will fill the gap by improving its competing C10 service.  That would be a win-win.

Some of the commercial services in Milton Keynes stick to the grid roads – routes 1, 4, 5/6 and 8 for instance.  The routes through the estates are generally council-subsidised routes; the 33 picks up in Bradwell while the 5/6 go straight past on V6 Grafton Street.  Route 12 winds through Kents Hill while the 8 whizzes past on V11 Tongwell Street.  Mostly the arduous routes through estates are specified by council contracts and create indirect inconvenient services.  And then they wonder where all the passengers have gone.

The 28 is the most ridiculous example, going from Westcroft to Bletchley via Shenley Wood, Shenley Church End, Crownhill, Central Milton Keynes and Oldbrook.

That Milton Keynes cannot support a good network due to its density or road layout is a tired cliché, ignoring that Milton Keynes suffers from the same Arriva business model they use in Aylesbury, Stafford and other non-polycentric towns. They cut their networks back to a core of routes then act surprised when nobody wants to buy their day/week tickets.

Other operators, like Stagecoach in Northampton and Bedford or GoAhead in Oxford and High Wycombe have built up impressive cross-town networks and enjoy solid passenger loadings as a result.

It is similar to the concept of loss-leading in retail – a few non-profitable routes help to sell the network at large to passengers.  Arriva and Milton Keynes Council have never quite grasped the economics of that.  Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog September 2017

A USEFUL WEAPON TO HOMES UNDER THREAT: IN A SOMEWHAT surprising move, considering its apparent former determination to destroy or subsume into bland averageness everything of value in the city we love, Milton Keynes Council has implemented a new set of what might best be called Lesser Listings.  I applaud them for this.

These will acknowledge and celebrate significant local buildings, structures, landscapes, artworks and places of local significance that are valued because they contribute to the distinctive identity of Milton Keynes.

These new Lesser Listings are not designed to compete with nor have any such planning significance or protection as buildings nationally listed by the government and its advisors Historic England, such as our grade II listed shopping centre centre:mk which is the only shopping centre listed nationwide. Although the newly recognised assets will not enjoy formal planning protection, it is hoped that they will at least inform planning decisions.

In fact, on the council’s own website it states that the Milton Keynes New Town Heritage Register project “seeks to identify, bring together and celebrate those assets to inform planning decisions and positively promote the new town heritage of Milton Keynes, aiding investment and enjoyment of it by residents, visitors and businesses.”

It occurs therefore that those estates from which the council intends, with its partners Mears Group under the banner YourMK, to evict residents, demolish and completely infill right up to the grid roads may benefit.  After all, if the residents of those target estates of Fullers Slade, Tinkers Bridge, Netherfield, Bean Hill, Coffee Hall, Lakes Estate and North Bradville band together to force recognition of their architectural, social, planning and other benefits, maybe they can scupper the plans being drawn up right now by selected master planners Shepheard Epstein Hunter and HTA Design to destroy them.

Urgently Milton Keynes Council has now published its draft Statement of Significance and Selection Criteria for the Register which are available via the council’s website  It has employed consultant Alan Baxter Ltd to produce two documents which will underpin the New Town Heritage Register.

It is on these documents that they are now seeking feedback.

I strongly recommend those whose homes are threatened as well as those in other infill or development areas urgently make a submission.  The public engagement runs until September 15.

They are seeking feedback as follows:

Statement of Significance.  This assesses the significance of Milton Keynes new town in the wider context, identifies key themes on which the selection criteria can be based.  The council is seeking feedback on the factual elements of this document and the themes identified.

Selection Criteria.  These are the criteria that must be met for an asset to be added to the New Town Heritage Register.  The council is seeking feedback on the wording of the criteria and the level at which the criteria are set.

Milton Keynes Council might just have handed a useful weapon to those whose homes are threatened.  Please do not waste it.  And remember that even though many consider Netherfield, for instance, to be ugly, it has decent-sized homes on large plots with good layouts.  It sparked a revolution in the sourcing and use of innovative building materials and its residents, I am convinced, generally like it.

Beauty is, after all, in the eye of the beholder.   Cheerio.



Chairman’s Blog August 2017

GROWTH CORRIDOR WILL LEAD TO A CROWDED COMMUTER LAND: SO HERE we all are; the people of Milton Keynes, Milton Keynes Council, MK Development Partnership, lobby group Urban Eden and civic society MK Forum, all agreed, all in favour, all gung ho about the reintroduction of the fully-funded East West Rail link – the formerly dismantled Varsity Line – and the proposed new Oxford  to Cambridge Expressway properly integrating Milton Keynes into the very centre of the Oxford to Cambridge Arc.

Indeed, we have all said how great the idea of the CMKO [Cambridge - Milton Keynes - Oxford] Growth Corridor is.

But I admit it, I was wrong.  Badly wrong.  We have all been wrong.  Because we have all been conned.  It is a trap.

I recently attended a public debate in Middleton Hall in centre:mk organised by MK Forum.  It was part of the extensive MK City Fest programme which I wrote about in these pages in May and which was designed to deliver a multi-purpose Festival of Creative Urban Living, conceived as part of the MK Futures 2050 Commission process.

At this debate were big-hitter speakers including David Rudlin, chair of the Academy of Urbanism, one of the sponsors; Martin Tugwell, director of England’s Economic Heartland Strategic Alliance; Dr Ian Hirst of the Environment Agency; Phil Verster, managing director of East West Rail.

Unsurprisingly, they and others were buoyant about the future potential for and ultimate success of the CMKO Growth Corridor initiative.

One thing has always been clear to me, however, and it has often puzzled me.  How would, or could, cities so fundamentally different from Milton Keynes as Oxford and Cambridge form any kind of mutual alliance with such a brash, philosophically separate newcomer as Milton Keynes?

Oxford University was founded before the year 1167, 850 years ago, and Cambridge University between 1209 and 1226.  Milton Keynes has not even got a proper university yet.

OK, it has the brilliant Open University, the distance learning initiative copied worldwide, it claims arguably to host the Masters’ degree factory Cranfield and has links with the University of Bedfordshire.

But they do not really count.  ‘Milton Keynes University’ is still merely a hoped-for dream, sadly.

There are other big differences, too.  Oxford and Cambridge city councils both stridently hate cars.  And car owners.  They appear to do everything possible to dissuade them from entering their cities of dreaming spires and plucky punters.

Not so Milton Keynes, a forest city but one blessed with fast, efficient and brilliantly designed roads.

It is clear to me that the burghers of both Oxford and Cambridge look down on Milton Keynes as though it was that embarrassing cousin you have to invite to your wedding but wish did not come.

The thing that suddenly dawned on me at that meeting, and that I had not realised before, is far more important than either of those two things, however.  It is this: both Oxford and Cambridge have a protected, designated Green Belt.  Milton Keynes does not.

In Cambridge, it is a planning zone, not a statutory protected area.  Yet it works, is some six to ten miles wide and protects neighbouring villages from urban sprawl.

In 1955, Oxford was one of the first cities to define a Green Belt.  Its inner boundary is tight around the city and it extends outwards for some five to six miles in every direction.

By the late 1950s the Green Belt was being employed as a policy tool in planning decisions.  Once again it works.  And once again I must mention that Milton Keynes does not have one.

So how have we been conned?  Oxford and Cambridge are protected by Green Belts; Milton Keynes is not.  The new East West Rail link and East West Expressway will make commuting fast and efficient between Oxford and Cambridge via Milton Keynes.  So where will all the people who work in Oxford and Cambridge live and commute from?

Here of course.  In houses crammed into the still green fields around an ever-expanding, not-worth-preserving, not-worth-protecting, disposable, embarrassing-cousin Milton Keynes.

So either Milton Keynes Council and the city’s two MPs start fighting now for the urgent instigation of a MK Green Belt, or we must accept that we are to become a commuter town for our illustrious neighbours, a convenient halfway-house dumping ground for those prestigious cities with their protected green spaces.

Welcome to a crowded commuter land where nowadays no one cares where we build.  Cheerio.



Chairman’s Blog July 2017

IT IS TIME TO SAY ‘ENOUGH IS ENOUGH’: THE TERRIBLE events at London’s Grenfell Tower have, I suggest, provided a lesson that can perhaps be extrapolated to events here, in Milton Keynes.  It is already becoming clear, as I write, that warnings by residents, the London Fire Brigade and others as well as lessons learned from other fatal tower-block fires (Lakanal House in London in 2009 and Shirley Towers in Southampton the following year) were ignored, dismissed or ‘waved away’ by central government, local councils – in particular the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea – and, most particularly, their management agents.

As The Telegraph reported, adding yet more levels of blame: “Until 1986 all buildings in London fell under the London Building Acts which ensured that external walls must have at least one hour of fire resistance to prevent flames from spreading between flats or entering inside.”

“But under Margaret Thatcher’s government [and this from the ‘Blessed Thatcher Memorial’ newspaper, The Telegraph] those rules were replaced by the National Buildings Regulations and the crucial time stipulation was scrapped.  Instead, materials used on the outside of buildings now only had to meet ‘Class O’ regulations and show that they did not add to the heat or intensity of a fire.  But crucially they did not have to be non-combustible.”

Let me repeat that: “…crucially they did not have to be non-combustible”.

As the media and public react with incredulity that those responsible could have been so irresponsible, the guilt of those accused by many of ‘having blood on their hands’ becomes ever more obvious.

So how, I hear you ask, can this possibly apply to Milton Keynes?  Well, firstly, I am not referring to Milton Keynes’s few tower blocks – although I am hopeful and optimistic that they will be checked for fire safety expeditiously.  No, I am referring to the cognitive dissonance of those in power, the inability to see the glaringly obvious and to be alert to the wrongs against the residents of Milton Keynes that they are committing daily.

The original Milton Keynes Development Corporation design concept aimed for a ‘forest city’ and for it to eventually expand to a population of 250,000.  It is, in fact, at about 270,000.  Now this figure, or even a greater one, was not a problem as the team – under Lord ‘Jock’ Campbell with chief executive Walter Ismay, Llewellyn Davies as principal planning consultants and all executed under Fred Roche with founding architect Derek Walker – had designed what I call the Infinitely Expandable City.  I use this name because of the grid system and polycentrism.

Milton Keynes could have stretched from Wales to Norfolk and its residents would still have enjoyed a highly user-friendly city.  For instance, grid roads were designed with an 80-metre corridor, with substantial green reserves.  The grid roads had huge redundancy and were left with space to be dualled where they were single carriageway and with protected nub ends to be expanded as population increased.

But between them Milton Keynes Council, English Partnerships and its then subsidiary Milton Keynes Partnership have done everything possible to destroy this infinite expandability.

The council and EP have already permanently destroyed most nub ends, rendering the expansion of Milton Keynes as originally planned no longer feasible.  Already we have developments like the Eastern and Western Expansion Areas with no grid roads, no underpasses or proper redways and no way through these huge developments and into future expansion areas.  And yet we are now told by our council – acting, it must be admitted, under direction from Westminster – that under the latest plans our population must expand to 350,000 or more.

Plan:MK, the new draft local plan for the vision and development strategy of Milton Keynes, not only includes new developments in every possible direction outside a blocked-off Milton Keynes but massive infill too.  I despair at the council’s insane appointment of Mears plc to demolish, infill, densify and urbanise our central estates using compulsory purchase orders and forced re-locations and spending half a billion pounds on the process.

Half a billion pounds that will be raised by building on every scrap of green right up to the grid roads and, incidentally, replacing spacious homes built to Parker Morris standards with hateful shoe-boxes.

This is unconscionable and will, I strongly suspect, promote strong social unrest and tensions.  Above all, it flies in the face of the principles of Milton Keynes that we all love so much including the 80-metre green reserves of our ‘forest city’.

By way of proof of our extraordinary love of this place, in 2014, the independent research analyst Centre for Cities had Milton Keynes at the top in virtually every key measure of urban success.  The citizens of Milton Keynes have declared in two ICM surveys that they overwhelmingly love Milton Keynes as it was built.  In one, 84 per cent of us said the grid road system should not be tampered with.

So the question that must, in my opinion, now be asked is this.  If the means by which Milton Keynes can be safely expanded while sticking to the original design principles have now been destroyed beyond reinstatement, why must we further expand?  Surely enough damage has been done?  Surely the spell of cognitive dissonance under which our leaders are labouring must be broken?  Surely enough is enough?

I say no to further expansion, no to Plan:MK and no to mindless infill.  I invite our councillors and two MPs to find their personal courage at last and fight for what we all love.  Otherwise they may find their own ivory towers burning around them.  Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog June 2017

I HAVE said it before and I will say it again.  The world is changing and so fast that things we take for granted are disappearing or being changed forever in a blink of an eye.  For instance, I have received a copy of the latest Yellow Pages.  After I finished laughing, I realised that what was once one of the most profitable and successful advertising media in the world has been reduced to an anorexic shadow of its former self.

The 2017/18 edition weighs in at 130g compared to last year’s 220g and 2011/12’s 525g.  Each of these is a cut down page size too, not the A4 size of earlier monolithic editions.  I remember marketing gurus here in Milton Keynes giving expensive seminars on how to make money from Yellow Pages.

The same rapid changes are being seen in retail shopping centres.  The professionals who run them cannot be blind to these changes, although I suspect that they are still pretending all is well.  Nevertheless the long-term survival of them can never be certain.

Let’s look at The Point.  It is now just over three years since Hammersons applied successfully to demolish The Point and replace it with a new shopping centre.  Has anything happened since then?  No, not a thing.

Three years and nothing.  And I think I know why.  Retail therapy has changed so rapidly that demand for floor space is falling off a cliff.  There are empty spaces in both intu and thecentre:mk and these are both tier one retail destinations.

Yes, people are still buying stuff but more and more they are using high-street shops as product showrooms not as places to buy.  They ‘audition’ products, as they still like to feel the quality or lack of it.  If they like it, they will scan the barcode with their smartphone -  risibly often going online using the store’s own WiFi – and then buy the item from some warehouse in a much cheaper-rent location and/or using a cashback app.

Retail therapy is now no longer a frustrating trip circling thecentre:mk to find an expensive parking space which will get you an even more expensive fine if you are ten minutes late back.  Now it is a leisurely sit on the sofa scrolling through websites on your phone, tablet or laptop.

This cannot go on.  And you may have noticed what shopping centre operators like Hermes, intu and perhaps eventually The Point’s Hammersons are doing about it.  One ploy they are, er, employing is for more and more of their retail spaces to become restaurants or other ‘entertainments’ like the Laser Planet shoot ’em up that has just moved into a long empty nightclub in The Food Centre.

This trend is very evident in thecentre:mk itself and in intu’s disputed plans for the area over Midsummer Boulevard which show far more restaurants and cinema screens than shops.

Shops themselves are changing too and the evidence is there if we care to look.  Since the 2008 recession, Brantano, Woolworth’s, BHS, Tandy, Blockbuster, Borders, Jaeger, Zaavi, Comet, Oddbins, Focus, Jane Norman, T.J. Hughes, JJB Sports, Phones 4U, Aquascutum, USC, Tie Rack, Barratt and Past Times have all gone, almost gone or are now online shadows of their former selves.

Other mainstream retailers surviving financial troubles since the recession include Austin Reed, Hawkins Bazaar, Jessops and HMV, which has just moved from a two-floor megastore in thecentre:mk to what is effectively a large cupboard.  If the dog Nipper was really listening to His Master’s Voice he would hear it say: ‘Get your ball, we’re going home’.

So what can we learn from these radical changes?  In many ways Milton Keynes is unique; its ‘high street’ is a regional shopping centre but unlike all regional shopping centres it no longer has free parking.

Does this mean it is even more doomed than other regional shopping centres?  Perhaps not.  It needs to continue adapting to a rapidly changing retail environment.  This includes luring in newcomers like Primark which will, it is rumoured and as previously exclusively revealed in this column, be taking over the former BHS store.

It also needs to develop its restaurant and entertainment offer as fast as possible.  Then, maybe, thecentre:mk and intu can be saved.  As for the site of The Point, in my opinion it would make a better hotel and conference centre, gifted as it is with its own multi-storey car park.  But we shall no doubt see.  Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog May 2017

THOSE of us who love Milton Keynes – and the two polls conducted by research body ICM a few years ago show we are many – will know that this city has been copied all over the world and our City Discovery Centre at Bradwell Abbey hosts planning delegations on a regular basis from every continent bar Antarctica.

Now it seems that our specialness has been recognised by two important institutions and that interest is currently being developed into a prestigious week-long event at the heart of our metropolis, as I can exclusively reveal.

The MK City Fest – as it has been dubbed – will take place in Middleton Hall, thecentre:mk from June 26 until July 1 in a specially designed auditorium and exhibition place.   MK City Fest programme, which as I write is not finalised, is designed to deliver a multipurpose Festival of Creative Urban Living, which was conceived as part of the MK Futures 2050 Commission process.

Explore: Its aims are to celebrate Milton Keynes’ 50th birthday; to showcase its unique designed-city framework; to acknowledge its role as a model for city living across the world and to explore ideas around its future and the future of urban developments per se. As it celebrates the 50th anniversary, it will be looking ahead at the challenges of the relay race for the next 50 years, a baton I and many others hope will not be dropped.

At its core will be the annual conferences of the Institute of New Towns and the Academy of Urbanism that will bring in thought leaders and inspirational speakers from all over the world.

Further related activities are being programmed around these two core events including tours, talks, workshops, exhibitions and creative activity focused on modern urban living and showcasing the city and its features.  Many of the events and activities will be open to the public.

Creativity: The City Fest idea ties in well with that of a Festival of Creative Urban Living.  It, and the council’s intention this year to submit Milton Keynes as a contender for European Capital of Culture in 2023, all aim to build on and grow the reputation of Milton Keynes as an international centre for urban planning, creativity and design.

The MK City Fest has been led by Milton Keynes Council working with a number of key public, voluntary and private partners and stakeholders in Milton Keynes, with the initial headline sponsors the council and thecentre:mk.  Milton Keynes businesses are invited to become involved and some already are.

City Fest will be a pilot for the festival concept and, if successful, may provide the basis for regular future events.  Cheerio.

Let’s get ready for MK City Fest; so far these events are planned:

  • June 26 City Community – Who’s City? Who’s Future?
  • June 27 City Innovations – Mobility, Lifestyles, City Building
  • June 28 International New Town Day 2017
  • June 29 Exploring MK
  • June 30 City Urbanism – The AoU Symposium – New Towns, What’s Next?
  • July 1 MK City Club
  • More information will be available at


Chairman’s Blog  April 2017

READERS will recall I wrote previously about Milton Keynes Council’s overdue attempt to develop a new housing plan, Plan:MK, which will review and replace the existing Core Strategy (adopted 2013) and the saved policies from the Local Plan (adopted 2005).  Indeed Urban Eden took part in the so-called Vision Workshops in Spring 2015 which preceded the draft plan.

Government requires Milton Keynes to build a minimum 26,500 new homes before 2031.  This is around 1,765 dwellings a year – they keep revising this upwards as the delivery of Plan:MK ever slips – and also to avoid central government taking control if a new plan is not forthcoming.

I also wrote about Cllr Andrew Geary’s opposition to developer Gallaghers’ 6,000-home proposal for a new Northern Expansion Area, above the river Great Ouse and towards Little Linford, Castlethorpe and Haversham.  Under considerable pressure from him and others, the council working group withdrew the NEA from the draft Plan:MK; which is now open for 12 weeks of public consultation. The main areas for development now constitute:

  • Central Milton Keynes, including the Campbell Park residential area where others argue the new MK:IT university should be placed. Personally, I favour the university to be built on the large empty site between the:hub and the station;
  • Uncompleted city estates;
  • Existing expansion areas and strategic land allocations;
  • New strategic growth areas such as South-East Milton Keynes (post 2026);
  • Land east of the M1 (post 2026);
  • Land at Eaton Leys;
  • Selective infill, brownfield, regeneration and redevelopment opportunities. This includes the dreaded demolition and infill of key estates by the council in partnership with Mears Group, destroying the green heart of Milton Keynes..

Plan:MK also calls for development in the key settlements of Newport Pagnell, Olney, Woburn Sands and other villages in compliance with adopted local neighbourhood plans.

Apart from the special ‘get out of jail card’ played in the NEA there is not a parish in or around Milton Keynes safe from the roar of the bulldozers nor the hand-wringing of the NIMBYs.  Plan:MK will be reviewed every five years, so even once decided things may change in 2021.  In the meantime, check it for yourselves – maybe your voice can make a difference.  Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog March 2017

HAVING acknowledged the 50th anniversary of Milton Keynes and the tenth year for Urban Eden, celebrating the successes of the city, the design principles which guided them and the now widely acknowledged failures to expand Milton Keynes correctly, this month I look to the future and the opportunity to expand as was always planned rather than through piecemeal development.

The opportunity is strategic, involving government, regions, neighbouring authorities and, potentially significantly in leadership terms, ourselves here in Milton Keynes.

