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.
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.