Milton Keynes, the New Town famous for its grid system, roundabouts and concrete cows is every bit the planner’s dream.
Fifty-five years after its foundation and bidding for city status in the Queen’s platinum jubilee year, Milton Keynes has come of age. Its population now exceeds the original target of 250,000 residents and it has a thriving economy as a regional shopping centre, distribution hub and home to key employers such as Network Rail, Santander, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, and Red Bull Racing.
However, this ‘new city’ is not resting on its laurels. The future of Milton Keynes, as mapped out in the development plan (Plan:MK) and Strategy for 2050, would see growth continue at pace. This includes proposals for 25,000 more homes and for the population to increase to 335,000 by 2031 and 400,000 by 2050.
- The Arc - Central to this vision for the future is the role of Milton Keynes as the hub of the Oxford to Cambridge Arc. The new East-West rail line will ultimately connect Oxford to Cambridge, via Milton Keynes, and provide new opportunities for commercial and residential development along its length. Although the Oxford to Cambridge ‘expressway’ has now been scrapped, planned road improvements to the infamous ‘Black Cat’ roundabout on the A1 will deliver a continuous dual carriageway from Milton Keynes to Cambridge. The Local Enterprise Partnerships have identified potential for the economy in the area to grow by more than 70% by 2050.
- Residential development – New homes continue to be built within Milton Keynes’ designated expansion areas and, in November 2021, plans were approved for a new urban extension of up to 4,600 homes and 400,000 square metres of employment space. Beyond the city, the National Infrastructure Commission’s ambitious recommendation endorsed by the government is for 1 million new homes to be built within the wider Oxford to Cambridge Arc to support 700,000 new jobs by 2050.
- Sustainable development - A key challenge for policy makers and developers will be to deliver this growth sustainably and with the support and engagement of local people. There is considerable public opposition to the scale of development proposed within the Arc and high on people’s list of concerns is the inevitable loss of open space and the impact of development on the natural environment. The statutory requirement is for 10% Biodiversity Net Gain from all new development and the need to achieve net zero carbon emissions will have a significant influence on the shape of what is proposed.
- Build to rent – New models for development will have their place alongside the large, greenfield urban expansions. With our real estate team having recently advised Packaged Living on the development and sale of Milton Keynes’ first state of the art BTR scheme of 300 apartments – a deal that was ‘highly commended’ for Best PRS Deal at the RESI Awards 2020 – the city has been quick to capitalise on the BTR boom and growing investment being put into the sector.
- Later living – As Milton Keynes comes of age, so does its historically young population. As elsewhere across the country, there will be an increasing need for development within the ‘later living’ sector. This will include purpose-built retirement villages, care homes and extra-care housing.
- Changing town centre landscape – Although not your typical city centre, central Milton Keynes has not been immune from the issues affecting the ‘high street’. Recent proposals have marked a shift in town centre uses as part of a response to retail’s decline that has been both planned and market led. The planned response includes proposals for a new university campus to be built on one of the last remaining undeveloped sites in the centre. New modern office blocks, including 100 Avebury Boulevard where our office is located, are being developed throughout the town centre. Within this changing landscape, there are now opportunities - that previously did not exist - for mixed-use development (including new residential, hotel and leisure development). Some older office blocks have already found a new lease of life through conversion to residential use under permitted development rights although these opportunities are now limited by existing and proposed article 4 directions.
Principal Associate Matthew Stimson and Senior Associate Kara Roberts are key contacts in Shoosmiths’ Milton Keynes planning team. Their local knowledge and experience make them uniquely placed to advise on the future of development across Milton Keynes and the wider Oxford to Cambridge Arc.