There are clear lessons to be learned from the debacle of the Western and Eastern Expansion Areas as well as the failings of Milton Keynes Development Partnership, the council-owned body tasked with managing the borough’s remaining land assets.  We also have encroachments on our borders by neighbouring local authorities desperate to dump their housing commitments on us, making us responsible for schools, police, fire, ambulance, hospital, doctors etc.  One such planned development is Aylesbury Vale’s putative SWMK near the Bottledump roundabout on the H8 Standing Way.  Indeed I have called for Milton Keynes’ borders to be expanded, as London’s were in the 1960s, to include such potential development land.

Nevertheless our future may yet be determined by the opportunity to co-operate with neighbouring authorities as required by the government’s National Planning Policy Framework to create the National Infrastructure Commission’s (and government’s) vision.  And, of course, there are inputs from the eight so far adopted Neighbourhood Plans, the outputs of the council’s MK Futures 2050 Commission and Urban Eden’s own published vision: Urban Eden MK2050: Principles for a Master Plan.

This brief window of opportunity comes about through an almost accidental convergence of intentions and plans, which is crying out for co-ordination and cohesion; a new Master Plan perhaps?

Meanwhile Milton Keynes Council has to produce a new strategic plan PlanMK whose draft version, by the time you read this, will have been considered by the council and is now open to citizen input.  I was delighted that it contained the Strategic Objective to extend the grid road pattern into any major new development areas.  It also references the ambitious MK Futures 2050 plan which the three major parties have endorsed and the government’s focus on the Reading-Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge-Norwich arc.

The latter is a pan-regional scientific/technological/industrial and residential strategy.  Milton Keynes is geographically and in its own design its hub so let’s get a plan and sponsorship to fit.

This will require determination and leadership to match 1967, starting with our MPs, through civic all-party coherence and involving regional and local collaboration, as required by the NPPF.  The screw which is applying all this pressure is the government’s desire to stimulate house building while those developers sitting on land with planning permission are resolutely refusing to actually build anything, instead relying on gaining stupidly granted build extensions from timid councils such as ours.

This is nothing more nor less than land banking.  The draft PlanMK calls for delivery of land for a minimum of 26,500 new homes within the borough between 2016 and 2031 but appears to ignore all those unbuilt homes. Hmm.

So let’s turn all this to our advantage, for if we do not we will be prey to piecemeal initiatives however large or small.  The perils of this are evident, not only from the last ill-fated attempts at expansion but very recently the spectacle of Cllr Andrew Geary, the esteemed chair of the development control committee having, as a ward councillor, to denounce plans by a developer for a potentially huge but nonetheless one-off expansion to the north.

In its Housing White Paper, the government promises locally accountable new town development corporations.  Aylesbury Vale District Council, with Buckinghamshire’s other three district councils, have submitted a report to Westminster urging two unitary authorities for the county.

In it Milton Keynes is hailed a success as a unitary authority and AVDC, as a proposed new unitary authority, proposes to work with us as part of the Oxford-Cambridge arc.

Confused by all the acronyms? I hope not.  Uplifted by all the exciting possibilities?  I hope so.  Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog February 2017

Urban Eden, the lobby group I founded largely as a result of writing about Milton Keynes in these pages, began in February 2007. So it’s ten years old this month – phew, how did that happen?

This is a good time to reflect on Milton Keynes as it is now 50. By some miracle of luck, clever planning and circumstance Milton Keynes Development Corporation, established in 1967 and abolished in 1992, created the zenith of the new towns movements in these Buckinghamshire fields.

Lord ‘Jock’ Campbell led the MKDC.  His chief executive Walter Ismay appointed Llewellyn Davies as principal planning consultants, including Richard Llewellyn-Davies, Walter Bor and John de Monchaux.  Execution of the plan was led by Fred Roche.  The founding architect of Milton Keynes was Derek Walker whose Pineham Sewage Works he regarded as his finest achievement, as well as the shopping building designed by Stuart Mosscrop and Christopher Woodward.  The design concept aimed for a ‘forest city’.

Milton Keynes was designed for 250,000 souls but was created as what I have dubbed the ‘Infinitely Expandable City’ because of the grid system, grade separation of pedestrians and cyclists, and polycentrism.  One of the greatest benefits of Milton Keynes’ design is that not everybody travels into the centre in the morning and out at night.  One-kilometre square developments with doctors’ surgeries, schools, shops, workplaces and commercial premises work well and could usefully have been extended infinitely.  Because of these local centres, human movements are much more widely spread than in monocentric cities elsewhere.

This is very good generally and the people like it.

In 2014, the independent research analyst Centre for Cities had Milton Keynes at the top in virtually every key measure of urban success.  Citizens declared in two ICM surveys that they overwhelmingly love Milton Keynes. In one, 84 per cent said the grid road system should not be tampered with.

This is the Milton Keynes way – and it works.  Our leaders should have worked hard to preserve it, just as others around the world have recognised its value and copied it on several continents.  Sadly, however, the people of Milton Keynes have been betrayed.

Between them, Milton Keynes Council, English Partnerships (founded in 2004) and its subsidiary Milton Keynes Partnership have done everything possible to destroy its infinite expandability.   Sacrificing infrastructure for densification, profiting from land values and pushing for expansion to double the size without the benefits of the Infinitely Expandable City is frankly insane.

Grid roads are the perfect example.  They were designed with an 80-metre corridor, with substantial green reserve.  They were largely dual carriageway but single carriageways had space to provide dualing.  They have huge redundancy and were left with nub ends to be expanded as population increased.

But the council and English Partnerships have already arguably destroyed both ends of H7 Chaffron Way, the northern ends of V1 Snelshall Street, V2 Tattenhoe Street, V3 Fulmer Street, V7 Saxon Street and V10 Brickhill Street; the western ends of H1 Ridgeway, H2 Millers Way and H3 Monks Way; the southern ends of V6 Grafton Street and V8 Marlborough Street and the grid road that should have been the V12, now Newport Road.  This stymies much planned expansion for our otherwise Infinitely Expandable City.

English Partnerships and Milton Keynes Partnership are no more.  However, their legacy of shame is the planning permissions granted for huge swathes of land such as the Western Expansion Area, a development the size of Buckingham but with no grid roads and with at-grade crossings.  The last of the major undeveloped land was sold by the Treasury via the Homes & Communities Agency to Milton Keynes Council for £32 million in January 2013. Milton Keynes Development Partnership is the wholly-owned council body tasked with development of this land.  To say that it has been unsuccessful in its task would be an understatement.

But it is not just the sacrifice of open land that betrays us. We should be having a return to Parker Morris room standards.  These 1961 minimum-room-size standards became mandatory for all housing built in new towns in 1967, the year Milton Keynes was founded. They were extended to all council housing in 1969 and used on many of our older estates.

The mandatory nature of the standards was ended by the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980, when the incoming government sought to reduce the cost of housing and public spending.  Thus we now have developments such as Monkston Park, Broughton Gate, Broughton, Oakgrove and Grange Farm; ‘Insult Developments’, I call them.  Here the planners and builders conspire to build densely packed, high-occupancy houses with few or no parking spaces on narrow roads.  Refuse trucks (nor fire engines) cannot get down these traffic-choked streets so little vans pick up sacks and disgorge them into the refuse truck parked outside.

A further betrayal is the council’s appointment of Mears plc to demolish, infill, densify and urbanise our central estates using compulsory purchase orders and forced relocations and spend half a billion pounds on the process.  This is unconscionable and will, I strongly suspect, promote social unrest and tensions.

Another issue is the removal of free parking.  Milton Keynes’ high street, uniquely, is a regional shopping centre.  Every regional shopping centre has free parking.  Except ours.  Its removal cost us £900,000, nearly £200 a space, and was apparently designed to bring in the princely sum of £2 million, although recent figures suggest that the council pocketed £9 million in car parking ‘profits’ in 2014/15 – only three cities outside London brought in more.

How long before your average shopper’s back-of-an-envelope ‘cost benefit analysis’ shows them it is cheaper to drive a little further and have stress-free parking?  What then happens to Central Milton Keynes?  Will a new Primark, allegedly planned for the former BHS store with a new added floor, save thecentre:mk?  We’ll see.

But all is not lost.  There is still hope and I wish a happy 50th year to Milton Keynes and a happy tenth birthday to all the Urban Eden membership.  Let’s keep the dream alive.  Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog January 2017

Happy New Year.  Readers of my column may recall the many times I have mentioned that planning myopia and land greed has meant that grid roads which were always designed to extend both west and east of Milton Keynes as the city inevitably expands have been cut off, truncated or seriously downgraded.  Evidence of this betrayal can be seen in both the Eastern and Western Expansion Areas.  And, as we all deep in our hearts know, the key thing that users of our city transport infrastructure need more than anything else is quite simply this:  convenience.

Without it we are all condemned to endless gridlock, emotional frustration, missed appointments, high blood pressure, higher travel cost and resulting air pollution.

The provisional good news, as we enter 2017, is this.  It is beginning to look as if not only will Milton Keynes be in the middle of the new East West Rail link – a reopening of the historic Varsity Line between Oxford and Cambridge – but we may soon (a relative term as it is pencilled in for 2031) also have an East West Expressway.  That is assuming, of course, that we have not built all over its planned route by then.

The Oxford to Cambridge Expressway Strategic Study, the very recently published proposals by the government, rightly comments that: “Oxford, Milton Keynes and Cambridge [are] better connected to London than [to] each other.”

It also shows how poor is the current road connectivity, highlighting the lack of a direct dual carriageway route between the three towns via Bedford.  It cites the most direct route from west to east is via the A34 from Oxford, the M40-A43 or the A41-A4421 via Bicester, the A421 through Buckingham, Milton Keynes and Bedford to the A1 and the A428 via St Neots to Cambridge.

In its socio-economic summary the study says: “Expressway and EWR interventions are critical to overcoming the existing local, regional and national infrastructure deficits, connecting skilled people with jobs, linking employment clusters and creating an efficient national transport network grid that enables future regional housing and jobs growth to be delivered in a way that supports the efficient movement of goods and people.  Expressway and EWR interventions will ensure that a lack of transport connectivity and capacity does not prevent the region from successfully competing in the global marketplace and providing resilience for the UK economy.”

Surely then, this work is vital to the continuing success of Milton Keynes.

Buses are not left out of the study either.  The main towns are connected by the X5 coach service which provides, the report says, “a relatively high end-to-end journey time from Oxford to Cambridge and vice versa of approximately three hours 40 minutes.”

Which is frankly shocking and compares with car or lorry journey times of about two hours 20 minutes.

The study proposes three different routes for the proposed Expressway.  On the eastern side of Milton Keynes all three come through Junction 13 of the M1 but then diverge quite significantly.  Option A takes the Expressway via Aylesbury, Option B goes via the East West Rail corridor and Option C along the existing A421 corridor.  Most of these options come with some variation and alternatives.

The estimated cost of the options, which ranges from just over £3,000 million to £3,514 million, is fairly eye-watering but surely cost cannot be a consideration when it is so vital to all our futures.

Now at the risk of being called an incorrigible cynic, I would say that Option B-S1, one of the roughly-outlined routes along the East West rail corridor, is the most likely to be passed which certainly has some implications for those whose homes and businesses border the currently little used East West Rail lines.  But, of course, there will be years and years of planning consultation and horse-trading before shovel hits dirt.

In principle this is a good thing for Milton Keynes; in practice and eventual delivery, who knows? Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog December 2016

This year has been a challenge in terms of upholding the traditions of the built environment in Milton Keynes, but I would like to thank all the friends and supporters of Urban Eden for your active involvement in our campaigns.  I would like to wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

I do not have an article in MK Business News this month, so my next blog will be in January 2017 and will be in the best traditions of Urban Eden.  I will continue my endeavours in 2017 to hold the feet to the fire of those with responsibility, who would ignore or undo the features of Milton Keynes, which have stood us in good stead for 50 years.  If you want to have a look at the official website for our 50th birthday, click here. Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog November 2016

Milton Keynes Council has been slicing and dicing its budgets for years in order to save money and now there is very little left to cut.  It says that in the past six years its funding has been cut by £38 million, the increased demand on services in that time has cost £73 million and thus the council has had to find £111 million of savings.  The current budget is £175 million with, it is claimed, a further £49 million of savings required over the next four years.

Now the council could raise its council tax but the problem for it is that council tax increases are capped.  Central government dictates that if a proposed increase is more than two per cent, the council has to hold a referendum.  This is extremely costly and, because turkeys are unlikely to vote for Christmas, it would probably produce, for them, the ‘wrong’ result.

One area in which it could make some further cuts is on non-statutory services; those services such as grass cutting, infrastructure maintenance and refuse and recycling collections which are, unbelievably, purely discretionary.  Thus around the country we have already seen similarly ‘strapped’ councils cutting  refuse collection to once a fortnight or even once a month.  And heaven help you if you miss that.

If that were to happen here it would certainly give residents cause to wonder just what they do get for their oh-so-expensive council tax.

However, someone at the council has come up with what they must have thought was a wizard idea.  They would approach the 48 parish and town councils in the borough and offer them more power – oh, and more responsibility.  The idea was to devolve the cost of non-statutory services to the parish and town councils whose precepts are at present not capped. You will find your local parish or town council precept listed on your council tax bill as a separate item – each varies. But it is still a tax.

The fly in this ill-thought-out ointment is that government is now consulting (September 2016; Department for Communities and Local Government: The 2017/18 Local Government Finance Settlement Technical Consultation Paper – Pages 13/14) on a proposal to cap parish and town council precepts too.  If their precept is increased by more than 2pc it looks very likely that they would also have to hold a referendum.

In the meantime, however, a parish precept increase of £75 per annum per band D household, to cover services to be no longer provided by Milton Keynes Council, had been suggested by a senior officer in informal meetings with selected parish and town councils.  However, this was later angrily denied by a council cabinet member.

Despite this denial, at the recent Parishes’ Forum some parishes were reported by attendees to be incandescent about the way proposals suggesting parishes pay for services had allegedly been proposed by Milton Keynes Council.  In response, the MK Association of Local Councils has said it is arranging a conference in March next year to discuss the whole issue of services and funding.

Since the Parishes’ Forum debacle, it has now been suggested that no services will be put up for consideration to be taken over by parish and town councils in this budget round.  I am told that Milton Keynes Council now understands that the parishes are arranging their conference in the New Year and that the council’s ‘shopping list’ should be prepared by then, hence there being nothing formally on the table at the moment.

To these eyes, it seems the borough council has done a major U-turn on outsourcing service funding which was being proposed for the financial year 2016/17 and has backed down for the foreseeable future.  At least this will give them a little more time to work out a proper solution to their financial black hole.

In the meantime refuse to let the refuse pile up.  Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog October 2016

You recall that I wrote in the previous edition of Business MK about plans by neighbouring boroughs to ‘dump’ new communities right on our borders.  The advantages for them would be that they will collect all the council tax and government house-target ‘brownie points’ – Aylesbury Vale, for instance, is required to expand by 33,000 new homes.  By contrast, the citizens of Milton Keynes will collect all the grief; overcrowded roads, buses and trains; overwhelmed doctors’ surgeries, hospitals and emergency services and schools and colleges at breaking point.

As I predicted, the revised application for South West Milton Keynes (formerly Salden Chase) has now been submitted.  Read the details at and the determination to ignore the much-loved elements of our original master plan are evident.

Nevertheless the members of the consortium responsible promote only the good things which, according to them, include the following (my comments in parentheses):

  • Up to 1,855 homes, up to 30 per cent of which will be affordable housing (Call me cynical but 1pc can be called ‘up to 30pc’);
  • Land required to provide a route for a Bletchley Southern Bypass;
  • Land reserved for a six-GP surgery (but, I note, no plans to actually build one);
  • A primary school with early years provision;
  • A site for a secondary school (but no plans to actually build one);
  • An employment area;
  • More than 53 hectares of green space including parkland, sports and recreational facilities.

Vanished: of particular note is the fact underpasses are no longer in the plan.  The underpasses planned for the new ‘grid road’ through the development – a southern extension of the V1 Snellshall Street in the old version of the plans – have now mysteriously vanished.

The grid road extension would form part of the Bletchley southern bypass linking the A421 and the A4146, if this is ever built.  Instead it is now proposed to add underpasses in later if the road is ever extended south of the railway and dualled.  So dangerous and traffic-slowing at-grade crossings are to be provided with underpasses possible at a future stage.

This is the same approach used on other developments in the expansion areas as decreed by the appalling, now departed, Milton Keynes Partnership, a wholly owned subsidiary of English Partnerships and responsible for much that is wrong with Milton Keynes.

The argument being that ‘someone’ will pay for the underpasses later but the intention is obvious – they will never be built.  The clear desire is also to ignore the much touted entreaties of our two local MPs of ‘Infrastructure before Expansion’.

I will give praise where it is due, however, and one small improvement is the replacement of the Buckingham Road signal junction with a roundabout.  However, this will have at-grade pedestrian crossings over both the new road and Buckingham Road.

The current scheme is significantly smaller than the original Salden Chase first proposed in 2007 – the thinking being, I suspect; to ‘ever so slowly boil the frog’.  The South West Milton

Keynes proposal takes up the land between H8 Standing Way, Newton Road, the edge of Bletchley and the Oxford-Bletchley railway – soon to be expanded to Cambridge as the revived Varsity Line / East-West Rail.

There is no planned station for the development despite it being right next to this rail line and having almost 2,000 homes in its first iteration, a further example of cost-cutting at the expense of future-proofing and providing good infrastructure.

I repeat my call for Milton Keynes to have its borders expanded to include areas targeted for actual expansion of our city.  It is the only action that makes sense.  If you agree, let your MP know.  Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog September 2016

As many of you will know, Milton Keynes Council is desperate to fulfil some sort of lemming-like requirement to never stop expanding Milton Keynes.  But it is not only infill and expansion by our own council of which we should be scared. Soon, it seems, Milton Keynes is to be afflicted with several swellings on its flanks, afflicted by others.


Central government sees Milton Keynes as a place where more residents can be dumped from crowded andrapidly-becoming-unaffordable nearby cities.  Government ambitions to build more than 40,000 new homes here before 2031 – that equates to 1,750 dwellings a year – have provided the stimulus for the council to create the somewhat stuttering Plan:MK.


The desperation to hit targets is already showing, resulting in aggressive house building firms busily buying up and optioning every available potential site in order to capitalise on this mindless expansion and in-filling.  Bizarrely, of course, this will inevitably result in Milton Keynes becoming a crowded and unaffordable city itself.  Cheers, central government. Cheers, aggressive house builders.


But Milton Keynes is not alone.  The boroughs that surround us are under pressure to expand too.  And Milton Keynes is sitting there with its already developed land oh so close to their borders, like a great fat, sacrificial goat.  Aylesbury Vale, for instance is required to expand by 33,000 new homes.  And where better to dump them than right on Milton Keynes’ doorstep?  After all, they will collect all the council tax and government house-target brownie points; we will collect all the grief: supplying transport links, doctors’ surgeries, hospital, fire, police, ambulance, schools and colleges, railway stations et-bloody-cetera.  What could better suit the burghers of Aylesbury Vale?


The existing plan for 1,885 homes in the so-called South West Milton Keynes – or ‘Son of Salden Chase’ – scheme, about which I have written previously, is still not decided.  Meanwhile 268 homes are already being built south of Newton Leys, outside our boundaries.

But why stop there?  There is yet another newly announced plan for a further 2,000 homes in Shenley Road, Whaddon, tucked up against Milton Keynes, yet just outside the borough boundary.  And, apparently, Milton Keynes is to enjoy the benefits of Aylesbury Vale’s two ‘traveller’ sites nearby too.  Nice one, Aylesbury Vale.


But the threats are not just from the west.  In the east is the just announced plan from specialist planning company Berrys to build two new ‘garden communities’ east of the M1 with 10,000 homes between Cranfield and Bedford.  The bait for this expansion of Milton

Keynes into Central Bedfordshire is an offer to construct a new hospital to serve both Milton Keynes and Bedford as well as a major university campus, such as should properly be built in central Milton Keynes on the large empty site between the:hub and the rail station.


There is, of course, also the recent proposal of Gallagher Estates to build a ‘daughter Milton Keynes’ of up to 20,000 new homes in the north, between Castlethorpe and Little Linford, admittedly on Milton Keynes Council-controlled land.


Surely a city the size of Milton Keynes, with plans to expand its population from the current 260,000 to well over 350,000, should control its own borders and what adjoins them.  Surely

Milton Keynes’ boundaries must be urgently expanded if we are to have all these developments tacked on to them.


I asked local MPs Mark Lancaster and Iain Stewart for their views on this.  There are, I argued, precedents for this: many London boroughs, for instance, were formerly parts of Middlesex County Council or Surrey boroughs.  Mr Stewart, MP for Milton Keynes South, was on holiday.   Mr Lancaster, his counterpart in Milton Keynes

North, could not be contacted over several days, despite appearing on BBC Look East in between being asked for a quote and the deadline for this article.

Hmm, a hot potato, gentlemen?  You bet.  This issue will not disappear soon and may yet burn a few fingers.  Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog August 2016

Avid readers of this column may recall that last year I opined that neither council leader Peter Marland nor the current chief executive nor her predecessor had a ‘vision’ for Milton Keynes.   It seemed that, stung by my constant suggestion that someone, anyone, in power needs to develop a ‘vision’ such as was held by the original Development Corporation, a Vision Commission was proposed.  Perhaps to save face it was hastily, and clumsily, dubbed The MK Futures 2050 Commission.

