Casting a lens on Milton Keynes' growth
“In terms of delivering growth that is less about numbers and more about maximising benefits for the area, Milton Keynes Council appear to be making the right noises. But will authorities collaborate to shape development and deliver growth across the Arc that is greater than the sum of the individual parts?”
It’s now over 18 months since I last wrote about the growth of Milton Keynes. At that time Milton Keynes Council were consulting on their MK Futures Strategy for 2050, which was adopted by the Council in December 2020.
Approaching a year from adoption, it is worth reflecting on the plan making process and those factors which may affect the delivery of the aspirations for future growth in the area.
The Futures Strategy
The adopted MK Futures Growth Strategy, which should be noted is a non-statutory document for the purpose of planning, focuses on a whole raft of areas including mobility, place-making sustainability and the economy.
The document also includes a recommended spatial strategy, which is broadly the same as that consulted on in early 2020 - save for a reduction in the level of detail given on potential cross boundary growth into neighbouring areas, including West Northants, Central Bedfordshire and Aylesbury Vale.
The strategy sets out how 30,000 additional homes over and above existing commitments could be developed as part of a coherent strategy, building on a new mass rapid transit system linking new areas of growth and improving accessibility across the existing urban area.
Local Plan Updates
Over the last 6 months, Central Bedfordshire and Aylesbury Vale (now part of Buckinghamshire) have adopted their local plans. In Central Bedfordshire, the ‘Aspley Triangle’ on the edge of Milton Keynes, originally included as a Future Area of Growth, was deleted from the adopted Plan on recommendation of the Inspectors. In Aylesbury Vale, the opposite happened, with additional growth at Shenley Park, on the south east of Milton Keynes, being added through the examination process.
As covered in our recent Local Plan Watch, both of these plans will be subject to review in the coming months, with Central Bedfordshire requiring an early review to kick-off in early 2022 and Buckinghamshire Council at the early stages of developing a new strategic plan which will build on existing plans for Aylesbury Vale. It will be interesting to see how these reviews build on the relationship with Milton Keynes and importantly, how the adopted Growth Strategy influences the thinking of the adjoining authorities.
The most progressed Local Plan review is that of West Northamptonshire, with an options consultation to end on 24th December. This consultation includes an option for 6,000 homes in the Potterspury/Old Stratford area, immediately to the north of Milton Keynes - in an area identified for potential cross boundary growth.
This option looks like it could tie in nicely with the MK Futures Growth Strategy and could potentially be the first step towards delivering the recommended Spatial Strategy
However, at this stage, there is no indication from West Northants as to the rationale behind the option – what the place shaping parameters would be, and probably most significantly, how the 6,000 homes would be integrated with Milton Keynes, particular aspects that underpin Milton Keynes Council’s aspirations for the growth of the city.
Bidwells recently sponsored Built Environment Network’s OxCam Arc Conference in Milton Keynes, the leader of the Council, Councillor Peter Marland, spoke eloquently and passionately about the Milton Keynes and the need for a co-ordinated approach to development in the Arc.
Cllr Marland identified that the level of growth in the Arc will continue irrespective of the Arc project, rather than because of it. He also posed the question, ‘What is the Arc’? His clear message was that by working together in a co-ordinated manner, the Government, Councils and the development industry can deliver an outcome that is greater than the sum of the parts.
This message applies not only to the Arc as a whole, but to the individual plans within the area – with a clear need for Authorities to work together across boundaries on delivering growth which is not just about housing numbers, but about the quality of the places created and the wider, co-ordinated aspirations for the area.
Milton Keynes Council’s draft response to the West Northants Consultation is clear in their aspirations for the area and sets the benchmark for the type of development they would expect north of Milton Keynes if it were to be a selected for development. There is also a clear offer to work collaboratively with West Northants to assess the potential constraints to development and to develop a coherent proposal for the area.
In terms of delivering growth that is less about numbers and more about ensuring maximising benefits for the area, Milton Keynes Council appear to be making the right noises. However, it remains to be seen whether the authorities will be able to work together in a truly collaborative manner to shape development and deliver growth that really is greater than the sum of the individual parts.