September 2018 Breakfast Briefing

The issue of car parking in Central Milton Keynes was raised several times during the recent MKBLP breakfast briefing, as MKDP’s CEO Charles Macdonald outlined development plans which will see Milton Keynes become a city centre powerhouse.

Now in its sixth year, The Milton Keynes Development Partnership (MKDP) was created to develop 265 acres of the city’s most prime land, with the aid of a £32 million loan from MK Council. While an independent entity, MKDP is subjected to council red tape in the form of an accountability framework, in alignment with MK50, to deliver long term commercial and social benefits.

Through strong pipeline developments to recover capital, MKDP are, according to Mr Macdonald, making great strides in repaying the original debt. “We will tick this box by early to mid 2019 and, with the creation of additional revenue schemes, including direct development and property investment, it is our intention to create, over the next 5 years, a portfolio worth up to £50 million.”

As part of the Council’s framework, MKDP have been tasked with assisting in the delivery of Renaissance:CMK, a strand which came out of the MK50’s future report, which will, in principle, mean intensifying the commercial usage of Central Milton Keynes, while ensuring that some of the founding principles of Milton Keynes are retained.

As one of those founding principles, back in 1967, originally stated that no building was allowed to be taller than the tallest tree, some might argue that the decision to build the 14 storey Hotel La Tour contradicts this. Indeed, as pointed out by MKBLP, many of the planned developments disclosed by Mr Macdonald during his hour long address were taller than what has historically been the norm within Milton Keynes, but he reasoned: “With its alignment to a grid system, our city centre is unique, and we need to increase density to make it more viable and on par with what people expect of a city centre today with a population of 500,000.”

Touching on the JV with Sterling Property Ventures and the development of a large commercial site, Mr Macdonald explained that this is set to stimulate a step change in the quality, height and viability of office provision in Central Milton Keynes, in a direct bid to become a powerhouse for large corporates. “We need to push the boundaries of what we are looking to achieve, which will see us into the future.” He also acknowledged the momentous £150 million technology hub development by Santander. “For such a major corporate entity to make their stand in MK, will provide a huge amount of leverage moving forward.”

With many commercial properties planned for development over current parking sites, including the controversial development of a 180 bedroom business hotel without a car park, MKBLP raised the question of parking in Central Milton Keynes, which Mr Macdonald admitted was a sensitive issue: “It is set to be a fascinating debate, but we need to maximise the use of the existing parking infrastructure and explore alternative routes, such as the use of shuttle buses, while improving pedestrian access.” Members were however concerned that the further pressure on parking would become a serious issue.

He explained that, over the next 20 to 30 years, it is expected that people’s parking expectations will decrease as the infrastructure and routes into the city improves. Autonomous vehicles are coming, and the recent relocation of BP Chargemaster from Luton will further fuel the electric vehicle sector and bring better charge point provisions to Milton Keynes. Members were sceptical that any such initiatives would solve the city access and parking problems. A major shift in public transport was required.

The need to improve the train connections, particularly from Bletchley into Centre MK, was raised, with a suggestion that talks were already in progress to develop one primary mass transit interchange, on par with Birmingham’s New St. This development could potentially be Grafton Gate, with a tram system linking the interchange to the shopping centre, however, as Mr Macdonald pointed out; “these are just ideas.”

Alongside adding commercial value to the Milton Keynes economy, part of MKDP’s remit is to assist in the delivery of more affordable housing. This includes the current development on Campbell Wharf and the creation of Private Rental Sector apartments on the old Wyevale garden centre site. The latter, Mr Macdonald disclosed, is an: “exciting scheme, which will provide substantial residential input into the centre of MK, supporting the Renaissance:CMK ambition which is to increase residential population to stimulate the retail and leisure economy.”