Now its nine-member team has issued its report.  I went to its grand launch at the Open University last month.  Its key messages, trumpeted somewhat in the style of a politician declaring that he loved both grandmothers and apple pies, are six very hard to hate ‘Big Projects’:

  • Hub of the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford Arc
  • MK:IT
  • Learning 2050
  • Smart, shared, sustainable mobility
  • Renaissance:CMK
  • Milton Keynes: Creative and cultured city

These all have merit but there is nothing very new about them.  Milton Keynes has been seen as a midway point between Oxford and Cambridge for years, not least during the days of Station X, Bletchley Park or the soon to be restored Varsity Line rail link connecting the two Beacons of Academe with the less academically inspiring Milton Keynes.

Project Two promotes a new university and central campus modelled on, and cleverly named after, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); hence MK:IT.  It would be very good for Milton Keynes and alongside the Open University and Cranfield may provide a draw for technology start-ups.  If built, it really must be on the B4.4. site across Witan Gate from Sainsbury’s and the:hub.

Which brings us to more hard to hate apple pies.  Learning 2050 suggests strong links between schools and MK:IT.  Custard or cream with that?

Smart, shared, sustainable mobility is more contentious.  Instead of saying we absolutely must have a tram system and we absolutely must have our electric buses going along Midsummer Boulevard through the arch over intu, which was always intended for such use, it beats around the bush with a word for every alternative that either already exists or has been planned for a while.  Surely the  Commission realised that in order to make omelettes, it must break eggs.

Renaissance: CMK nods to the CMK Alliance neighbourhood plan but although the commission promotes heavy inward investment into a revitalised, densified and exciting 24-hour economy, it fails to see the contradictions with its policy principles on maintaining green spaces nor addresses potential congestion, some of which we are already seeing and which will increase at a population of 400,000.  Milton Keynes: The creative and cultured city.  More apple pie and smiling grandmothers…

I applaud the efforts by the Commission members.  I applaud their research, dedication and commitment.  I am however saddened that they believe that densification, demolition and infilling of failing estates and expansion outside the city will protect the things we citizens hold most dear.

At a discussion with commission members I learned that they thought expansion was good and inevitable because if we only build homes for the children of those already here we will fail to bring in investment and Milton Keynes will stagnate.  But I do not believe they have considered the consequences of not extending the cut-off grid roads, reducing polycentrism in place of a standard ‘city centre magnet’ model and thinking that a few driverless pods solve the major parking issues.

However they have one surprise up their collective sleeve: a new, locally controlled, Milton Keynes Development Corporation.  I agree.  Wholeheartedly.  Just so long as it is not the renamed Milton Keynes Development Partnership, which so far has failed to effectively use the huge land bank it controls in the three years it has existed.

Its ludicrous plan for a pair of skyscrapers on Midsummer Boulevard is fine in principle but with no effective transport solution will simply create gridlock.  To be Manhattan or London requires an underground rail system, trams or a monorail.  Are we getting that?  Clearly not.  What if we had a mayor?  This was asked of the commissioners whose response was: “There are good and bad mayors.  We might get a bad one.”

Not to worry, I am sure the council will carry on blithely compromising in its time-honoured make-do kind of way.  Cheerio.

                                                         X X X X X X

Chairman’s Blog June 2016

WHILE at a very well-attended meeting featuring politicians on each side of the Brexit debate, organised by civic society Milton Keynes Forum, it occurred to me that some may not be aware of the sterling work the forum does here.

It was founded in the late 1980s, an initiative by three well-connected citizens Robert de Grey, Alan Francis and Robert Phillips.  They were concerned about what would happen to the city in the wake of the government announcement of the then proposed winding-up of Milton Keynes Development Corporation in 1992.

At first its focus groups concentrated on health and wellbeing; housing; the physical environment; structures and the local economy.  It gained wide support from residents, diverse organisations, companies and Milton Keynes Council – the latter having the right to elect three members to its committee.  Public meetings were held on topics ranging from education to local governance, care in the community, housing and public art.

Over the years the focus groups closed, leaving Milton Keynes Forum to focus on the physical environment, an area it felt was its natural heartland.  It concentrated on the way in which the city is developed going forward.  Members include planners, architects, engineers, surveyors, environmentalists, business people and those with an interest in the built environment.

In the 1990s the forum took the initiative in proposing the listing of thecentre:mk and one of its members Margaret Antalopoulos  – who sadly died last month – persuaded many architects to support the eventual grade II listing in 2010.  The forum regularly makes representations on planning applications  – not only the major ones such as the intu Milton Keynes extension and Primark but also on more modest buildings where it feels that changes might destroy the character of the buildings.  It is not opposed to changes or demolition but is concerned that replacements should be of a high quality.

At the forum’s initiative, the council inserts a special planning condition to ensure that, where key buildings are to be changed, there is a formal record of the building in its original state, something which chimes with my own call on house building numbers that we cannot know where we are going unless we know where we are now.

Milton Keynes Forum makes many aware of the city’s unique architectural heritage established by the development corporation.  It anticipates playing a key role in the council’s exercise to identify suitable buildings for the Local Heritage List of the New Town era (this is the step below formal listing).  It held a highly successful and entertaining meeting 10 Buildings:10 People:10 Minutes at MK Gallery last year in which ten local people with an interest in buildings in Milton Keynes were asked to identify ten buildings that they admired. I was honoured to be one of those speakers.

Milton Keynes Forum believes that design is important at all levels and deplores the way in which the well considered grid road signage designed by Milton Keynes Development Corporation is being replaced with an unco-ordinated set of signs of little design merit.  It was responsible for getting the sculpture Octo above listed, having appealed against Historic England’s initial decision to refuse listing.  Perhaps more controversially, the forum has caused a stink by proposing listing of the Cotton Valley Sewage Works.

Its current campaign Outrage MK takes its cue from a 1955 Architectural Review in which journalist Ian Nairn raged about the fact that all places were starting to look the same or, in the words of another critic Paul Finch “How can we make this city more like itself rather than more like somewhere else”?

Milton Keynes Forum takes a keen interest in city expansion and inputs consultations held by the council, most recently into Plan:MK: Site Allocations Plan and the Central Milton Keynes Transport and Parking Strategy.  In 2011 it published its own vision for the city centre CMK Revisited which formed the basis of the eventual Business Neighbourhood Plan.

The forum’s current chair is Tim Skelton who has been on the committee since the 1990s. However, I give the last word to the forum’s co-founder Robert de Grey, who has also been a borough councillor, school governor and the inaugural chair of MK Gallery.  “Milton Keynes Forum was set up to help give people the tools to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy among decision-makers in Milton Keynes,” he says.  “In some quarters, we were not very popular, but with supporters such as Lord Campbell and Sir Ralph Verney we got the feeling we were listened to from time to time.

“We are now over-consulted on everything but not necessarily listened to.  So the forum has changed its role. Its focus is much more that of a conventional civic society, persuading the authorities to build an environment of quality while conserving that of the last 50 years.  However, I do regret the early days of the Forum, when we had a lot of fun tweaking a few tails.”



Chairman’s Blog May 2016

I appear to have stirred up a bit of a hornets’ nest at Milton Keynes Council.  You may recall that in my last two columns I have discussed the council initiative Plan:MK, the new Local Plan for the borough covering a period of 15 years from adoption.  It sits alongside the Core Strategy, adopted in 2013, which sets out the strategic planning policies currently used to guide development in the borough and the Site Allocations Plan.

The simple question I asked was this: if we are to know how to respond to the questions asked about expansion in Plan:MK’s public consultation (now closed), surely we cannot do this meaningfully unless we know exactly where we are right now?  To that end I attempted to find out exactly how many new homes have outline or full planning permission but have not yet been started.

That is a very simple question, you would think, wouldn’t you?  Believe it or not; the council appears not to have these figures.  One effort was made to discover the numbers, based on a graph taken from Plan:MK Topic Paper – Issues Consultation Growth in Housing (Sep 2014) – produced by the council.  I gave details of this last month.  It showed an alleged 50,000 to 60,000 unbuilt dwellings in the pipeline.

Urban Eden has also submitted a Freedom of Information request to the council, as yet unanswered, for the same numbers.  However the council, in an effort to parry my 50-60,000 assumptions has issued some new, and various, data.  This is now the Plan:MK website.  It reads: “Milton Keynes Council monitors MK’s housing stock and future commitments each quarter, and once a year publishes projections as part of our assessment of 5-Year Housing Land Supply.  Because we look at every site, this projection is very accurate.  We use this information to chart the relationship of outline planning permissions, full permissions, and completions over time.  The data shows a trend using a snapshot in time for each year and should not be added to make a cumulative tally.  We believe this is where the incorrect figure of 60,000 comes from.”

The council goes on to explain that total housing land supply in the borough as of April 1 this year is for 21,872 dwellings (that, by my reckoning, provides almost 13 years of agreed housing supply).  Of the total, 14,754 have planning permission (3,707 of which have full permission) and the remaining 7,118 dwellings are to be delivered on sites allocated in the Local Plan or in Neighbourhood Plans.

Fair enough, you might think. So “this projection is very accurate”, is it?  Contained within a report to councillors, circulated almost simultaneously, is the information that as of April 1 land was available for 22,951 homes, of which 3,017 have full planning permission.  A total 5,230 will be delivered through Local Plan allocations, deliverable brownfield opportunities and windfall allowances.

So we seem, according to the council’s latest figures, to have lost, or gained, over 1,000 homes – a not inconsiderable sum, constituting developments covering several acres.  How might one explain that, except as somewhat confused and confusing?

In the meantime I have discovered something else, rather unexpectedly, which also goes further towards supporting the suggestion that developers might be ‘land banking’.  It appears that, on August 8 2013, councillors unanimously agreed to extend the ‘longstop’ date (the deadline by which developers had to complete housing) in the Western

Expansion Area as follows: “The applicants only have an eight-year period to build out over 6,600 homes before the longstop date takes effect.  This will cause financial difficulty to the applicants and they wish to see an extension of the long stop date to 2031”.

“The Officer recommended that a Deed of Variation be agreed in relation to extend the longstop date to March 31 2031 on the two above applications, to be reviewed further if required at any point after March 31 2029.”

So is the tail now wagging the dog?  It all gets stranger and stranger.



Chairman’s Blog April 2016

IN MY column last month, I asked whether Milton Keynes is big enough.  This month I have discovered much, much more to suggest that it possibly is.

The chart below shows that, with an annual average of 13,000 outline consents over the last five years but with completions running at less than 1,000 annually, Milton Keynes has at least 13 years of developable sites available to it. According to some calculations from local groups based on the council’s own figures, there are approximately 50,000 to 60,000 houses in the planning pipeline, not the repeatedly stated 20,000.  Thus no more are needed to reach the optimum size for Milton Keynes by circa 2037.

The issue then becomes the alleged failure of house builders to actually build homes for which they have outline permissions and bring such housing to the market.  The question this raises is whether house builders are ‘land-banking’ and whether the council is either colluding with this (disgraceful), acting in utter ignorance (unlikely), or obsessively seeking new lands to cover in houses when there is no actual need (with this council, who knows?).

Click here to see the council’s own graph: Council’s own graph

Click here to see Running Annual Status at 31st December 2015 (MKC Housing End of Year Monitoring).  This graph is an analysis of the difference between completions achieved against target (31st December: 55.6%).  It is taken from Plan:MK Topic Paper  Issues Consultation Growth in Housing (September 2014).  With an alleged 50,000 to 60,000 unbuilt dwellings in the pipeline, surely the council must call a stop to its ceaseless quest for new lands to conquer.

In 2005 Milton Keynes was achieving around 43 per cent ‘Outline Planning’ to ‘Completions’.  In 2006 that percentage fell to 30pc. If this was happening now, it would deliver not the current 827 units but circa 5,000.  Alarmingly in 2013 the relationship between ‘Outline Planning’ and ‘Completions’ was just 7.5pc.  Is any more evidence required?

Developers appear to be land-banking as they did prior to the 1980s crash and choosing not to build yet on sites already allocated.  I asked the council’s director, planning and transport Anna Rose at a recent private meeting what our assumed housing needs would be if the British voted for Brexit.

Interestingly, she could not say.

Given all of the above, the scale of the options in the Plan:MK consultation must now be seen as excessive and unnecessary until robust evidence is available to clarify whether such high levels of growth are needed in addition to the present planning pipeline in preparation for post 2031.

Gridlock:  Other questions also need to be asked. What, for instance, is the maximum housing capacity for Milton Keynes beyond which housing growth negatively impacts movement and ultimately leads to economic gridlock?

Once, we had a polycentric city which in theory might be infinitely expanded.  But with the permanent blocking-up or City Street downgrading of so many of the nub ends of our grid roads and failure to dual those always designed to be dualled, Milton Keynes no longer can contemplate such extreme expansion.

Originally, Milton Keynes was designed to support a population of some 250,000.  This has now been exceeded as we are already at 260,000 and the Eastern and Western Expansion Areas are far from complete.

With the proposal for an additional 20,000-plus houses on top of those 50,000-60,000 yet to be built and with neighbours like Aylesbury Vale planning to ‘dump’ hundreds of homes on our borders – all using our schools, hospital, healthcare, fire and police – the smooth running of our city is now at serious risk. Current permissions alone will likely take our population to well over 350,000.

Unless Milton Keynes Council can categorically disprove these numbers, which are based on their own figures, I suggest a moratorium on outwards expansion unless and until a proper case can be made based on all the facts.  Plan:MK must be put on hold.



Chairman’s Blog March 2016

Plan:MK is Milton Keynes Council’s latest offering in what I call its ‘Politics of Obfuscation’.  It is the new Local Plan, covering a period of 15 years from adoption.

It sits alongside the Core Strategy adopted in 2013 which sets out the strategic planning policies to guide development in the borough and the Site Allocations Plan – 130 designated sites, effectively a totalitarian ‘city infill’ where the council looks to build on every scrap of land in our older estates in order, it says, to ensure “a flexible supply of land to meet our housing target in the Core Strategy, in case the delivery of some of our larger sites is delayed”.

Plan:MK is out for consultation until April 6 so unless you want your thoughts to be ignored – and they still might be – get on to it quickly.  They are, confusingly, asking 20 questions buried in different places in the document.  They include: What facilities or opportunities should Milton Keynes try to develop in the future?  Is the outward expansion of the Milton Keynes urban area in this direction the best way to accommodate new development in the longer term?  What do you think about the scale of the development suggested for east of the M1?

There are several things that occur to me.  One is that Milton Keynes was designed as a polycentric city that might, theoretically, be expanded infinitely. However since most of the specially designed grid road ‘nub ends’ have now been built over, stopped up and/or turned into effectively useless ‘city streets’, we can no longer effectively do this.

To expand outwards the borough area needs to expand in negotiation with the neighbouring authorities of Central Bedfordshire, Aylesbury Vale, South Northants, Wellingborough and Bedford.  Otherwise we will suffer unwanted ‘dumping’ of dormer-estates with no supportive infrastructure, as nearly happened with Salden Chase.

Thirdly, if we build on every scrap of green land within our city, surely we are destroying everything that makes us all so love the place and over-stretching our entire infrastructure.

I asked the council these questions with their answers in italics:

How many new homes is the council obliged to deliver and under what statutory instrument or other ungetoutable obligation?   28,000 as set out in Adopted Core Strategy.

By when must these new homes be delivered?  In CS plan period, from 2010 to 2026.

Does the figure include new homes already granted planning permission in the WEA, EAA and elsewhere in the borough?  To a degree but on those sites the completions before 2010 are excluded.

If so, how many additional homes are required to fulfil the obligations?  Currently 28,000 minus the completions from 2010 to 2016.

How many homes for which there is planning permission have not been started within one year by those holding the permissions and also within two years or longer?  Not so easy to calculate.  The 5 year land supply schedule is attached.

The land supply schedule is very informative.  It fully complies with the council’s (un)stated policy of ‘Politics of Obfuscation’ but does set out targets of a rolling five-year requirement for 8,750 new homes across the borough.  It never really reveals why.

I wonder if they have considered that Milton Keynes might already be big enough and that we really do not need to make it any bigger than the planned developments in the Western and Eastern Expansion Areas, B4.4 in the City Centre opposite The Hub and other planned developments?  Incidentally, the WEA is the size of Buckingham, 350 hectares between Stony Stratford, Two Mile Ash and Crownhill, and will eventually comprise 18,000 people in 6,500 new homes, employment and parkland.

Residents who live in outlying villages are rabidly against ribbon development merging them with the city.  Perhaps we should all just concentrate on what is planned; force developers to pull their fingers out and develop areas for which they have planning permission. In the meantime, the council is no doubt eagerly awaiting your response to its well-hidden online public consultation.  Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog Febuary 2016

Readers may recall that in May last year I wrote about Milton Keynes Council’s plans to demolish and redevelop many of our older estates, including Netherfield, Coffee Hall, Tinkers Bridge, North Bradville, Fullers Slade, The Lakes Estate and Beanhill.  This was to cost in excess of £600 million and I discovered that the cost was to be funded by £70-£75 million from ‘rent money’ – the Housing Revenue Account for RegenerationMK.  The balance would be from a private developer partner (at that time not appointed).  It has been now; it is Mears Group plc.

So where is the additional £525-£530million coming from?  It seemed clear; the only way to find that money was to build on every inch of our once generously proportioned estates.

The council has now admitted that any new homes built will be considerably smaller than current homes and that densities will rise from 20 homes per hectare to 35. Residents will be moved out, possibly into temporary or emergency accommodation and then moved back to newer homes months later having suffered inconvenience, educational disruption, transport problems and work issues.

But apparently there is no guarantee of that or of anything at all for that matter.  After all, we are talking about active local communities here.  And who cares about them?

It seems obvious that in the event the owners do not agree to a forced, fixed-price, no-haggle, only-one-bidder sale of their home, it eventually will be purchased under a Compulsory Purchase Order.  Until then, owners risk years of ‘blight’, unable to sell or move on with their lives, while this process slowly devours them.

There is another important point and that is to do with Parker Morris room standards. These 1961 minimum-room-size standards became mandatory for all housing built in new towns in 1967, were extended to all council housing in 1969 and were used on many of our older estates.  The standards were effectively ended by the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980, as concerns grew over the cost of housing and public spending.

While some houses on these older estates are showing signs of age, the generosity of their living spaces and abundant storage puts a vast majority of the new homes to shame. Can these homes not be renovated rather than demolished?  Many residents think so, some have done the job themselves and appear very happy in their well-proportioned homes.

Surely if the council really cared about local people and not its bottom line, it would reinstate Parker Morris room standards as a bare minimum instead of allowing new dwellings that are potentially ‘future slums’: Monkston Park, Broughton Gate, Broughton, Oakgrove, Grange Farm for example.  I call these ‘Insult Developments’, where the planners and builders conspire to build homes that “are good enough for the likes of them”. Where refuse trucks cannot access the narrow, traffic-choked street, so vans collect sacks and disgorge them into the garbage truck parked outside.

The council wishes to fund massive infilling of green spaces in our central estates by demolishing all the older housing stock, building lots of tiny new homes, bulldozing trees and building on every sward of grass.  Thousands of residents will be seriously discommoded in the process and if they are lucky enough to get a new home near where they once lived, it will be tiny, densely packed and enjoy no empty green spaces.

But worry not. According to one recent report, the council’s head of regeneration Kathryn Eames has confirmed they are not doing it for the money, to hit housing targets nor to turn Milton Keynes into Basingstoke, Crawley or Stevenage.  Oh no.  “We’re doing it because people live 11 years less than those in neighbouring estates and something needs to be done”.

So these people’s lowered life expectancy is nothing to do with higher levels of poverty, social inequality, unemployment or living on questionably nutritious food bank handouts but because they are living in generously proportioned yet run-down housing,  much of it actually council-owned?

You couldn’t make it up.  Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog January 2016

IT IS a new year and there is some good news to usher in 2016.  People power and public outrage have forced Milton Keynes Council to reverse what was possibly the craziest delegated decision it has ever taken.  The decision on December 1, by cabinet member Cllr Matt Clifton, was to create 235 additional parking bays in Central Milton Keynes by reducing the width of 5,402 bays to 2.3 metres from the recommended 2.4 metres.  And all this at a cost of £1,277 per bay or a total of just over £300,000.

The decision was ‘called in’ by Stantonbury ward Cllr Alex Walker and by Central Milton Keynes Town Council.  Around 1,500 people signed a petition on  Local media campaigned too.  Now the council has capitulated and withdrawn the decision.

Interestingly, current standard sizes for car bays are based on car sizes that are at least 30-40 years out of date.  In the meantime cars have got larger.  The current VW Polo is larger in every dimension than the first VW Golf, its supposedly ‘bigger’ brother.  Today’s Ford Mondeo is now almost two metres wide; its predecessor the Cortina was only 1.6 metres in width.  It has grown by 17 per cent and it is not alone.  Cars in the EU have become 130mm wider on average since 2001.

