Milton Keynes’ history – is it worth saving?

Ever since Milton Keynes was first designated as the site for a New Town of 250,000 people in the 1960s there have been constant battles between those who want to safeguard the history of the local area – and especially the character of the towns and villages that were already here.

My view – as someone who’s family moved here in the mid-1980s – is that the town planners largely did a good job of doing this.

However, in more recent years I feel Milton Keynes Council have taken a wrong turn and are, no doubt partly driven by UK Government policy and the increasing necessity of generating more local income as austerity bites local government hard, inappropriately pushing ahead with developments that do not respect Milton Keynes’ history.

For me, this trend is encapsulated by the March 2014 decision to allow the demolition of The Point – the first multiplex cinema in the UK and, far more importantly, an iconic Milton Keynes landmark that was visible for miles around when lit up in brilliant red neon at night.

For others it might be the various decisions to go against the town planners’ vision for Milton Keynes: be that blocking Midsummer Boulevard and killing a historic oak tree by putting a new Shopping Centre in the way, initiallysupportingplans to replace Milton Keynes market with a Primark until English Heritage and 21,000 MK residents objected, building large tower blocks in the City Centre, going against the grid format of the city in new development or effectively ending the “Per cent for public art” policy by removing the goal of a 1% contribution (page 6), first to a 0.5% contribution (page 135) and then to a unspecified “planning contribution” aka a “Maybe something for public art if you’re lucky” policy in response to developer lobbying (they are even lobbying against this weak commitment in comments to the draft plan) and to free up Section 106 money for other infrastructure.

One thing that has caught my eye over the past few months is the plans, approved by Milton Keynes Council , to demolish Wolverton Works and in its place build a Lidl and 375 new homes.

The history here is that the *entire reason* that Wolverton was built was because of the railway works and its need for people to work there. You can read more here and here.

Historic England , the public body tasked with protecting England’s historic environment, including via the statutory listing of historically important buildings, has said that “The extent of the demolition proposed is such that the site would lose virtually all its architectural special interest…the story it tells would no longer be intelligible if the works at the heart of it are removed” and are taking the decision to Judicial Review.

Milton Keynes Council’s Senior Planning Officer admits that (quoting from the official minutes) “there was to be significant harm to heritage assets if the application was approved” but was of the view that the public benefits of the development exceeded this harm. The application carried only on the casting vote of the Chair, with some members querying whether the public benefits were as significant as claimed: the Council is breaking its usual policy of 30% affordable housing (only 12% in this case or 45 affordable units rather than 112) and there was some doubt over whether demolitions were necessary. A further complication is that Wolverton Works is in the ward of Council Leader Peter Marland, who supports the proposal (see his submission to the Development Control Committee here).

If you want to help to get Milton Keynes Council to think again, you can sign the petition here or take other action to let the council know your views. There is still time to save it e.g. the Council could decide that Historic England are correct in their belief that planning permission was unlawfully given and get the developers to have a rethink and come back with a plan that properly protects the historic environment.

Hopefully Phillip Webb, Phil Marsh, Historic England and others trying to force a rethink here succeed. And hopefully Milton Keynes Council will start taking their role as custodians of the local area, its culture and its history for future generations a bit more seriously than they currently are.

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4 thoughts on “Milton Keynes’ history – is it worth saving?

  1. It is a huge shame that MK has taken such a turn in its planning, was gutted when they decided the point could go (I wrote an obituary to it on an old defunct site) I’ve previously signed the petition (and shared it) for the works, it is such a shame that local people’s thoughts take such a back burner in these situations. I struggle to believe that costs are so prohibitive, other historical sites manage (Manchester, Liverpool etc.)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There are a number of villains here, sometimes the same people that appear as heroes elsewhere in the blog. Take the Point, for example. It became next to impossible to save once Historic England (your heroes vis a vis Wolverton works) not only declined to list it – ie offer it special protection – but gave the developers a certificate that they would not do so in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. True – but it shouldn’t take a national body to tell MK Council to not allow the destruction of iconic buildings that are part of Milton Keynes’ heritage. Entirely possible to save buildings that are not nationally listed.

      I do sympathise with the council’s position: it has no money so thinks it can’t afford to safeguard MK’s history and needs to bend over backwards to suit whatever property developers tell them will maximise their Section 106 contribution

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  3. Many good points here, and in the comments. We are in danger of losing the special qualities of MK due to – among other things – higher densities, incursions into the grid, plans to develop on green spaces, and its role in the Ox-MK-Cam growth corridor. MK can still be a uniquely spacious place, but the danger is it will end up as just another mediocre provincial city bursting with identikit housing estates and overcrowded roads.

    Liked by 1 person

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