I also need to mention that people have got larger too.  In recent years, as any trip to a supermarket’s frozen chips cabinet will confirm, they have expanded by an enormous extent.  A side effect of the obesity epidemic is that car doors need to be opened wider.  If bays had been reduced to 2.3 metres wide, not only the morbidly obese but also parents with children in child seats, pregnant women and those less flexible and able-bodied would be forced to stay away.  I wonder what that would do to sales at thecentre:mk and intu Milton Keynes?

So was this mad decision for extra revenue?  You bet. Milton Keynes Council raked in £9 million in car parking ‘profits’ after costs in 2014/15 – only three other cities outside London bringing in more.  The surplus has increased by £3 million in just five years, according to the RAC Foundation.

Car parking surplus for Milton Keynes in the last financial year was ring-fenced to help pay for the running of street parking, subsided bus routes and community transport.  So with that huge parking profit windfall, would they need yet more for those purposes or is it being used elsewhere?

Apparently, moving forward with the bay-narrowing proposals under a delegated decision would also have triggered an increase in the charge for employee permits by way of a reduction in the Central Milton Keynes employee discount.  Opposition councillors had previously voted down the increase, which depended on 1,000 extra spaces being found for employee-permit parking.

The current employee discount is 50pc on the purple bay rate, which was raised this year by 25pc from 40p to 50p per hour.  The cabinet had proposed an increase for employee permits of 5pc of the 50p total every year for five years bringing employees from 50pc to 75pc of the normal fee over an assumed eight-hour working day.

As employees can only park in purple bays and not the premium red, the council created some new designations: 560 premium (red) spaces have been changed to red and black; 328 standard (purple) spaces are now red/black. These are now full price premium bays for casual parkers – up from 50p to £2 per hour – but purple-priced for permit holders.  Taking into account the recent general price hike, even discounted employees would face an increase of 87pc over four years, well above the rate of inflation and a worrying sign of outrageous profiteering.

The final trick the cabinet used to try to find the additional 1,000 employee parking bays was to create the additional 235 bays obtained by repainting width lines.  However despite the council’s U-turn on this and having been knocked back this year on their increase to employees, I have learned that they now intend to impose two years’ worth of their 5pc annual increases with one 10pc (of 50p) increase in April this year.

Surely this is both underhand and unacceptable.  Since they have lost the battle over ridiculously narrow parking bays, perhaps they should accept their failure to find 1,000 employee parking spaces and act honourably.

At least the car bay width proposal has been withdrawn and parking space sizes will remain as they are, in general 2.4- 2.5 metres wide.  Yet, even at these sizes, they seem barely adequate.  If only they were as wide as those marvellous, generous bays at Costco.  But we are where we are and I suppose we should rejoice.

In the meantime I wonder how we can stop the council coming up with yet more truly mad money-grabbing ideas going forward.  It is a new year, and I take this opportunity to wish you all the best in it.  Happy parking.  Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog December 2015

There’s a saying; “You never miss your water until your well runs dry”.  Given my recent experiences with almost daily traffic jams in Milton Keynes – yes, traffic jams… in MK! – I would like to suggest an alternate version: “You never miss your grid roads until the idiots stop building them.”

OK, so maybe these are temporary jams caused by infrastructure works for the Western Expansion Area, the redevelopment of the Kingston roundabout and resurfacing works triggered by renewed Milton Keynes Council investment and the enthusiasm of the new contractor.  Maybe.

However, the congestion may well be a portent of the future. The 40 years of free flowing travel were initiated in 1970 when the Milton Keynes Master Plan was published, which included the design of the grid system.  This meant fast roads, roundabouts, segregation of cars from people and cycles on the redways, landscaping and buffers between roads and housing. Perfection.

The city developed and these principles survived the test of time and were enshrined again, within the Milton Keynes Planning Manual, published by Milton Keynes Development Corporation in 1992. It also restated the requirement for grid corridor reservations to be planned into all development areas to fulfil the following functions:

  • To protect adjoining development from the effects of modern road traffic;
  • To add to the attractiveness of the environment for residents and road users through the provision of landscaped corridors;
  • To secure the land for primary transport routes and other main services, now and in the future.

You’d think therefore that these principles were so well-established and so admired worldwide that we’d be safe.  But no.  Sadly, there are always ‘idiots’ who think they know better.

Our grid roads were not only admired and copied worldwide, our citizens clearly loved them too. In 2008, the Citizens’ Advice Group on Transport was established by the council to review the transport needs of the city into the future.  The group commissioned a survey of 1,000 people to obtain a wider view. ICM carried out the survey and reported: “The grid is beloved of this parish. There is likely to be strong opposition if the format is radically changed.”

Specifically, the respondents provided the following views:

  • 88 per cent said it gives Milton Keynes a unique identity not seen in other towns;
  • 87pc said the grid road system is fast and efficient;
  • 84pc said the grid road system should not be tampered with.

But I suspect that the ‘idiots’ were standing with their fingers in their ears, going: “I’m not listening, la, la, la”!

Now I happily accept that the MK Master Plan is not without its critics among the planning fraternity and that the model is not perfect.  However, in 2014, the independent research analyst Centre for Cities had Milton Keynes at the top in virtually every key measure of urban success.  It works, it is highly successful and the people love it.  What could possibly go wrong?

Then those ‘idiots’, our so-called public servants, in partnership with the larger developers, came up with the Eastern and Western Expansion Areas.  I have written about this previously so I won’t repeat the detail.  Of course, the ‘idiots’ needed some facile justifications for destroying our grid system.  The WEA Development Framework (2005) was one such: “…the long-term transport vision envisages that the infrastructure in the expansion areas should provide public transport routes associated with higher development densities”.

And so the hated and failing City Street concept was born.

The ‘idiots’ hadn’t finished their scorched earth policy yet, though.  In the east, the EEA Development Framework (2008) further stated “…the standard Milton Keynes model can be regarded as highly structured suburbia; it is a model which (in its best interpretations) is well loved by residents.  The challenge for the EEA is to deliver a “New Milton Keynes” which updates the Milton Keynes tradition…”

Hello?  So the ‘idiots’ were attempting to “update the Milton Keynes tradition” by destroying it?

Good sense appeared to return with the Strategic Land Allocation Development Framework SPD (2013) that covers the expansion in the south east of Milton Keynes. The design criteria for grid roads is as follows: “80-metre corridor, with substantial green reserve.  Single carriageway but with space to provide additional carriageway.”

However, we can now see as the detailed plans come forward for approval that the grid road corridors specification is being ignored.

So with the ‘idiots’ having won in the West and the ‘idiots’ having won in the East, here in the south east of Milton Keynes we, its citizens, are at the last redoubt.  Remember that 84pc of us said the grid road system should not be tampered with.  Surely all those who care must press the council to live up to its promise to retain one of the key features of the city.

If our elected representatives do not deliver what they have promised, we will all be losers.

And then we shall all sit in traffic jams in our cars, buses and taxis for ever… like idiots.  Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog November 2015 Blog

Bletchley Station… Oh no, how boring.  But wait – Bletchley Station might just be the most important underdeveloped site in Milton Keynes.

It already has many rail lines running through it and advanced plans exist to add two new platforms, bringing its total to eight – more than Milton Keynes Central station – as Bletchley provides the key central focus of the new and fully-funded East West Rail Link.

The revived route, when complete, will reinstate the old Varsity Line between Oxford and Cambridge and link Ipswich, Norwich and Cambridge with Letchworth, Bedford, Milton Keynes, Bicester and Oxford, allowing connections to Swindon, the Thames Valley, South West England and South Wales, with a spur to Aylesbury and now possibly a direct link to Heathrow.  Other links to Southampton and even York could also be available.

And it is already under way. On October 26, rail links opened between the brand new Oxford Parkway station and London Marylebone, running over the first phase of the line between Oxford and Bicester.

Preparation work on the Oxford-Bletchley section has begun and a new station is to be built at Winslow, causing massive rises in house prices.

There are still big issues for Network Rail to resolve, not least the dysfunctional level crossings at Woburn Sands and Bow Brickhill.  When the high speed trains on the East West Rail line are in full six-an-hour flow, along with two-an-hour low speed services, regular freight traffic and services between points such as Bristol and York, serious traffic jams await.

But let’s be positive and trust Network Rail to resolve these issues given that they exist within just a few miles of their new head offices.

Bletchley will be so important because it will provide an easy-to-park ‘Parkway-style’ high-speed hub for local commuters to nearly all points West, East, South, even North, adding both breadth and complexity to the choices already available from Milton Keynes Central.

However, Milton Keynes Council is only putting in a measly £1.2 million to develop facilities at the station instead of the possibly £5-6 million required to totally transform Bletchley’s future.

We are told Bletchley helped win the war.  Does it not deserve a world class station? And do commuters not deserve better options than those at the hard-to-park and congested Milton Keynes Central?

The existing plans for ‘Bletchley for Bletchley Park’, as it’s currently snappily monikered, are a pig’s breakfast.  They require passengers to traverse stairs and bridges over six lines between the current unprepossessing entrance and the East West lines.  However, a new concourse leading on to Saxon Street with ready access to the bus station, taxis and drop-off points and close to shopping in Queensway is easily possible.

Wheelchair passengers are even more discommoded by the current plans, having to power themselves over perhaps a quarter of a mile to avoid stairs and reach the buses.

A leading local town planner has already drawn up alternative plans which show that Bletchley Parkway (as it might more properly be called) could be a more successful hub than Milton Keynes Central.

Come on Milton Keynes Council, you are already throwing away opportunities to provide a new gateway to our city at the junction of the old Grand Union canal and the planned Bedford Waterway.

Here is another great opportunity.  Please do not waste that too.  Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog October 2015 Blog

On May 7 89,801 people voted in favour of the Central Milton Keynes Business Neighbourhood Plan referendum, with just 17,133 against.  This plan was unique because electors in every MK postcode were allowed to vote because of the significance of the central area as were, also uniquely, all businesses.  Of these, 356 voted in favour with just 47 against.

Central government instigated through the Localism Act 2011, heavily promoted and financially supported such Neighbourhood Plans.  The one for Central Milton Keynes was given £20,000 – and the cost of the referendum was a public cost too.  If the vote had not saddle-backed the local elections, it would have cost an astonishing £350,000. The one for Central Milton Keynes was one of eight government ‘front runners’ and is the first to go to referendum and has done so with spectacular success. So government is fully committed to Neighbourhood Plans, it seems.

The Central Milton Keynes Business Neighboourhood Plan was required to comply with overriding government requirements on several matters such as the number of new homes to be delivered and the provision of retail and other facilities. But it had the freedom to state where, what and how these targets should be met.

Indeed, the government claims: “Neighbourhood planning is designed to provide a powerful set of tools to ensure you get the right types of development in the right place for your community.  Local residents and businesses are now in a position to make planning policies that reflect your priorities, deliver tangible local benefits and have real weight in the planning system.”

According to local chartered town planner David Lock CBE MRTPI, a former chief planning adviser to the government: “[Central Milton Keynes Business Neighboourhood Plan] is by definition, in law, in conformity with the Core Strategy 2013 and the Saved Local Plan policies that apply.  Under the Localism Act 2011, the CMKBusNP is the first consideration.”  So that’s all good then. Power to the people.

But it seems that the votes and all that effort and cost were completely in vain.  The redevelopment plans submitted by intu:MK and passed by Milton Keynes Council’s Development Control Committee last month are, apparently, in direct conflict with the Business Neighbourhood Plan.  Here are some non-exhaustive reasons why:

  • Policy G1 protects the ‘classic CMK infrastructure’.
  • Policy G3  states that “a reduction in the quantity, quality, use and public accessibility of all or part of ….Midsummer Place…to make way for new development shall not be acceptable other than for exceptional developments as defined under…G11”.

Policy G11 does not provide the applicants with the excuse to fill in most of the roofed area of Midsummer Place with shops, restaurants, a cinema.  intu apparently did not claim that status, as it would be ridiculous, and it is therefore clear that the G11 test is not passed.

Interestingly, intu staff were participants in the Midsummer Boulevard East workshops which I and other Urban Eden members also attended.  Almost all stakeholders achieved consensus on the broad direction for the future of Midsummer Boulevard East including constructive ideas for its development while safeguarding its public space.

Since the planning application has been approved many including the Central Milton Keynes Town Council , Urban Eden, David Lock and many other concerned local citizens and organisations have written to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Greg Clark, to ‘call in’ Milton Keynes Council’s perverse decision.  It is he who, when Localism Minister, introduced the Amendment to the Localism Bill to enable Business Neighbourhood Plans.

What is the point of creating and voting for a Neighbourhood Plan if it is overturned at its first test?  It would be very bad nationally if local government felt free to breach the trust of those who put in thousands of unpaid hours on Neighbourhood Plans that are properly made and tested, and popularly supported.

I believe this is a matter of national importance because it completely undermines and renders meaningless the government’s policy on, and significant funding of, Neighbourhood Plans.

Rather than providing clear direction, the council’s decision unless called in will set a very dangerous precedent.  It will put power in the hands of developers and will leave the public and, eventually, councillors powerless to oppose them because the very principal of Neighbourhood Plans will have been rendered valueless.

They will not provide what was clearly intended by government; that local councils throughout England and Wales should have a powerful new and defensible reason to accept, refuse or modify permissions.

Watch this space. Cheerio.


Chairman’s Blog September 2015 Blog

When I think about a topic for my column each month, I always hope I can come up with a positive, up-beat story about Milton Keynes.  This month is no exception.  But I have failed again.  Sorry.

My subject is Milton Keynes Development Partnership, the body tasked with development of land sold by the Homes & Communities Agency to Milton Keynes Council for £32 million in January 2013.

I wrote then; “Milton Keynes citizens are not idiots and it will soon become evident whether this new revived ‘Milton Keynes Partnership’ is being set up to perpetuate the much-hated and undemocratic body that powered the hugely unwelcome disposition of building land here; flouting the wishes of its electorate by ignoring the majority’s desire to see the original design of the city continued.”

So what has MKDP achieved in the years since?  Here’s one example.  It failed to sell the Bowl to Pete Winkelman for his new MK Dons training academy despite the cash being on the table, forcing him outside the city.  Then it failed to deliver it to The National Badminton Centre – an embarrassing disaster.

In April, a local newspaper interviewed Conservative Andrew Geary, leader of the council when MKDP was formed.  He said: “We set up MKDP at arm’s length from the council so it could manage the asset portfolio.  It was designed to bring a revenue stream to the council budget.  Thus far it has failed to deliver that.”  Oh dear.  So despite its chief executive being on a cosy six-figure salary, has he been sitting on his hands?

But then a great new opportunity arrived, to develop a large marina and homes connected to the Grand Union Canal and the link off it to the planned new Bedford Waterway.  The large site (around six hectares) was on two adjoining sites; just outside Campbell Park west of the canal, and east of it, in Newlands.

In June last year MKDP invited six architects to produce draft Masterplans.  The Development Brief, written by the council, called for “a high quality urban waterside neighbourhood” delivering “an exceptional, exemplar and bespoke residential development” providing a “key gateway to Milton Keynes city centre”.

Blimey, perhaps they have read and taken on board the principles of the original Masterplan for the city?  No, of course not.

The resultant studies by the six architects were added to the Development Brief put out to the market in October with the declared intention to “judge on the basis of the quality of the… design proposals and layout”.  Could those in charge of Milton Keynes be trying to recapture the spirit of MKDC, Jock Campbell, Derek Walker et al?  Of course not.

This process eventually led to three developers being asked to submit further information prior to a preferred development partner being chosen to take a scheme forward.  Throughout this process, developers’ design teams were encouraged to produce an “exemplar scheme”, “a destination for Milton Keynes”, “a development that would set the standard for subsequent Campbell Park schemes” and reassured that “the quality is more important than the price”.  Did this happen?  Of course not.

Now the winner, Crest Nicholson, has been announced and although its plans for an £88 million will feature a 100-berth marina and more than 300 new homes, they almost totally ignore the best of those six architects’ schemes.  Do all dwellings imaginatively overlook the boat moorings in the marina?  No.  Do any?  No.  Not a single one.

Nicholson proposal

Frankly the scheme is a joke.  Most of the dwellings are hidden behind trees one side of the canal.  All moorings are in a square hole in a field overlooked by nothing on the other.  Only a few dwellings overlook water, making the majority just another boring estate.

This is a total disaster.  None of the laudable aspirations have been realised and the opportunity to make a significant event out of the connection between the old Grand Union Canal and the new Bedford-Milton Keynes Waterway is totally ignored.

How can the MKDP Design Review Assessment Panel justify this abrogation of its responsibility and declared intent?  How can it justify something that wastes one of the last opportunities to create an exciting new gateway to our city?

The current scheme will do nothing for this site; for Central Milton Keynes; for Milton Keynes.  A five-year-old with a sheet of paper, a blue wax crayon, a few Lego bricks and some toy boats could do better.

Sometimes I just feel like crying.  Cheerio.  Theo.


Chairman’s Blog August 2015 Blog

A recent edition of retail journal Retail Week had this headline: ‘Retailers sales hit during worst June in nearly a decade’, followed by an article explaining that consumers are choosing to spend on leisure rather than shopping.

In the same week, rival publication Retail Bulletin proclaimed: ‘Consumer confidence climbs in June’.  According to data released by market research agency GfK in its latest Consumer Confidence Barometer, consumer confidence rose by six points in the month to 7.0, its highest level in over 15 years.

Confused?  You should be.

These two contradictory stories illustrate how little even the experts understand what is happening in retail and how this might affect, in Milton Keynes, thecentre:mk and its conjoined twin intu Milton Keynes.  Could it be that, despite the bullish noises emanating from intu Milton Keynes with its grandiose plans to build new retail space, cinemas and restaurants and thecentre:mk’s approved plans to build a massive parking carbuncle next to John Lewis, they are both already doomed?

In recent years retail has changed frighteningly fast.  Internet shopping has claimed many stores.  Tertiary retail sites are long dead, many even deserted by rates-exempt and rent-free charity shops as footfall descends to uneconomic levels.  Now secondary retail sites are also dying, their demise driven mainly by high vehicle-fuel prices, onerous parking charges and heavy-handed penalties, click-and-collect and online delivery.

I wrote in my previous column: “Milton Keynes’ high street, rather uniquely, happens to be a regional shopping centre.  Every regional shopping centre has free parking.  Except ours.”  And, as parking fees climb ever upwards, do we really know the impact?

I spoke with James Waugh, departing centre director of thecentre:mk, and asked him if the recent increase in parking charges – the majority of spaces being owned by the council – had negatively affected footfall, a measure of shopper numbers.  His response was that after the first week “people ceased to notice and footfall levels quickly returned to normal”.

So is there any evidence that the writing is on the wall for retail in Central Milton Keynes?  An informal survey by Urban Eden found that thecentre:mk has around 200 units with 24 currently vacant: a vacancy rate of some 12 per cent.  intu Milton Keynes has 56 retail units, with seven vacant as I write – a vacancy rate of 12.5pc.  These figures seem high when you consider both centres’ bullish expansion plans, the almost empty Food Centre building, the largely empty The Point and even MK Gallery’s rumoured abandonment of plans to build three arthouse film screens on its roof.

Has council greed for parking revenue killed them?  Parking in Central Milton Keynes is complicated.  There are 20,000 car parking spaces, 6,000 of which are adjacent to thecentre:mk which owns 1,100 of them.  thecentre:mk, James Waugh explains, has not put up parking fees in its own controlled area either side of the John Lewis end which are still charged at £1.20 per hour with disabled spaces free.

The 550-space Food Centre car park is free for two hours on weekdays and for three hours at weekends.  The John Lewis car park, leased to NCP, charges £1.40 per hour but the disabled pay too.  Milton Keynes Council now charges £2 per hour in the red-lined areas and 50p per hour in the much rarer purple-lined areas.  The Theatre District car park tariff is 60p for up to four hours, £1.20 for four to eight hours and £2.40 for up to 16 hours.  intu Milton Keynes charges £2 for up to two hours with £1 per additional hour.  Staying for over eight hours costs £15 and for 24 hours £25.

Thus each shopping centre is charging less than the council’s peak parking bay rates, which are the commonest bays.  Interestingly, though, footfall figures appear more secret than MI6 agents’ phone numbers.  thecentre:mk’s online Fact File quotes annual footfall of 27 million customers in its 2011 publication but that is actually the figure for 2007 and they have not revealed levels since.

I asked for newer figures.  Instead Kevin Duffy, Mr Waugh’s replacement as centre director, told me: “The quality, availability and price of car parking in city centres play a key role in their competitiveness.  We believe a level playing field with out of town locations is key to ensuring Central Milton Keynes continues to thrive”. How interesting.

I asked for footfall data at intu Milton Keynes.  They said: “We have not seen any direct impact on footfall here. We suspect this is because the prices in our own car park have not gone up so it is possible that more customers are parking here.”  They claim to be holding back the tide of ever more reluctant parkers.  Empty units appear to challenge that.

In a final effort to analyse what all this means, a quote from Persian polymath and poet Omar Khayyám will suffice:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,

Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit

Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,

Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

Is shopping in Central Milton Keynes doomed by a greedy council and its ever-spiralling parking charges?  Sadly, empty shops suggest yes.  Cheerio.


Chairman’s July 2015 Blog

MK FORUM – the equivalent in Milton Keynes of a civic society – invited me to speak at a recent event entitled 10 Buildings, 10 People, 10 Minutes.  The idea was for ten people, mostly architects, planners and the like, to suggest in ten minutes ten buildings in Milton Keynes worth protecting under the council’s plans to draw up a ‘Local List’ of important buildings from the new town era.  This would be an alternative to official listing of those of special architectural or historic interest by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, such as thecentre:mk.

Of course, talking about ten buildings suitable for local listing was not what I was going to do.  Instead, my presentation was in two halves.  First I listed five ‘buildings’ that need protecting, preserving and extending.  Then I proposed an alternative to ‘local listing’ which I called ‘local condemnation’.

First the preserving:

  • In a polycentric city where not everybody drives to the centre every morning and out every night, our city is technically infinitely expandable.  But only if they stop messing with the carefully designed nub ends of the grid roads that were always planned to be extended.

Already permanently lost are both ends of H7 Chaffron Way, the northern end of V1 Snelshall Street, V7 Saxon Street and V10 Brickhill Street and, although some lacklustre compromises have been made in the Western Expansion Area, we will also effectively lose the western ends of H2 Millers Way, H3 Monks Way and the northern end of V3 Fulmer Street.

The grid roads, their potential to be extended and in some cases dualled; all their roundabouts, which allow fast movement of traffic, and their national speed limits must be listed.

  • Underpasses. Underpasses were filled in at the junction of Witan Gate and Avebury Boulevard near Sainsbury’s to build The Hub (about which more later).  More recently the V10 crossing at Walton Park should have an underpass, following changes of use to housing but somehow they forgot the underpass.

We will see new underpasses on the V4 near the Western Expansion Area and a new one was completed at Oakgrove on the V10, all existing underpasses and pedestrian bridges should be listed and new ones built as a matter of course.

  • Parker Morris room standards.  These 1961 minimum room size standards became mandatory for all housing built in new towns in 1967, were extended to all council housing in 1969 and were used on many of our older estates.  While some of those houses are showing signs of age, the generosity of their living spaces and abundant storage puts a vast majority of the new homes to shame.

Parker Morris room standards need to be urgently listed and reinstated in Milton Keynes as a bare minimum.

  • Protect the green environment and prevent infill building.  List all green spaces.  The council plans to appoint a sole supplier to rebuild some of our old estates and spend half a billion pounds on the process.  Clearly they will not do this for love and will be looking to make a huge profit by over-developing and destroying much open space land.

All our green spaces must be protected and, while we’re at it, we need to tell the Parks Trust to live up to its name.

  • Redways must be protected.  They must also be properly maintained and extended to new areas.

Now here is my ‘Condemn’ list, all of which simply should not exist in our city.

  • Dwellings that are ‘instant slums’.   Monkston Park, Broughton Gate Broughton, Oakgrove, Grange Farm, for example.  ‘Insult Developments’, where the planners and builders conspire to build instant slums that “are good enough for the likes of them”.  Where garbage trucks cannot get down the traffic-choked streets, instead little vans pick up sacks and disgorge them into the truck parked outside; where apocryphally people have fist fights over parking; where not even hawkish estate agents like the restrictions on parking.
  • The Hub.  I doubt there are many who think it is a good thing.  It is like the bastard love child of 1950s Cold War post-modernism crossed with planned obsolescence under the thrall of a nuclear winter. Condemn it now and not make the mistake of building more like it on the B4.4 site across Witan Gate.
  • City Streets, another failed exercise in stupidity, futility and wrong thinking inspired by ad hoc planning in a visionary vacuu m. They should never have been built and should be expunged from planning options forever.
  • Removal of free parking.  Milton Keynes’s high street happens to be a regional shopping centre.  Every regional shopping centre has free parking.  Except ours.  Its removal cost us £900,000 – nearly £200 a space – all to bring in the princely sum of £2 million.

Of course, the charges to park have just gone up but how long before your average shopper’s back-of-an-envelope cost-benefit analysis shows them it is cheaper to drive a little further to have stress-free parking?

What happens to Central Milton Keynes when that happens?  Parking income is ring-fenced for use on, unbelievably, “parking scheme implementation”.  How’s that for circular thinking?

  • Bus gates.  Ludicrous, hugely expensive and never used by a bus.  Whoever thought of them must have shares in traffic light companies.  Bulldoze them all.

I enjoyed my ten minutes speaking at MK Forum and it seemed very well-received.  Will the council take note?  Of course not.  Cheerio.


Chairman’s June 2015 Blog

IN THE FIRST of its kind anywhere in the UK, both registered voters and locally-based businesses across the whole of Milton Keynes had a vote in the referendum on the Central Milton Keynes – Business Neighbourhood Plan.

Central Milton Keynes was considered important enough to those in a wider area that, unlike in other neighbourhood plans, both residents and local businesses were given a vote by central government and the votes came from not only CMK but from that much wider area, too.

Even foreign-owned companies such as Santander or Red Bull were qualified to vote but only if their nominated representative was prepared firstly to fill out Milton Keynes Council’s somewhat nosy (name, job title, date of birth, home address, nationality) ‘Invitation to Register’ and, secondly, if its directors could find out what it was all about.

Strangely the council, which would have its future planning decisions in the area bordered by Milton Keynes Central railway station, the Grand Union Canal at Campbell Park, H5 Portway and H6 Childs Way largely dictated by this people-led plan, did not bother to inform voters what was in it nor who was behind it.  I wonder why.

In fact, the plan had been developed from early 2012 by what became known as the CMK Alliance, a group of largely unpaid volunteers based in part around members of Central Milton Keynes Town Council (the renamed old parish council), planning experts, stakeholders, lobby groups and social issues activists.

Its chairs were town council chair Dr Rebecca Kurth and, representing the business forum, John Lewis head of branch Paul Hunt.  The group used a Wiki website which allowed anyone to make additions or suggestions, although its main sections were assigned to be created by various groups or individuals.  The results of the referendum were as follows:

residents referendum  YES 89,801   NO 17,033   PAPERS 6,454

business referendum  YES 356   NO 47  REJECTED PAPERS 1

It was a pretty good result considering the almost total lack of publicity.

What this really means for Milton Keynes, however, goes much deeper.  Milton Keynes Council will once again need to take note of the people’s views.  Certain compromises had to be made however, such as wider planning policies imposed by central government; the approval of thecentre:mk’s new multi-storey car park and the Parks Trust’s existing planning consent for a site within Campbell Park.  It could not ignore required housing numbers either, so could not rule out tall buildings but it can hopefully make sure that they look good.

The plan also reserves two large sites for significant “game changing” developments – a university campus or a major employer, for example -  and it will stop Milton Keynes Development Partnership frittering them away piecemeal in the meantime if they require some quick money in response to some well-founded and trenchant criticism.

With 120 acres of land for development between the railway station and the far end of Campbell Park, it was vital to have an overall vision and a joined-up plan. The plan for the next 15 years proposes to:

  • Expand and improve the retail offer with more variety and flexibility;
  • Build more commercial premises to attract new jobs;
  • Reserve key sites for major opportunities, such as a university or major new HQ;
  • Complete almost 5,000 new homes;
  • Improve the social, sporting and cultural life.

Other neighbourhood plans are under way or already completed and they too have considerable local clout.  In Central Milton Keynes we now have a YES to protect our grid roads and redways; a YES to protect our green open spaces and a YES to the wishes of local people as opposed to those made, perhaps to an altogether different agenda, by Milton Keynes Council.

The Business Neighbourhood Plan provides a fresh vision for Central Milton Keynes.  It is not perfect but, yourself excepted, who or what is?  Cheerio.


Chairman’s May 2015 Blog

RESIDENTS of Milton Keynes may be aware of a recent furore over nascent Site Allocation plans by Milton Keynes Council to build on every scrap of spare land in our city, plans that were rightly seen off at a council meeting on March 25 at which 50 councillors voted against it and none for it.

These plans, floated by a single councillor, were for some 130 designated sites: green reserves, play parks, village greens even Station Square to be built on, effectively a totalitarian ‘city infill’ and all flying in the face of the Milton Keynes Master Plan and Core Strategy agreed in 2013.

The agenda, it had seemed, was to top up our already massive existing building land stock, which is mostly in the Eastern and Western Expansion areas, and to ensure that the council has enough land for a five-year supply of alternate housing sites providing 1,750 homes per year.

Its instant and unanimous quashing indicated, as I had publicly predicted, that it was simply a ‘finger in the wind’ exercise and always doomed to fail.

But perhaps I was wrong.  A recent story in one of our local papers had me thinking. Could the council now possibly be coming at the same agenda from a totally different direction?  The story trumpeted a plan to spend £600 million on a facelift for “MK’s most deprived estates” including Netherfield, Coffee Hall, Tinkers Bridge, North Bradville, Fullers Slade, The Lakes Estate and Beanhill. On the face of it, this seems like a good thing.  Although in their day some of these estates won design awards and were hugely popular, now they are showing their age and are decidedly less so.

Former councillor Kevin Wilson was the ‘stalking horse’ for this story as with misty eyes he appeared to once again be reliving his glory years and promising to deliver on his old commitments.  Admittedly these would involve some demolitions and relocations but it would all be “people-led” so there was no need to panic.  The thought of those happy tenants being listened to, oh-so-briefly removed from their homes and then to see their smiley faces as they are presented with exciting new homes… Even I nearly choked up.

But where, I wondered, was this fabled £600 million coming from?  The article went on to explain that £70-75 million would be from “rent money” – the Housing Revenue Account for RegenerationMK.  The balance would be from a “private developer partner”.

Now, are we to assume that the unnamed “private developer partner” will just cough up over half a billion pounds in order to see tears of joy rolling down Kevin Wilson’s face?  Er no.  The “private developer partner” is after building land.  Lots of our precious green space land, to be precise.

I wanted to know more.  So I rang the council and spoke to its media department.  At first they denied all knowledge of this and suggested I talk with Alderman Wilson.  Then they called back and said that yes, actually, it is a council initiative and suggested I submit some questions.  And so I asked:

  • Is this adopted policy?
  • How much land will be sold off to generate “up to half a billion pounds more”?
  • What will happen to owners of houses on the target sites: will their properties be subject to Compulsory Purchase Orders?
  • Have the 16,000-plus “affected residents” been informed?
  • Please provide a full list of affected sites.

The council responded: “Following Cabinet decision in June 2012 where principles of regeneration were approved, we have been talking to our residents and other key partners.”

Fair enough.  At this point, I still have moist eyes.  Well, moist-ish.

The reply continues: “It is too early to talk about the details of the regeneration programme highlighted in your questions as we are still in the process of creating a partnership with a private sector partner.  Following the set-up of the partnership, and full review of the needs of the council’s housing assets, the partnership will be in a position to develop a business plan setting out where it will start the process to deliver housing led regeneration.  The ‘what’ – what land, what plan – will be developed in partnership with communities.”

I have wiped my eyes dry now and I am faintly suspicious.  So let me get this straight: they plan to appoint an exclusive, privileged, private partner, then decide the council’s needs and what land that partner will be allowed to plunder and how.  What a ludicrously cosy deal.

The council statement goes on: “Since June 2012 we have been clear that any regeneration activity will be commercially framed but community led and will be much broader than just housing.  It is also about making improvements to local environments, providing employment support and building strong, active and sustainable communities.”

The statement outlines the key aims of the RegenerationMK Partnership:

  • To deliver an effective repairs and maintenance service across 11,300 council properties;
  • To undertake a long-term strategic approach to generate resources to drive social and economic regeneration. The process for appointing a partner was agreed by Cabinet in July 2013;
  • To work with a partner to develop a regeneration programme for Milton Keynes, initially focusing on seven priority areas.

The statement ends: “A formal decision to appoint a partner will be considered by Cabinet on July 13.  Full details will be published after this meeting and at the conclusion of legal processes.”

I suspect Milton Keynes’ coterie of ‘usual suspect’ property developers must be licking their slavering chops at this enticing prospect.  Cheerio.


Chairman’s April 2015 Blog

WE NOW KNOW that the council has no ‘Vision’ for Milton Keynes’ future development, as I highlighted in my column last time.  There are numerous examples of ad hoc short-sighted developments being approved.

However, in south east Milton Keynes, people power has recently managed to prevent this ‘anything will do in MK’ attitude becoming manifest… for now.  Members of Urban Eden, residents, Walton Community Council and ward councillor Alice Bramall mounted a campaign to raise awareness of serious issues with the 350-home Church Farm planning application.

Concerns were raised with Milton Keynes Council planners from 2011, namely: no strategic plan, no infrastructure, failed consultation and an inadequate road solution.

Sadly the first three failings were not considered when it went before the Development Control Committee in February.  The detailed plan for the ‘strategic’ road access was, however.

In the 1990s the road layout between Wavendon Gate and Old Farm Park was designed very carefully.  It ensured the easy extension of the H10 Bletcham Way between the two communities, with the right amount of noise and pollution mitigation.  The land is even built up so that the key crossings could be grade separated.

That is what ‘Vision’ does.

However to save land, cost and because ‘anything will do in MK’ these days, the developer, in consultation with the planning and highways team, dreamed up a route that runs tightly against the bottom edge of the original grid road corridor crossing two extremely busy footpaths ‘at grade’ where hundreds of children would meet hundreds of cars every day.

Planners had their fingers in their ears, too, when it came to future proofing this edge of Milton Keynes.  The land adjacent to Church Farm will come forward for housing and is already owned by a property company.  And there has to be a solution to the level crossing at Woburn Sands by 2021, the extension of the grid road through Church Farm being the most likely answer.

At first, nobody listened to the locals but in February the DCC compromised and deferred the scheme to give time to improve it.  Sadly, the developers submitted an unchanged ‘anything will do in MK’ application in March.

Almost miraculously, and arguably because of the opponents (for ‘opponents’, read ‘electors’) arraigned against it at the ensuing DCC meeting and because they could not defer again, members rejected it.It is not a final victory and I sincerely hope that the developer will develop a conscience and not appeal or try to force through a tweaked scheme with some no-cost changes.

So how might things have been different?  Church Farm should have been part of a long-term, cross-party ‘Vision’ for Milton Keynes.  Such a ‘Vision’, accompanied by a strategic plan would take us from a population of 250,000 (the original plan’s design limit) to 350,000 by 2050.

It would lay down, in legally robust terms, ‘how we do things round here’.  It would confront sacred (concrete) cows such as the use of greenfield land and the treatment and protection of adjoining villages.  It would spell out how infrastructure and facilities would be ahead of expansion (i before e).  There would be innovative solutions to how infrastructure was funded.  Each developer would know how their land bank fitted into the ‘Vision’ and so would have a clear path to gaining a return on investment.  Sites would not come forward in isolation and businesses would have confidence that their investments in our city were being protected and continueto expand here.

Planners and developers should listen to the citizens.  Despite what they might assume, we are – possibly uniquely in the UK – generally pro-growth.  The locals know the areas, unlike the planners for whom these developments are often desk exercises. When locals tell you something is wrong, they might be right.

Perhaps all parties, residents, businesses and yes, our elected councillors too, can aspire to be like Alexandre Dumas’ the Three Musketeers; capable of grasping the concept ‘All for one and one for all’.

On this occasion, so far they have. Cheerio.


Chairman’s March 2015 Blog

You may recall I wrote last month about attempts to ask the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles to “call in” and send to Judicial Review the decision to approve a multi-storey car park next to thecentre:mk.  Despite every councillor who voted for it being opposed to it, Pickles has failed us and his reasons for doing so are effectively meaningless (e-mail me if you want a copy). In the meantime another bogey development, the one previously called Salden Chase and latterly South West Milton Keynes, has reared its ugly head again.

This development, west of Far Bletchley, north of the East West Rail Link, east of Whaddon Road, Newton Longville and south of the A421, by the South West Milton Keynes Consortium of developers Hallam Land Management, Taylor Wimpey, Connolly Homes, William Davis Homes and Bellcross Homes comprises:

  • Up to 1,885 mixed tenure dwellings;
  • An employment area;
  • A neighbourhood centre including retail, community  and residential uses;
  • A primary and a secondary school;
  • A grid road reserve;
  • Multi-functional green space;
  • A sustainable drainage system;
  • Associated access, drainage and public transport infrastructure.

A planning application was lodged with both Milton Keynes and Aylesbury Vale District Councils at the end of January.

Now while Milton Keynes councillors of every political hue have previously told me that they resolutely oppose such a development, they also universally opposed the car park mentioned above, which they voted for.  So excuse me if I have completely lost faith in their will to preserve and extend the best of Milton Keynes and not allow any ill-designed clumpage of homes and businesses relying on our roads, police, doctors, fire services, hospital etc to be dumped on our borders.

However there is something unexpected revealed in these plans that is far more worrying and these are extracts from a document obtained from Milton Keynes Council called Milton Keynes Transport Model Traffic Forecast Report from May 2012 which I have never heard of or seen before.

This astonishing document, in its Table 4.2 Local Network Infrastructure Schemes section, describes how the following ten Milton Keynes roundabouts will be signalised:

  • A5/A4146/Watling St;
  • Kingston;
  • Brinklow;
  • Monkston;
  • South Grafton;
  • H3/V9 Great Linford;
  • H3/V10 Blakelands;
  • H3/V8 Redbridge;
  • A422/Willen Rd Marsh End
  • A422/A509 Tickford.

And 13 roundabouts will be converted to Traffic Signal Junctions (meaning that the roundabouts will disappear completely):

  • Kiln Farm;
  • Crownhill;
  • Loughton;
  • Knowlhill;
  • Oakhill;
  • Oxley Park;
  • New Bradwell;
  • Coffee Hall with left slips;
  • Silbury (completed 2007);
  • Marina & Netherfield (double);
  • V4 Watling Street-V7 Saxon Street;
  • Fairways.

Roundabouts at The Bowl and Grange farm are to be adjusted (whatever that means).

There is even a section marked: Priority converted to Traffic Signal junctions which lists two more, at Watling Street/Tilers Road and Watling Street/High Street.

Have the people of Milton Keynes been asked about this, or even informed?  Not so far as I am aware.  And why did we have to find it in a plan published by neighbouring Aylesbury Vale?

A member of Urban Eden made enquiries at Milton Keynes Council about this and received the following reply: “Anna Rose [the new service director for planning and transport] has asked me to respond.  The transport document referred to is a highly technical report that provided a transport evidence base.  It is not a policy document although it did inform the development of the Core Strategy and also the Local Transport Plan.”

From that, I deduce that Milton Keynes Council is working behind the scenes to further destroy the things that its citizens, as revealed in polls, so completely love.

Once our roundabouts all become signalised junctions, we shall no longer enjoy the simplicity, efficiency and convenience of free-flowing buses, taxis, trucks and cars and Milton Keynes will turn into a pastiche of unloved Basingstoke, Crawley or Newton Aycliffe.  When will our elected councillors learn?

And, despite my constant suggestion that someone, indeed anyone, in power needs to develop a ‘vision’ for Milton Keynes, such as was held by the original Development Corporation, tragically at a recent meeting council leader Peter Marland declared publicly that he has “no vision for Milton Keynes”.

Even the previous chief executive of  he council David Hill told me personally that he had no vision either as he relied on the Cabinet to provide one.  So, of course, my thoughts turned to new chief executive Carole Mills.  Perhaps she has a vision.  So I asked her.

She has now effectively confirmed that she has no vision for Milton Keynes either, reporting that she supports councillors in the work they undertake on visioning for Milton Keynes “as it is they who have the democratic mandate.”

So I guess it is official: there is no vision for Milton Keynes and we are all doomed. Cheerio.


Chairman’s Febuary 2015 Blog

I was one of the few allowed to speak before Milton Keynes Council’s  Development Control Committee in January on the application for a multi-storey car park next to thecentre:mk.  I have written about this excrescence before.  One is only allowed to address the DCC for a risible three minutes and interrupted at 30 seconds remaining, so you will stop on the dot.

That is not enough but I suppose I should be grateful.  Others were refused a right to speak at all, even Milton Keynes Development Partnership, the council’s wholly-owned landholder whose land is required for this scheme.  They too oppose the car park plan.

I told the committee that thecentre:mk has picked the worst possible place in Central Milton Keynes to build a car park. It would be a permanent blight on the eastern Midsummer Boulevard with dangerous traffic problems at peak.  The council’s own transport officer voices fears of “a detrimental impact” on the highway network and states: “It has the potential to cause danger.  For the reasons of inconvenience to users of the highway and the possible conditions of danger to those users that may result, I recommend that the planning application be refused.”

Even the case officer who overruled him states: “…it will adversely affect the highways network.”  Not one, but two new sets of traffic signals are required in a botch attempt to reduce congestion along Marlborough Gate.  Around 40 per cent of bus routes in Milton Keynes will be affected as they pass through Marlborough Gate, the only single carriageway gate not connected to a grid road in Central Milton Keynes and the absolutely worst possible place to build a multi-storey car park.

Interestingly the council’s transport officer did not attend the DCC.  I wonder who excused him knowing that his report was due to be debated and was key.  His technical review shows that he did not see the revised transport assessment  from thecentre:mk’s transport consultants Waterman as acceptable as there was evidence of inadequate and inappropriate results sufficient for him to question the answers he was given.  An early statement based on the pre-revised traffic assessment indicated that at peak there was traffic running at 107.4pc (i.e. well over capacity) on the Marlborough Gate-Midsummer Boulevard junction.  In other words, gridlock.

In 2012, Waterman stated in the Primark application that there was “no need for a MSCP as no new car parking was required and that there is sufficient car parking within 400 metres”.  They now state the exact opposite.  It gets worse.  The base figures used for the simulation trials were apparently for June 2013 or late January 2014, not the pre-Christmas retail peak.  The expected Christmas uplift of about 40pc should have been advised to the DCC as relevant yet instead it was advised that 85-86pc capacity at quieter times was peak.  Perhaps the case officer present, whose job was to advise the DCC, was confused?

The ‘Passenger Transport’ response in the case officer’s report did mention a relevant peak: “The existing MSCP located on Saxon Gate already has a detrimental effect on the operation of bus services during the busy pre-Christmas period, where buses are diverted to avoid cars queuing to enter the car park.  This proposal has the potential to replicate the scenario at the other end of the shopping centre but the opportunities for diversion routes are more limited.”

Surely committee members ought to have been made aware of that issue by the case officer.  The Waterman representative mentioned an extra minute of delay per bus but the transport officer had not accepted that as a true reflection of what would really happen, though the officers present apparently agreed that was the case.

The case officer and the officer who stood in for the transport officer may have inadvertently misled the DCC.  Comment by the case officer that the internal layout of the proposed car park was not relevant may also be wrong as internal queuing directly creates external queues on the highways.  There was also some confusion over which planning policy actually took precedence.

A new Planning Peer Review – Improvement Plan authored by Anna Rose, the new service director planning and transport, says: “…the absence of trust or respect between councillors and officers across the council meant that the benefits of other good partnership initiatives were often lost.”  And yet despite this DCC chair Cllr Andrew Geary criticised those objectors he claimed were critical of the officers.

Despite every committee member stating they were opposed to major aspects of the proposal including its traffic impacts on the regional centre, impacts on regional bus routes passing through the regional centre and its very poor architectural and urban design, they said they had been advised that a refusal would be rejected on appeal.  This advice was not in the transport officer’s report, neither was such advice given by the officers in the meeting and therefore, against their individual preference, half of the committee felt they had to approve the scheme by four votes to three, with one abstention.

Cllr Geary said he hoped it would not be built and that Hermes, co-owners of thecentre:mk, would sit down with planners, MKDP etc to thrash out a better plan.  Sadly his policy of lying down and hoping developers would not then walk over him has already proved a failure elsewhere in the expansion areas.

I have to be careful about the following which is extremely time- and event-sensitive at time of writing.  Certain ‘influential parties’ have now formally requested that Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, calls in the decision and that it goes to Judicial Review.  The grounds for such an appeal have to be national or perhaps, at a pinch, regional.

They include:

  • The planning officer’s written report to the committee was misleading because it said National Planning Policy Framework policy overrides the council’s statutory development plan and the emerging Central Milton Keynes Business Neighbourhood Plan, examined and cleared for referenda scheduled for May 7.   The weight to be attributed to the statutory development plan and the emerging business neighbourhood plan was wrongly treated as de minimis and the committee was wrongly advised both in writing and in the meeting (which was filmed);
  • The correct reading of local planning policy that should have led to the application’s refusal was provided to the planning officers in advance, and ignored, and to members before the meeting but they appeared to be unaware of it;
  • Direct conflict with, and insufficient weight given to, the up-to-date statutory development plan;
  • Direct conflict with, and insufficient weight given to, the emerging Central Milton Keynes Business Neighbourhood Plan, which is a Department for Communities and Local Government ‘Frontrunner’.  Here is a direct challenge to the status of an emerging pioneer plan in which there is national interest, which has passed five of the seven stages towards becoming part of the statutory development plan.

Let us hope that Mr Pickles responds positively. Cheerio.


Chairman’s January 2015 Blog

I’D LIKE to wish you a happy new year.  Now that’s over with, I’d like to depress you. Sorry!  But you need to know.  While our local councillors argue, point fingers and blame each other for the endless cuts in public spending, and the difficulties local people have with parking, our city has become a confusing and poorly-signed shambles.

Car park signage in Central Milton Keynes is misleading, out of date, contradictory and even plain wrong.  What follows should embarrass the owners of car parks and Milton Keynes Council, which is responsible for signage.

In Saxon Gate East, the parking advice sign for visitors is not operating as I write.  The similar large illuminated sign on the Secklow Gate route from the eastern approach off H6 Childs Way is mostly missing.  The uprights that used to support it are there but there is no sign.

The illuminated sign for visitors on the Avebury Boulevard next to Home Retail Group HQ is also not working.  There are no signs on the highways to the multi-storey car parks at  The Point; the Food Centre; INTU MK and Sainsbury’s – which is jointly a council car park (I bet you didn’t know that).

Our city is now a jungle of different coloured road lines fronting parking bays, different coloured parking machines and confusing Electric Vehicles but not Electric Vehicles Only signage.  We have four different blue-painted parking meters, all with different tariffs: at Xscape; near the station; near the old bus station and adjacent to the ice rink in the former Leisure Plaza.  We also have two types of red-painted parking meters with different tariffs.

We have three differing black-painted meters, owned by the council, Network Rail/London Midland  and by thecentre:mk.  They have different tariffs. We have orange meters operated by Milton Keynes Development Partnership… at different daily tariffs.

Let’s look at the visitor experience and start with a motorist looking for car parking as they arrive at Grafton Gate. He travels east and the first car park he might use is to the right – a MKDP car park.  It is not signposted so our visitor sails by.  Fail #1.

The next public car park is off Witan Gate, below Sainsbury’s. It is not identified as public in any external sign on the building.  Fail #2.

Once over the traffic lights at the junction with Witan Gate, our visitor sees, on the left, a small public car park and standard rate surface car parking to the right.  Beyond the private car park on the left he notices areas of surface level parking on both sides of Avebury Boulevard, with both premium and normal rates applying.  Or he might not.  The large sign on the left near Home Retail Group is of no use to visitors as it has not been working for a long time.  Fail #3.

Over the Saxon Gate junction with Avebury Boulevard and he might, if very observant, spot a small sign identifying P-1250 spaces to the left.  Further along Avebury Boulevard, through the trees on the left, he may catch sight of The Point multi-storey car park.  Sadly, however, it is unsigned on Avebury Boulevard.  Fail #4.

Although there is no multi-storey car park sign, there is a sign nearby which says Area D3 – Premium rate applies – £1.40 per hour.  The car park actually has a rate less than half, at 60p per hour.  Fail #5.

Our hapless visitor drives between surface car parking to the left and right at standard tariff rates.  There are no signs pointing to the MKDP surface car park next to The Point, effectively only accessible from Secklow Gate travelling north.  Nor are signs to this car park Midsummer Boulevard nor on Secklow Gate itself.  Fails #6, #7 and #8.

Our visitor crosses the junction of Avebury Boulevard and Secklow Gate towards surface car parking outside the vacant former Sainsbury’s unit and on the right outside Xscape.  However if he enters the area around Xscape he is very likely to be confused and ticketed, as are so many.  The large council Area Sign says that standard rates apply but the twice-the-standard-rate Xscape car park rates apply just beyond the sign.  Fail #9.

When our despairing visitor reaches Lower Twelfth Street, the Area Sign informs that premium rates apply.  There is also a small sign on the left on Lower Twelfth Street saying the  car park is for Patrons of the Food Centre only.  This is confirmed on the signage inside the Food Centre and in thecentre:mk.  But it’s not true. thecentre:mk website says that the car park, which it owns, is available for use by all.  Fail #10.

Externally they fail to adequately sign this multi-storey too, perhaps because it is free.  Fail #11.

Still travelling east along Avebury Boulevard, our visitor reaches an access way to the left with yet more misleading signage into a surface car park to the south east of the Theatre District.  The large council Area Sign says premium rates apply yet just behind the sign the Theatre District surface car park is charged at less than one fifth or 25p per hour.  Fail #12.

Finally at the very end of Avebury Boulevard, there is a sign identifying the 330-space Theatre District multi-storey car park via Marlborough Gate – the only one of five directly signposted as a MSCP off Avebury Boulevard.  Success #1.

Our despondent visitor goes home, likely telling his family and friends that parking in Milton Keynes – a city dubbed by many as ‘city of the car’ – is a joke. Great job, Milton Keynes Council and car park owners.



Chairman’s December 2014 Blog

American cousins like to call ‘the holiday season’ with a smile on your face.  Thus this month’s column seeks to shed light on the frankly risible activities of those determined to add a new multi-storey car park to thecentre:mk.

I wrote about this in October, describing the owners’ thinly veiled attempt to extend their listed shopping building under cover of offering the people of Milton Keynes a car park. Recently, however, they appear to have totally lost the plot.  Indeed, their efforts have put one local challenger of planning and transport matters, David Stabler, in mind of Gabriel Chevallier’s famous French novel Clochemerle, which was adapted as a TV series by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson in the 1970s.

It is an analogy that appeals to me also.  Clochemerle deals with the confrontation of secular and religious forces in a small French village in Beaujolais.  The eruptions begin when the socialist mayor decides that he wants to leave behind a monument to his administration’s achievements.  He takes as his model the ancient Romans, who were famous for two things: hygiene and noble edifices.  He decides to unite the two concepts by constructing a public urinal in the centre of town.  There is one problem, however.  The chosen location is next to the village church, and this outrages the traditionally minded villagers.

Substitute the secular mayor and his urinal with Hermes and partner Australian Super as misguided developers wanting to erect a monumental multi-storey car park to consolidate their commercial triumphs.  Their efforts are being opposed by a growing band of those defending the concept of the design of Central Milton Keynes, the grade II listed shopping building and the free movement of traffic on Marlborough Gate.

Perhaps we see in this stand-off similarities to the farcical goings on in Clochemerle and the disputes about it.  For those who think I am being a little unfair, you may not be aware that Hermes has now submitted five separate application forms and just cannot seem to handle the basics of what is a fairly simple planning application for a big box with empty floors and a few ramps.  Because of protests from third parties, they have now finally been forced to notify the adjoining landowners, something they neglected to do, even though they want to use their land for access and external works.

Both the Parks Trust, which looks after the city’s green spaces, and Milton Keynes Development Partnership, responsible for promoting the development of the borough’s land assets, took active part in recent seminars about the future of Midsummer Boulevard, which I, Hermes and Australian Super also attended, but neither the Parks Trust nor MKDP were consulted about the car park plans.  No wonder that both landholders are at best critical and now seem totally opposed to the plans.

MKDP chief executive Charles Macdonald has bluntly offered his opinion about what should happen: “The proposed standalone car park on this site should be withdrawn by the applicants, or refused.”

Not only did Hermes/AS not consult with key stakeholders but its architects do not seem to know exactly what it is they have designed.  Each of the five application forms proposes a different number of parking spaces to be built, ranging from 1,344 to 1,418; a difference of 74 spaces or over five per cent.  How can they ‘lose’ 74 parking spaces?

They have also had to increase the number of disabled spaces from 57 to 85, because their first ‘go’ offered less than the 6pc required.   I wonder how much they are being paid for their lackadaisicality, if that is a word.

And then there are the pigeons.  Rather, the potential pigeons and potential pigeon roosts.  Thousands of them.  The four elevations of the car park are designed to be clad with nearly 4,500 coloured anodised box panels.  The key word here is box.  Now while this may sound excitingly different to some, to others it is an affront to the minimalist listed building which it will adjoin.

The outrage does not end there.  At a public meeting the designer was asked whether the facade would attract roosting pigeons, for whom the boxes would appear to offer perfect hospitality, and what they might do to obviate this.  Each panel could, theoretically, provide a roost for a nuclear pigeon family.  4,500 purpose-made pigeon roosts and the resultant pigeon poop from up to 18,000 pigeons inside a structure full of vulnerable cars, is perhaps a disaster even Hermes/AS might wish to avoid.

The architects have gone away and thought about this.  Is their solution alternative cladding?  No, it’s Optical Bird Gel, developed by a scientist in Korea.  The gel gives the impression to bird  brains that it is on fire.  It would be added to little dishes, as many as 4,500 of them, placed where birds would otherwise nest, roost or hang around cooing (perhaps it’s not roosting dishes they need, but roasting dishes… I digress).  According to the manufacturers, if the birds are nesting you need dishes every 4 – 6 inches, for roosting birds 10 – 12 inches between each dish and finally, if the birds are loafing (their words) 18-20 inches between each dish.

So how does this gel age and for how long is it effective, I wonder?  So it looks like the car park elevations will be covered in thousands of Optical Bird Gel dishes.  Does this sound like Clochemerle?  Mais oui… and please avoid the pigeon merde.

Have a happy holiday.  Cheerio.


Chairman’s November 2015 Blog

There’s a saying: “You never miss your water until your well runs dry”.  Given my recent experiences with almost daily traffic jams in Milton Keynes – yes, traffic jams… in MK! – I would like to suggest an alternate version: “You never miss your grid roads until the idiots stop building them.”

OK, so maybe these are temporary jams caused by infrastructure works for the Western Expansion Area, the redevelopment of the Kingston roundabout and resurfacing works triggered by renewed Milton Keynes Council investment and the enthusiasm of the new contractor.  Maybe.

However, the congestion may well be a portent of the future.  The 40 years of free flowing travel were initiated in 1970 when the Milton Keynes Master Plan was published, which included the design of the grid system.  This meant fast roads, roundabouts, segregation of cars from people and cycles on the redways, landscaping and buffers between roads and housing.  Perfection.

The city developed and these principles survived the test of time and were enshrined again, within the Milton Keynes Planning Manual, published by Milton Keynes Development Corporation in 1992.  It also restated the requirement for grid corridor reservations to be planned into all development areas to fulfill the following functions:

*  To protect adjoining development from the effects of modern road traffic;

*  To add to the attractiveness of the environment for residents and road users through the provision of landscaped corridors;

*  To secure the land for primary transport routes and other main services, now and in the future.

You’d think therefore that these principles were so well-established and so admired worldwide that we’d be safe.  But no.  Sadly, there are always ‘idiots’ who think they know better.

Our grid roads were not only admired and copied worldwide, our citizens clearly loved them too.  In 2008, the Citizens’ Advice Group on Transport was established by the council to review the transport needs of the city into the future.  The group commissioned a survey of 1,000 people to obtain a wider view. ICM carried out the survey and reported: “The grid is beloved of this parish. There is likely to be strong opposition if the format is radically changed.”

Specifically, the respondents provided the following views:

*  88 per cent said it gives Milton Keynes a unique identity not seen in other towns;

*  87pc said the grid road system is fast and efficient;

*  84pc said the grid road system should not be tampered with.

But I suspect that the ‘idiots’ were standing with their fingers in their ears, going: “I’m not listening, la, la, la”!

Now I happily accept that the MK Master Plan is not without its critics among the planning fraternity and that the model is not perfect.  However, in 2014, the independent research analyst Centre for Cities had Milton Keynes at the top in virtually every key measure of urban success.  It works, it is highly successful and the people love it.  What could possibly go wrong?

Then those ‘idiots’, our so-called public servants, in partnership with the larger developers, came up with the Eastern and Western Expansion Areas.  I have written about this previously so I won’t repeat the detail.  Of course, the ‘idiots’ needed some facile justifications for destroying our grid system.  The WEA Development Framework (2005) was one such: “…the long-term transport vision envisages that the infrastructure in the expansion areas should provide public transport routes associated with higher development densities”.

And so the hated and failing City Street concept was born.

The ‘idiots’ hadn’t finished their scorched earth policy yet, though.  In the east, the EEA Development Framework (2008) further stated “…the standard Milton Keynes model can be regarded as highly structured suburbia; it is a model which (in its best interpretations) is well loved by residents.  The challenge for the EEA is to deliver a “New Milton Keynes” which updates the Milton Keynes tradition…”

Hello? So the ‘idiots’ were attempting to “update the Milton Keynes tradition” by destroying it?

Good sense appeared to return with the Strategic Land Allocation Development Framework SPD (2013) that covers the expansion in the south east of Milton Keynes.  The design criteria for grid roads is as follows: “80-metre corridor, with substantial green reserve.  Single carriageway but with space to provide additional carriageway.”

However, we can now see as the detailed plans come forward for approval that the grid road corridors specification is being ignored.

So with the ‘idiots’ having won in the West and the ‘idiots’ having won in the East, here in the south east of Milton Keynes we, its citizens, are at the last redoubt.  Remember that 84pc of us said the grid road system should not be tampered with.  Surely all those who care must press the council to live up to its promise to retain one of the key features of the city.

If our elected representatives do not deliver what they have promised, we will all be losers.

And then we shall all sit in traffic jams in our cars, buses and taxis for ever… like idiots.



Chairman’s October 2014 Blog:

IN MARCH I had a private meeting with co-owners of thecentre:mk, Hermes, town planners Turley and architects Leslie Jones.  They told me that I was the first to see plans for a new multi-storey car park next to John Lewis.  I think I was meant to be flattered and thus melt into acquiescence.  And at first I was and I did.  However, a question I asked at that meeting, which was not properly answered, came back to haunt me.

Why would they waste £30 million on a new car park, when according to their own experts, when they applied to demolish Secklow Gate bridge two years earlier, there is easily enough parking around thecentre:mk?  Surface parking is over capacity and under-utilised, says Transport Assessment Secklow Gate, Planning Application 12/0174/2FULEIS thecentre:mk August 2012, by Waterman Transport & Development Ltd.  The loss of 46 spaces was insignificant, they argued, because customers could use some of the 1,166 spaces within 400 metres or a five-minute walk, that are unoccupied at peak times.

The two multi-storey car parks – in the Food Centre and next to Milton Keynes Theatre – are not only free of charge but extremely under-utilised.  So is there an ulterior, undeclared motive?  Surprise, surprise, it appears there is.

It seems the multi-storey car park is a ‘stalking horse’ for rather more radical and arguably less popular changes.  Could two of these changes be demolition of the Food Centre multi-storey car park and additional development around the listed shopping building?  If so, it seems they have not thought it through properly.  For instance, the Food Centre car park has 550 spaces compared to 1,412 spaces in the proposed new one.  And although the new one is 256 per cent larger, it has less than 25pc of the lift capacity – the Food Centre car park has seven 33-person lifts while only three 17-person lifts are proposed in the new one.  A people log-jam beckons.

But don’t worry – there will be no cars in the new car park anyway.  Because motorists will be unable to get in via a newly three-way traffic-lit junction on the busy single-carriageway, no grid road access, bus-clogged Marlborough Gate. [It will be a three way traffic light; i.e. go straight on Marlborough Gate or only go left into car park, go right from Marlborough Gate into car park or straight on going East whilst cars going West have to stop, go either way on Marlborough Gate from car park whilst all traffic is stopped on Marlborough Gate, creating long delays.  Ed.]

And what of the other potential changes?  The Design and Access Statement reveals much: “PHASE TWO: Restaurant/Leisure & Residential.

“This component could further wrap the car park and activate the southern frontage.  As an alternative to Phase One this proposal illustrates an extension to the Midsummer Boulevard “infill flank” to deliver deeper units, meeting current tenant requirements  …to deliver a viable critical mass of new space from the outset.”

Readers may recall that I dealt with elements of this stealth proposal to narrow Midsummer Boulevard East at the Design Workshop, which I attended earlier this year.  Suffice to say, I felt like a potential King’s sailor discovering a shilling at the bottom of his pint – i.e. railroaded, to mix my transport-related metaphors.

Note also that in the DAS the Food Centre is shown as part of both phases of the ‘Future Development Potential’.  Bizarrely, its multi-storey is not mentioned as suitable to accept displaced cars during construction of the proposed new multi-storey car park.  The theatre multi-storey and the Hermes-owned Secklow Gate car park are both cited and both within 500 metres, yet the car park at the Food Centre (also within 500 metres) is not mentioned.

What, I wonder, could have caused this omission?

The transport assessment by Waterman shows some rather fanciful conclusions. For instance, “the Development would result in a generally negligible effect on traffic flows and junction operation, though Marlborough Gate would experience minor adverse effects”.

So the traffic queuing to get into the car park’s essentially sole entrance, fatally blocking a single carriageway used by most of the buses in Central Milton Keynes, would cause ‘minor’ effects?  Oh, please….

In any event, it does not comply with the Parking Strategy for Central Milton Keynes adopted in November last year, which speaks against “meeting unfettered, unsustainable demand”.   Indeed, it became somewhat transparent during my meeting at the thecentre:mk that the true intent includes establishing signage across Central Milton Keynes directing all shoppers to the new multi-storey, thus dragging them away from retail rival Intu Milton Keynes.

Now while this may be the perfectly normal, self-serving, dystopian behaviour by your average corporation, we must ask whether forcing motorists through the city centre to literally the hardest place to get to – it is not connected to the nearest grid road at V8 Marlborough Street – really serves Milton Keynes.  I say not.

A further aim of the Parking Strategy is “to maintain the economic vitality of Central Milton Keynes as a place to shop, work and visit, while recognising parking management as a tool… to promote a shift to more sustainable modes.”

For a decade Milton Keynes Council has made an annual policy decision that additional off-street parking is unnecessary or undesirable in Central Milton Keynes.  Once again the proposed multi-storey car park fails.  I doubt that the £30 million investment could even be recouped given that the new multi-storey would have to charge VAT and compete with ground level parking around the building, which does not.

I again ask the question:  Why would they waste £30 million when according to their own experts, when applying to demolish Secklow Gate bridge two years before, there is easily enough parking around thecentre:mk?



After a well-earned break in August, the Chairman now treats us to his blog for September 2014, though it is no treat for the Western Expansion Area:

HERE we are, the end of summer and I’m writing about the Western Expansion Area.  Again.  Why is it always such a monumental ‘SNAFU’?  Planning for the WEA was granted in 2007 by unelected, unapologetic, unconscionable bureaucrats working for central government but pretending to be local.  And what an enduring curse they cast.

The WEA is the size of Buckingham, 350 hectares between Stony Stratford, Two Mile Ash and Crownhill, and will eventually comprise 18,000 people in 6,500 new homes, employment and parkland.  The area is split by Calverton Lane, which should be the western extension of H3 Monks Way, into Areas 10 and 11.

According to developer Barratt Homes/David Wilson Homes planning 180 new homes in part of Area 11, it will be linked to the grid road system and will feature a ‘link street’ or a ‘city street’ in feeble disguise.  This is the continuation of H2 Millers Way.

Bovis, which is developing part of Area 10, also has a ‘city street’ which eventually curls round from the V4 to join the V2 and H4.

So although we see claims of ‘linkage to the grid system’, there are in fact no grid roads there at all in an area that effectively permanently blocks the western approaches of our city.

We’ve already seen what a disaster ‘city streets’ are such as Countess Way, the speed-humped, lorry-banned, much-hated, eastern extension of the H7 Chaffron Way and its similar western end, Hayton Way.

Now, in the recent past it seemed there was hope.  I have previously written how the council administration in 2011 renegotiated a ‘Collaboration Agreement’ with principal owners Redlawn/Gallagher in order to agree significant variations to the original consented scheme.

It secured new network connection principles and an extension of grid roads into the scheme, with protected grid road corridors extending right across it.

The agreement stated: “Grid roads will be extended into the development at V4 junctions with H2 and H3.  These junctions will be roundabouts.  The grid road extensions will initially be constructed as single carriageway, with development set back from the road as elsewhere in Milton Keynes.  The roads will include a landscaped corridor.

Space will be available to both widen these roads and to extend further into the development should the need arise.  Land required to do this will be made available to the council initially as highway verge land or public open space.

The existing V2 grid road will be extended along the reserved corridor west of Grange Farm and will be connected to the WEA transport corridor at a new junction with the H4.”

It seemed all was well.  And then Barratt Homes/David Wilson Homes and Bovis started showing their plans in their usual meaningless public consultations.  And – surprise, surprise – not a grid road in site.  Nada.  Nothing.

Where are those Grid Road Reservation Corridors to leave options for future generations?  They were, and are, a distinctive feature of Milton Keynes’ masterplan.  Indeed, Milton Keynes Council’s policy is now that they should be 80 metres as advised in The Milton Keynes Planning Manual.

The grid road corridor reservation for H2 Millers Way into that area is 27 metres from house front to house front, and that includes front gardens with on-street parking and multiple turnings.

It indicates a complete failure to understand what a grid road is.

The Bovis scheme opposite Crownhill  has ‘city street’ access to V4 Watling Street but technically no grid road corridor alignment to worry about as it is south of Calverton Lane.  However its ‘city street’ would be a grid road in all but name as it connects directly the V4, H4 and V2.

What happens when rush hour traffic from 18,000 new residents, visitors plus commuters  try to use it?  What will life be like for those who buy homes on top of that chaos?

The other and continuing scandal is that there are still no pedestrian or redway underpasses into the WEA.  Gallagher say they have given money to the council and it is up to them.  The council says they cannot put them in as it was not in the original planning permission – which overlooks the fact that they own a third of it – and Gallagher are only project managers.

Moving outside the WEA for a moment, Eagle Farm South, near the M1 in the south east of the city – Gallagher again – was approved days ago with between 41-metre and 47-metre grid road reservation (sources vary) corridor even though the council Framework Plan adopted in November 2013 correctly calls for 80 metres.

This disaster has the hands of every recent administration at the council on it. Indeed at the meeting in July of the City Breakfast Club networking group, council leader Peter Marland gave a speech extolling Milton Keynes as a ‘can-do’ city.

I asked him at the meeting about grid roads in the WEA.  He replied (and I paraphrase) ‘It’s a can-do city, but we can’t do that’.

Why not?  The council still owns a third of the land in the WEA and it has a ‘Collaboration Agreement’ with Redlawn/Gallagher.  Why, oh why, cannot the councilors who decide these things over three administrations of every political persuasion simply get it right and deliver what the people of Milton Keynes evidently want?

I despair.  Cheerio.


Chairman’s July 2014 Blog:

I am fascinated by how we accept English expressions as obvious and are surprised that those of others are differently nonsensical.  Take ‘You are trying to pull the wool over my eyes’.  In Russia they say ‘You are trying to hang noodles from my ears’.  With the latest instalment of the Midsummer Boulevard East Workshop organised by Milton Keynes Council and Central Milton Keynes Town Council, which Urban Eden is attending, I might be forgiven for thinking my eyes are blinded and my ears hung with noodles.

I previously wrote about last February’s three meetings where ‘solutions’ appeared almost from nowhere.  Suddenly we were told that ‘we’ wanted to fully pedestrianise Midsummer Boulevard East and knock down the north/south ramps to Secklow Gate bridge making it impassable to traffic.  Er, no.

I attended the opening day of the latest round of talks and was pleased that the ramps will not now be removed thanks both to Urban Eden inputs and outrage but also because of the considerable technical challenges such removal would present.

Nevertheless I remain suspicious of the sleights of hand that are apparently under way. For instance we were told that the event had ‘sponsors’, all of whom had chipped in £3,000.  That’s funny, none of us are getting paid and the so-called ‘technical team’ (whose names in session one I still don’t have despite asking in writing) are probably working for their own vested-interest companies.

So what role do these sponsors really play and how much influence do they wield? They are the council, CMK Town Council, Hermes Real Estate, Australian Super, Hammerson, intu and Milton Keynes Development Partnership.

While the ‘technical team’ has been revised and I have those names, I am still suspicious that the sponsors – with the possible exception of the town council – have compelling financial incentives to narrow, pedestrianise, extend shopping options and effectively turn Midsummer Boulevard East step by sneaky step into Bluewater shopping centre.

The plans we were presented with – ostensibly an output of our earlier deliberations – show the boulevard being narrowed on its northern face and thecentre:mk being proportionally extended, despite its Grade II listed status, by between six and 18 metres.

It is clear that the intention is that the south side retail offer would be joined to the north side by a series of ‘rooms’ – areas dedicated to certain activities across an effectively ‘closed’ boulevard.

These ‘rooms’ are named in the document as ‘covered room’, ‘active room’, ‘market room’, ‘garden room’ and ‘culture room’.  As part of the ‘noodle hanging’ exercise, we eager participants are being distracted by how each ‘room’ would be set up while ignoring the elephant in the room.  How clever.

Where did these ludicrous ‘Rooms of Activity and Experience’ really come from?  Who will maintain them and where would footfall come from in a largely under-populated town centre?



Chairman’s June 2014 Blog:

MILTON Keynes Council has announced the appointment of a new chief executive.  A couple of simple checks revealed two major financial investigations which mention her name.

Carole Mills is an accountant and is currently deputy chief executive and corporate director for resources at Nottingham City Council.  Previously, she was acting chief executive, yet apparently did not apply for the job full time.

One of the negative articles I discovered was in the Nottingham Post.  In it, she does not come out well: “The city council has agreed an action plan to tackle failings in how it managed a £12 million jobs fund.

“The District Auditor has raised concerns over the mismanagement of the schemes.  Among other matters, the auditor’s report said around £5 million of public money had been spent on [the jobs fund] without any evidence of formal decisions being taken.

“She said decisions were “unsafe” and the council failed to comply with its own financial regulations.”  It goes on to say that Carole Mills (then Carole Mills-Evans) was the accountable financial officer for the Future Jobs Fund.

I then found an article in Outsource magazine detailing another scandal involving large sums of public money: “Whitehall departments have been criticised for overspending by £500 million on schemes that were actually intended to save money.  None of the schemes looked at had broken even.”

Carole Mills-Evans and Nottingham City Council are named and she is quoted again.

My publicising this has caused a firestorm at Milton Keynes Council.  Current chief executive David Hill wrote to me to say I risked losing credibility and respect among senior colleagues at the council.  In a separate letter to me, the three party leaders Andrew Geary, Peter Marland and Douglas McCall said: “Throughout the whole process Carole Mills was the outstanding candidate.” However, they failed to state whether due diligence had been concluded.

In the meantime one of our local papers carried this denial: ‘Council leader Andrew Geary has backed her appointment – batting away claims in an article in the Nottingham Post that Ms Mills was involved in the failing of a £12 million jobs fund in the city.

‘And Nottingham City Council disputed the newspaper’s report, saying that Ms Mills “was not the authorised officer for this scheme and had no managerial responsibility for the areas involved”.’

So this anonymous quote from Nottingham City Council ends speculation.  Except it does not.  I called the paper and they sent me another article which says this: “According to a copy of the council’s submission for funding, the accountable financial officer with responsibility for the Future Jobs Funds scheme was Carole Mills-Evans, the council’s deputy chief executive.”

I have written back to Cllrs Geary, Marland and McCall and said:  “The flurry of emails and other correspondence you describe was for one simple purpose, and that is to discover whether the council and its recruitment agent has completed a thorough process of due diligence.  If they have, and everyone involved in her selection was aware of the negative stories, and if that candidate was able to prove to your satisfaction that the matters were either not her responsibility or that she had some other convincing explanation, this is the last you will hear from me on this.

“Therefore I have one simple question, for which I believe the people of Milton Keynes are entitled to a reply, and it is this: Were those who played a part in the selection process, namely the ‘numerous external stakeholders, council members, other key staff, the full council and those seven elected members conducting a final interview’ all made specifically aware of these easily discoverable links between Ms Mills and the ‘£12 million jobs fund’ scandal and the ‘£500 million shared back office’ scandal?”

As I write this column, I have had no reply.

More importantly, I have discovered that the claims by those three that she was the obvious choice might crumble a little under investigation.  For instance, I understand that the full meeting of councillors before the final meeting of the seven who appointed her was very far from unanimously endorsing the candidate in question.  And there were three independent panels which also interviewed the final four candidates.

I know that the Business Panel, made up of local business luminaries, was only provided with the candidates’ CVs, was told that references would only be taken up once an appointment had been made and was so unenamoured with Ms Mills that they said she was not of sufficient experience and knowledge for the growth of MK.  Furthermore I understand that they did not recommend the appointment of any of the last four candidates.

I do not know Ms Mills.  I have no opinion of her.  She may make a fine chief executive and be worthy of her £150,000 salary.

However, in order for MK to pick the right candidate, everything relevant must be properly considered.  If it isn’t, surely the appointment must be put on hold until it is.



Chairman’s May 2014 Blog:

Sometimes I have to be hard on organisations, usually because they fully deserve it.  And today is just such an occasion.  However, in order that you and I do not dwell too long in the dangerous shadowlands of schadenfreude, I will temper my criticism with some deserved praise so that the gods of karma are sated.

First the bad stuff: Milton Keynes Council, what were you thinking when you relaunched your website  This ill-thought-out replacement, which you seem happy to pretend is fully developed and ready to go out into the world is not even an embryo.  Frankly, I suspect its parents are yet to know each other carnally.  They’re probably not even Facebook friends.

So how bad is it?  If you try to find what is coming up for approval at the Development Control committee, you might enter the term ‘Development control panel agenda’ in the website search engine. Response: ‘There are No Search Results for development control panel agenda.’

Let’s try ‘Development control panel’ Response: “There are No Search Results for development control panel”.  Pretty much every other combination also fails to locate the agenda, including the term ‘Development control committee’.

We at Urban Eden HQ, however, are persistent. And we have found the secret nine-step process which you, like me, may conclude is ludicrously byzantine. Here it is:


2 Scroll down to the bottom of the page, click on A-Z of Services.

3 (Ignore D – the committee is not listed.) Click on C.

4 Scroll down to Council Meetings.

5 Click on Council Meetings Information System.

6 Click on Committees (top left).

7 Scroll down to find Development Control, click on the link.

8 On the right, identify the date for the meeting in question and click.

9 A list of relevant documents is displayed.

If you’re still sane, enjoy.

That nonsense is not the only problem.  An Urban Eden member tried to renew her bus card using the online service, which included her uploading proof of identity: an image of her passport.  Weeks later, having heard nothing, she phoned.  She was not on the system – her application had not arrived.

So where, she wondered, had the image of her passport gone?  To how many others has this happened?  Does it amount to a loss of personally identifiable information under the terms of data protection legislation?  Should it be reported to the office of the Information Commissioner?

Here, in just one simple step, is my advice to Milton Keynes Council: get your website sorted… please.  Now for the praise…

Firstly, I wrote last year about Cofferidge Close in Stony Stratford and its owner’s efforts to plonk down a massive supermarket which might utterly destroy what must be one of the last surviving successful high streets in the country and how its trucks would deliver the coup de grace by clogging up narrow medieval Silver Street.  Planning permission had been refused by Milton Keynes Council but a hugely expensive appeal had been launched.

Parties opposing the appeal were Save Cofferidge Close campaigners, Stony Stratford Town Council and today’s bête noir Milton Keynes Council.  As SCC and SSTC were granted equal status to the appellant and Milton Keynes Council as the local planning authority, they were able to bring up factors not previously raised by the council such as traffic flow.

The appeal met for eight days at Stony Stratford’s Cock Hotel, where it probably heard a great deal of Bull from the owners’ barristers.  The Inspector has now made his decision and I am delighted has rejected the appeal.  Well done Milton Keynes Council and those others, too.

Praise number two: Two councillors have asked for a total rethink on the disaster that is Countess Way (conceived as the eastern extension of H7 Chaffron Way).  Urban Eden predicted that the City Street concept would be disastrous for Milton Keynes and so it has been.  By the time you read this, we should know whether the council has agreed to make changes but nevertheless this is a good sign and praise, once again, must go to the council.

Could it be that the tide is finally turning and sanity is returning to town planning in this unique gem that is Milton Keynes?

Karma is now balanced.  Cheerio.


Chairman’s April 2014 Blog:

I recently spoke at Milton Keynes Council’s Development Control Committee on behalf of Urban Eden to oppose the outline planning permission for The Point in Midsummer Boulevard.  The building’s owners, Hammersons, wished to demolish it and redevelop the site for me-too retail and some unspecified leisure use.

I was not opposing its demolition per se – after all Hammersons has already done a very effective job in managing its obsolescence.  For years, its famous red lights have been extinguished, its steel pyramid and glass ziggurat have been rusting and rotting.  To attempt to save it now would have been the equivalent of Charles Saatchi desperately attempting to preserve his £50,000 investment in Damien Hirst’s dead shark by removing the rotting corpse and stretching its skin over a fibreglass frame.  But, as ever, I digress.

So why, I was asking, are the planners recommending approval of what is essentially nothing?  And, despite early indications of support from councillors to my noting that the outline application was contrary to the following policies NPPF paragraphs 60, 61, 64, 69 and 135; Core Strategy policies CS7, CS11 and CS19 and Local Plan policies D2, CC8, CC9 and HE5, I noted that following a short break that support had wavered.

Hammersons then won the day by seven votes to three.  I suspect this is because, despite my valid points, councillors may have learned that without outline planning permission, the owners could have started demolition the following day leaving an ugly hole in the heart of Milton Keynes and with it, they could not.

Yet all is not lost.  The outline planning permission comes hedged around with much that we should be grateful to the planners for.  For instance, Hammersons – or whoever they now sell the more valuable site to – must come up with a detailed Design Code which must come before the development control committee again.  And demolition cannot commence until a contractor to rebuild whatever is eventually approved has been appointed (Clause 5.8).

Interestingly, the planners state this reason for requiring the Design Code: “To ensure that the development… suitably addresses its location at a prominent location within Central Milton Keynes, the setting of the grade II listed shopping building and to ensure that the development is of sufficient quality and standing to offset the loss of The Point, which is a landmark building for MK.”

Which is all well and good, but this is where I get a little animated.

It seems that everybody hates the indicative building which is a very poor pastiche of the original.  Is this really the best that the company that created Selfridges in the Bull Ring, Birmingham can do? Or is Milton Keynes not worth the effort, Hammersons?  I confess that in my presentation to the DCC I may have, with apologies, used the term ‘pile of steaming poo’ to illustrate exactly how I feel about their sorry offering.

It seems to me that the site of The Point is not just important; it is actually at the very centre of our city.  When the centre is completely developed, it will literally be at its very heart; its nub point.

The existing building, although less than 30 years old, was truly iconic.  It was Britain’s first multiplex and the first multi-leisure complex of its type in Europe.  Lit up at night, it could be seen as a beacon from miles away, including everyone travelling on the M1, calling people to that new ‘dream in a field’… Milton Keynes.

If anything is to replace it, surely it must be iconic too?  Now I’ve read naysayers claiming that you can’t set out to build an icon.  What tosh. Tell that to Frank Gehry architect of the Guggenheim, Bilbao or Renzo Piano, architect of the Shard, London. An icon is what we need and an icon is what Milton Keynes deserves.  If it needs to be tall so that it can once again be seen from the M1, over the more recently completed Xscape building and theatre district, then so be it.  It has its own multi-storey carpark, which is not being demolished, so it’s in an ideal position to ‘go tall’.

The outline plans talk vaguely about shopping and leisure but let’s look at what Milton Keynes really needs.  We have huge midweek demand for hotel rooms and there is no five star hotel and conference centre in our city.  Or perhaps we could have some wholly new concept of a wild-ride indoor theme park (well, this is wet and cold Britain, not Florida).

But whatever we get please, please, please let’s have some creative minds coming up with some exciting ideas.

Here’s me crossing all my fingers. Cheerio.

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Chairman’s March 2014 Blog:

Urban Eden, the organisation I founded, was invited by Milton Keynes Council and Central Milton Keynes Town Council to take part in the important design workshop to “develop guidelines and visions” for Midsummer Boulevard East.

The three-day event was attended by a prestigious elite.  Among the 80-plus delegates was council leader Cllr Andrew Geary, chief executive David Hill and new temporary planning head David Hackforth.

Landlords Hermes, Henderson, Australian Super, Hammersons, Theatre District Management and Intu  – which own and run the shopping buildings and Theatre District  – sent delegates as did bus companies Stagecoach and Arriva and Milton Keynes Development Partnership, which now controls all council-owned development land.

Also around the table were the National Market Traders Federation and other groups including Milton Keynes Parks Trust, Milton Keynes City Centre Management and MK Forum.

In addition to inputs from delegates, there had been two public exhibitions.  The public’s thoughts on Midsummer Boulevard East coincided strongly with my own but, given that the hundreds of members of Urban Eden are members of the public, perhaps I should not have been surprised.

Upon arrival, we were allocated to tables of ten participants.  I was split off from my fellow Urban Eden delegate.  Not immediately obvious to us was that there was a select band of people who had been appointed to be members of the ‘technical team’, comprising mostly experienced planners, town planners etc.  After the sessions they assimilated and integrated the inputs into a more usable form.

I have not been able, despite requesting it twice, to either get a full list of the members of this ‘technical team’ nor a copy of their exact brief or methodology.

For instance what inputs would they integrate; what would they ignore; how would they choose?

On the first day we worked with large plans of Central Milton Keynes overlaid with tracing paper on which we could write, post notes, even use wooden blocks to illustrate suggestions or aspirations.

Wandering inquisitively from table to table, I was struck how quickly one unexpected element had appeared: demolition of one or both ramps from Midsummer Boulevard East up to Secklow Gate Bridge.  Some parties had decided to demolish transport links over the Gate.  I could not find a single reference to this from the public consultation.

After lunch, we did a ‘walkabout’ and it was obvious that removing the ramps would mean nothing taller than a cyclist could transit Midsummer Boulevard East under Secklow Gate Bridge.  It is too low for even a single-decker bus.

It seemed ironic, after Urban Edenites fought to save Secklow Gate Bridge from demolition, that it was now being promoted as a way to forever divide Midsummer Boulevard East.

We now have electric buses and instead of a 11-minute detour via Saxon Gate, Avebury Boulevard and Lower Ninth Street, they should be running through the 20-metre wide protected transport corridor in Midsummer Place which Urban Eden fought so hard to preserve at the council’s development control committee last year.

If I owned Midsummer Place, I would be desperate to have shoppers coming from the station alighting inside my centre.  But it seems that both the owners Intu and our Luddite council are somehow scared to instigate something that was decreed when Midsummer Boulevard was first cut in half.

Back to the workshop.  Possibly the ‘technical team’ made certain assumptions based on submissions and incorporated some wishful thinking into the documents requiring a final vote.  Among the points to be voted for on the final day was this exact wording: “Maintain transit route”.  It was only by my questioning of the ‘technical team’ expert on my table that I learned that this meant ‘full pedestrianisation’.  When pressed, he implied there would be no reason therefore to keep the ramps west and east of Secklow Gate.

I urgently and publicly pointed this out to the facilitator Dr Jon Cooper, of Oxford Brookes University.  Sadly he insisted on completing the vote before I stood up again to request clarification.

A dominant member of the ‘technical team’ confirmed that the intention was for ‘full pedestrianisation’ of Midsummer Boulevard East.  When pressed he confirmed that some non-polluting form of future transport might be included but only “when it is invented”.

Alan Francis from MK Bus Users Group reminded him that trams had existed for over 100 years.

I am delighted to have been instrumental in exposing this sleight of mind, whether caused by omission or commission.  Interestingly when I wrote: “Do not narrow the building lines” (or similar) on the plans, they came back to our table with a thick black line through them.  Everyone on my table denied striking this out.

I know that if I had not firstly discovered and secondly single-handedly exposed this ‘full pedestrianisation’ intention, it would have eventually been enacted as “having been approved by everyone there”.

Phew, a bullet dodged.

Apparently a follow-up meeting is being planned.  Given that more than one delegate has verbally attacked me, it will be fascinating to see whether Urban Eden is invited.

I feel that the organisers are damned if they do, and doomed if they don’t.  Cheerio.

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Chairman’s January 2014 Blog:

WELCOME to another new year. Congratulations to you all… you made it… and so, just, did Milton Keynes. I know that I go on about the place rather a lot but I, like the hundreds of Urban Eden members, rather like it.

I remember the first time I came here. It was to pitch for the public relations contract of the James Hunt Racing Centre. This of course, is now Daytona, itself a client for many years. Anyway, to get back to the story; when we arrived at the site on a bright sunny day, a steam roller was smoothing off the still hot tarmac on the circuit and whisps of steam were twirling slowly into the bright, clear air. Somehow that view, with the ravishing smell of hot tarmac, has stayed with me; somehow signifying a special moment.

We walked around the part of the circuit that had set firm and I remember thinking how extraordinary that such a facility could be right in the centre of this place, a brave new city that has such circuits in it.

The then owner had no finished buildings on site so he kindly took us to The Point for a coffee and a chat about his plans. We did not win the contract for the launch of JHRC, and sadly that business failed. I am too modest to ascribe one to the other but I feel that I got something far more valuable that day; an introduction to this most extraordinary place.

I found a city where you could be in the very heart of town and see only trees. A place where pedestrians and most cyclists were safely separated from motor traffic on redways; where houses were set far back from road edges and where traffic moved fast, freely and can be parked easily.

It was so unlike anywhere I had ever been in the UK and even a step change away from those other new towns; most of them being a bit like the Curate’s egg… good in parts.

In contrast, Milton Keynes had somehow magically got it just right.

As a consequence of that impactful first impression, 15 years ago, in September 1998 I bought an office building and moved the company here. I myself moved here to live a few years later. However it was then that I began to notice that the city was changing and not for the better, so just over seven years ago, in November 2006, I founded Urban Eden.

I have often wondered what confluence of judgement, luck, planning, government intent, bloody mindedness and sheer bravado conspired to get Milton Keynes so right. How did those originally in charge obtain such vision and pursue it through thick and thin? Take thecentre:mk as an example. When it was originally planned as that mad idea, a large shopping centre in the middle of a field in the middle of rural Buckinghamshire, we did not have the well established precedents we have now to justify it. There were no large regional shopping centres and only town centres to compare it with.

Yes, the USA had its strip malls but not everything that works there, works here. Look at American football. Or  Twinkies. Or twerking.

Even Healey and Baker, the original retail agents responsible for it, were understandably cautious. Apparently they recommended that it be built in staggered stages. That we start with 200,000 square feet and if successful slowly expand to 500,000sq ft,  perhaps years down the line.

“Sod that,” those brave men at the Milton Keynes Development Corpora-tion might have said. “Let’s double the size and build it all. Right now.” And astonishingly they did. And they were right. Suddenly 1,000,000 square feet of retail reared out of the mud and as we know was an astonishing success from the day Margaret Thatcher declared it open.

The building itself was no throwaway idea either as its recent grade II listing demonstrates. It was inspired by both architect Mies van der Rohe’s Crown Hall in Chicago and the visionary plan form of a secondary school at Hunstanton in Norfolk designed by Alison and Peter Smithson. And, with its tinted glass, natural lighting, painted steel columns, travertine marble floors, wide aisles and exotic planting, who doesn’t love it?

So what am I trying to say here? I suppose, put simply, it’s this. When we had those people at the helm prepared not only to carefully plan, develop and complete their vision against all opposition and obstacles, this place worked – and works – astonishingly well.

Since then, sadly, we have had no one to ‘own’ or fight for that vision and Milton Keynes has suffered. Sometimes, as in the case of ‘city streets’, permanently blocked off ‘nub ends’ of grid roads, or the Hub, it has suffered egregiously.

But I am convinced it is not too late to relight the visionary fire. All we need is someone in a position of power and influence to put their head above the parapet and rekindle the old battle cry that ‘only the best will do’.

Who, I wonder, will rise to that challenge in 2014?

Happy new year and cheerio.  Theo.

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Chairman’s December Blog:

The public believes the green estate delivered by Milton Keynes Development Corporation to Milton Keynes Parks Trust some 21 years ago to be inalienable. The recorded words by those in authority were unequivocal. Also the trust’s Memorandum and Articles specifically quote “to promote, manage and preserve in perpetuity the parks for the benefit of the public.”

Recently I advised Urban Eden members to visit the Parks Trust website and click on ‘Where are the potential development sites the Parks Trust has identified?’. “You will see the very many green lungs of our city that the Parks Trust has identified as land for disposal,” I said. “You may conclude that the Parks Trust is simply concerned about servicing its £30 million debt recently secured against its assets. You may also conclude that this is the thin end of a very big wedge and plain wrong.”

In fairness, Urban Eden does not object to the Trust redeveloping commercial sites such as the Suffolk Punch pub at Heelands. However, certain sites such as paddocks and grid road corridors must remain sacrosanct.

Parks Trust chief executive David Foster, has responded to my message to Urban Eden’s membership. I quote extracts of his reply and offer my analysis of his comments:

David Foster: “The website link you have sent to your members is nothing new; this information has been publicly available on our website since last year and is updated as appropriate.”

TC: This is true. But the people of Milton Keynes were not alerted to this nor were they invited to comment.

DF: “The sites were submitted to the council in January 2012, amount to less than one per cent of our total land and were selected following a careful review to see what bits of our land did not work particularly well as parkland or were of relatively low value as open space, for wildlife, or visually.”

TC: The Parks Trust remit is not just about parkland. It manages up to 5,000 acres of river valleys, woodlands, lakesides, parks and landscaped areas alongside the main roads – about 25pc of the new city area. So 1pc is 50 acres, worth more than £50 million for housing. Just 1pc seems so, so reasonable. But then, will it be 3pc next time, then 5pc…?

DF: “We have been clear in all our statements that the sites are areas of land that we feel may have some potential for development and we are committed to working with Milton Keynes Council, parish councils and local communities to investigate what form of development, if any, may be appropriate.”

TC: If it is not up for disposal, why list it? I accept that significant change of use may be achieved without actual disposal but the end result is the same.

DF: “It is untrue to say that the Trust is simply concerned about servicing its £30 million debt. The borrowings we have are secured against commercial property we have bought using the loan. The rent from the properties more than covers the interest on the loan. The loan is at a fixed interest rate and the rents are mostly subject to RPI increases.”

TC: To my mind, this indicates that the Parks Trust does not need the money from the proposed land sales or developments. But Mr Foster adds: “There are a number of reasons we put the sites forward.  For some sites the main reason is to help us achieve our goal of making the Trust financially sustainable.”

To my mind, he is now saying that the Parks Trust does need the money.

DF: “Our fund is not immune to global financial pressures and the forecast of what lump sum is needed to be invested to pay for future liabilities has increased significantly in recent years. In order to be financially robust… we estimate we need an asset base of around £120 million and we currently have £85 million.”

Milton Keynes needs a sound and secure Parks Trust – after all, we look after 25pc of the new city area and have to be totally self-financing. Raising more income from our day-to-day operations; gearing our commercial property portfolio; reviewing our green estate land so as to explore possibilities for development are three ways to make the Trust financially sustainable for the long term.”

In doing so we are acting responsibly and in the best long-term interests of the whole of Milton Keynes.”

TC: Again the suggestion that without disposing of precious trust land the Trust is not sustainable. It is the afore-mentioned wedge… and this is the thin end.

DF: “Some sites are proposed so that we can improve the park amenities and attractions in that area…”

TC: I do not recall improving attractions being part of the Parks Trust’s remit. In July it acquired, for an undisclosed sum, the Whitecap Leisure businesses including the wakeboarding venture at Willen Lake. These will now be run by the same Parks Trust that lost its shirt on an ill-fated meat retailing venture.

DF: “…Others are proposed to bring into productive use an underused bit of land (that was never intended to be part of the parkland network) left over after the main development.”

TC: I do not like this idea of “left over” – what was left over and intended to be developed stayed with the development corporation and was acquired in January by Milton Keynes Council from the Homes & Communities Agency.

DF: “We know the idea of development on some sites is not popular with people living nearby and that is why we wrote last year to all the parish councils to inform them of the sites we had identified in their area and offered to meet with them. Some of these discussions have resulted in sites being withdrawn.”

TC: The green estate is everyone’s business. We all have a stake in it. Why not ask us, the people of Milton Keynes; its residents, visitors and workers?

DF: “As for this being the thin end of the wedge, this is more scaremongering.”

TC: I am proud to be scaremongering if it wakes people up to the threat at our gate. Otherwise it will be a little bit here, a little bit there, and hey presto, everything except contiguous parkland will be gone.

DF: “Our remit is to maintain the parks and landscapes in Milton Keynes for ever.”

TC: So do it.

DF: “We have a presumption against development of our green estate.”

TC: So don’t do it.

DF: “We have pledged there will be no net loss of parkland.”

TC: If the people of Manhattan were told that Central Park was to be developed “but don’t worry we’ve bought an equivalent parcel of land in Poughkeepsie”, would they accept it? It is the equivalent of what is being suggested here.

DF: “We have acquired more parkland each year and will continue to do so. Along the way we may want to develop a few carefully chosen sites over the next ten years to make the Trust financially viable…”

TC: Once again, an indication that the Parks Trust is not viable without developing the very land it is supposed to protect. It is worrying because the figures with which they are playing are so big. Any mistake will be a very big mistake.

DF: “…but this is all designed to make the Trust stronger and enable us to fulfil our mission.”

TC: I do not believe there is any investment safer than land. In its Trustees Report and Financial Statements for 2012/13, the Parks Trust states: “Another element of our strategy is to bring forward some limited development on a few areas of our green estate that we do not consider to be an integral part of the parks system or that are not highly valued by the public.”

But how do they know that we, the public, don’t highly value them?

The idea for a Parks Trust was and remains a brilliant one and I for one am not prepared to stand by while it breaks its bond of trust with the public. It is time for a properly constituted public debate. I trust the Parks Trust will take notice.

Cheerio.  Theo.

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Chairman’s November Blog:

In April I wrote a column headlined ‘Victory is a triumph for people power’ where I detailed how public action had helped to stop plans to redevelop Cofferidge Close as a large supermarket shoehorned into lovely Stony Stratford.  Following successful efforts to persuade the Secretary of State to confirm Grade II listing of 7-23 Silver Street – the town houses fronting the western boundary of the site and contiguous in design – Milton Keynes Council’s development control committee eventually unanimously rejected the plans.

However, I somewhat portentously predicted that those plans might return and, indeed, on the very last day available for appeal – in what the owners must have hoped would be a knockout blow to the solar plexus of the Save Cofferidge Close campaigners – an appeal was filed with the Secretary of State. Readers interested to read the original column can visit and find the headline quoted above in our Press Coverage section.

The reasons given by the council for rejecting the application – and which were presumably the ones they felt could best be defended in any appeal – were:

  • The size, scale, form and design of the development;
  • The harm to Cofferidge Close as a heritage asset due to demolition      of a large section;
  • The loss of an important community facility – a NHS dental practice      – contrary to policy C2 of the Milton Keynes Local Plan 2001-2011.

The campaigners would, I am assured, also have liked to have seen traffic (the appalling prospect of several humongous juggernauts squeezing down medieval Silver Street every single day), parking (involving destruction of ancient apple trees in the existing parking areas) and economic sustainability (including the inevitable commercial destruction of other businesses in Stony Stratford) given as causes for rejection, too.  However they were not and the council is now precluded from bringing up any new reasons, no matter how significant, at the appeals stage.

We do not yet know what grounds the owners will use for their appeal.  However, it is evident that they are prepared to spend eye-watering sums of money on it.  It is already scheduled to last longer than a week and is likely to cost our own council tens if not hundreds of thousands of pounds too.  So we are where we are. Or we were.

The latest news is that both the Save Cofferidge Close campaign and Stony Stratford Town Council, also original objectors to the scheme, have been made parties to the appeal.  So now they both have equal status to the appellant and Milton Keynes Council as the local planning authority.

On the downside, this is a somewhat onerous burden.  Both new parties will have to conduct their case by the rules, which include presenting full Statements of Case and Proofs of Evidence as well as providing full-time attendance at the inquiry and being subject to cross-examination by the owner’s no doubt Rottweiler-like barristers.

The upside, however, is very good news.  Both new parties to the appeal have been granted Rule 6 status.  This means they can, if they can convince the inspector of relevance, introduce new evidence different from the main parties: evidence that Milton Keynes Council is precluded from submission.

Please, take it from me: this is not only very significant, it will transform the hearing into a real battle of David versus Goliath with no holds barred.

Meanwhile, as the ‘cold war’ hots up, there are already signs that the owners are looking to justify their appeal with new research.  Word reaches these ears that a telephone survey is being conducted in the area, by a known firm, which refuses to divulge who it is acting for.

It is asking participants where they do their main grocery shop; how they get there; why they go there; how much they spend and whether they go home afterwards or shop elsewhere locally.

They also were keen to know whether interviewees do a top-up grocery shop; what else they do in Stony Stratford; where they buy furniture, white goods, computers, clothing and DIY; why they choose to shop there.

I have no doubt that, when the appeal starts some time after March next year, we will see a battle royal.  Frankly, my money is still on the good people of Stony Stratford and the good sense of the council.

If we all give in to the bullies of Cofferidge Close, I doubt that Stony Stratford will continue as one of the last surviving examples of a flourishing village high street.  Indeed, if retail guru Mary Portas really wants to see how it should be done, she needs to tap her heels together three times, hail a cab and say “There is no place like Stony Stratford”.

Cheerio.  Theo.

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Chairman’s October Blog:

IT IS the season of mellow fruitfulness and so this month my column will be both fruitful and mellow. I hope.

Milton Keynes, Bedford and Central Bedfordshire Councils have been awarded money from Broadband Delivery UK, the government body that is spending almost £0.5 billion of public money on next-generation access to superfast broadband and signed a contract with BT Openreach to make it a reality.

Milton Keynes has, until recently, suffered from the paradox of being one of Europe’s newest cities while being saddled with among the most Stone Age broadband internet access in the world.  Parts of Milton Keynes had no internet access at all in 2004 and coverage was poor across a swathe from Shenley Lodge and Loughton, through Great Linford, Willen, and Middleton to Old Farm Park.

Where ADSL – asymmetric digital subscriber line, basically broadband through a telephone line – is used, the routing of cables around the grids meant very long runs into the estates and ADSL is distance-limited.  This discrepancy and its consequences have inspired much debate and begat lobby groups such as the Milton Keynes Broadband Action Group.

While the layout of Milton Keynes included ducting and cabling for television, it lacked the capacity to be upgraded to digital.  Cable provider ntl – which merged to become part of the Virgin Media Group in 2006 – approached MKBAG to trial a new wireless broadband solution that ultimately would have provided 10Mbps symmetric DSL (with upload speeds equal to download).  The trial was a success and the feedback from MKBAG members invaluable but ntl’s financial issues effectively scuppered the project.

MKBAG and Milton Keynes Council lobbied BT hard to trial the best form of fibre optic connectivity in the city and three years ago this was accomplished in limited areas connected to the Bradwell Abbey exchange.

The system is called Fibre to the Premises: glass fibre cable runs to the user’s premises and delivers a guaranteed download minimum speed of 100Mbps.  BT has also developed the cheaper-to-install Fibre to the Cabinet, which most know as BT Infinity.  This involves fibreoptic cable to above-ground green boxes, using the existing copper cable for the ‘last mile’.

However, when FTTC is the option of choice, it is vital that that last mile really is over copper cables and much of Milton Keynes used aluminium which, although adequate for speech, is useless for data and meant many phone lines could not use Infinity or even ADSL.

Successful lobbying persuaded BT to replace aluminium for copper in affected estates such as Monkston Park.  However, despite apparent reluctance, BT was also persuaded to extend its costly fibre trial beyond Bradwell Abbey exchange and to bring forward the fibre enablement of Woburn Sands and other exchanges.

Another anomaly is that national planning laws for new estates did not make any requirement for the builders to talk to BT nor to build the ducting for fibre cables – hence some shocking ‘not spots’ in new developments in Broughton and Walton Grange.  Now a newly awakened council  insists on builders making provision for the fastest available broadband and new estates will be enabled from day one.

The actual figures are secret but those who have studied the subject believe that the take-up of fibre once the infrastructure is in place is very high.  BT has been encouraged to continue its roll-out here and appears to have prioritised Milton Keynes.

It is likely that in the next six months, Milton Keynes will be in excellent shape with its fibre cable infrastructure and BT will be profiting from the take-up rates.  However, there will still be some ‘not spots’ and we all need to continue lobbying the council to maintain progress.

BT might be justified in claiming we are now at about 95 per cent fibre-enabled. If you are in the 5pc however,  that is not good enough.  Efforts must be redoubled to ensure that some 5,000 houses are not left with appalling connectivity. In theory, this is where the new BDUK money comes in.  We shall see.

All in all, however, it is very good news and Milton Keynes is now well on its way to becoming the best connected city in the UK. Once again, Milton Keynes leads the way for lesser cities to follow.

Cheerio.   Theo.

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Chairman’s September Blog:

OH DEAR, oh dear, oh dear…  The legacy of inappropriate development of public land as formerly administered by both a council out of touch with public wants and needs and a defunct English Partnerships and its lap dog Milton Keynes Partnership drags on. Intractable problems remain, spread and grow and come back to haunt us.

Among those problems is the large plot of land opposite the Hub and Vizion in Central Milton Keynes, running down towards the station, known as B4.  It is the last major undeveloped block in CMK and provides an effective gateway to the city for visitors coming by car or rail.

It would provide a perfect site for development which says something about the aspirations and ethos of the city we love.  It might become the home of exciting, sexy and iconic architecture.  Perhaps a new masterpiece by Renzo Piano, Frank Gehry or Zaha Hadid.  I get excited thinking about it.  But this is Milton Keynes and for a few years in the 1990s and early 2000s we lost the plot. During this lacuna in critical thinking, in 2004 plans were submitted to the council to build what is effectively The Hub 2 on the site. In 2008 outline planning permission was, outrageously, granted.

Barratt Homes has acquired part of this land and recently applied for certain reserved matters to be approved; 400 dwellings and 885 sq metres of A1, A2, A3 and B1 commercial space with roads, landscaping and car parking.  These matters were, quite properly, referred to the council’s Development Control Committee where elected councillors decided their fate.

Thankfully, our councillors have woken from their two-decade slumber and I hope that Urban Eden and its hundreds of supporters may have played a small part in administering the wake-up call.  Gratifyingly, the committee rejected much of these reserved matter plans.  However, their hands are effectively tied by the original outline consents which haunt us still, like Banquo’s ghost.

For a developer, having outline planning permission is a bit like having permission to punch you in the face.  A reserved matters application is a bit like them politely asking which side you would prefer the bruise. Sadly, there is not a ‘no bruise’ option.

In my view, the plans, with their 11-storey inward looking flats huddled up to Witan Gate and Avebury Boulevard mirror the depressing ugliness over the road.  I can scarcely imagine any company planning to build something which will have passers-by eagerly awaiting its demolition for as long as it stands but my doubts that this is even feasible were tragically assuaged when I first saw the Hub.

In the latest application, it  is particularly galling that the council’s planners saw little wrong with the further narrowing of the boulevards and expansion of the building lines.  They appeared to ignore the proposals flying in the face of the council’s own CMK Development Framework as well as the inappropriate rejection of the long-established building ideals of CMK.

While we all ‘enjoy’ this brief flowering of government-assisted mortgages for first time buyers and a resurgence in the buy-to-let market, developers will be keen to throw up buildings as soon and as cheaply as possible.

Expect these plans to be back shortly.  Tweaked yes but essentially still truly awful.  Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.   Cheerio.  Theo.