Members of the public cheered when councillors decided to defend a highly prized public transport passageway between two Milton Keynes shopping centres.
Midsummer Place Shopping Centre owners Legal and General had put in three applications to extend and alter the venue, remove three temporary kiosks and build restaurants and seating.
The extension would have meant the end of a passageway created 15 years ago when Midsummer Place was first built over Midsummer Boulevard grid road. There are still 65 years left on a protection clause on the 20metre long route passing between Midsummer Place and thecentre:mk.
About 70 members of the public, mostly opponents of the plans, packed the public gallery at Milton Keynes Council’s development control committee last night (Thursday), cheering when they agreed with what was said and booing when they didn’t,
Alan Francis of the Milton Keynes Green Party said: “Who could possibly know what’s going to happen in the next 65 years.”
Linda Inoki, of the Xplain grassroots campaign, argued the route should be protected and “there is a better way to develop Central Milton Keynes.”
The design of the new-look centre also came under heavy fire. Adrian Morrow called the plans “least imaginative”, “dull”, “disrespectful” and a “land grab to maximise profits.”
Former government chief planning officer David Lock, called the proposals a “misshapen, lumpen box” and compared it with an “Esso filling station.” Tim Skelton, of the MK Forum, added: “They should have been sent away with a clip round their ear.”
The applicants were also given the chance to speak before councillors decided on the applications.
Helen Snooks, of Legal and General, said the centre “needs investment to remain attractive” and must “adjust to a changing retail environment.”
She added: “It is not ‘just shops’, its employment. A key retail environment is key for retailers.” She said £140million could be “captured” if people returned to shopping in Central Milton Keynes but that needed investment to achieve.
“Legal and General stands behind investment in Central Milton Keynes,” she added. “We all hope to support the local economy.”
A letter from Milton Keynes Debenhams manager Lindsey Cuthbertson in support of the application was read out to councillors. She said Midsummer Place needed investment to remain attractive to shoppers who are drifting away to other centres, like the new Westfield complex in London. She added she is losing staff to other places as well. “If we don’t respond soon the situation is going to get worse,” she added,
Councillors were keen to say that Milton Keynes is “open for business” but that the current application was not of high enough quality.
Cllr David Hopkins said the plan did not appear to be an “exceptional vision” and it was not worth losing a possible public transport route.
Wolverton councillor Robert Middleton spoke up for people who needed local jobs. “Retail is one of the key engine rooms in Milton Keynes,” he said.
Committee chair Brian White said it was important to send out a message to investors that Milton Keynes is “about growing”.
All three applications, for extensions, new restaurants and advertising signs, were rejected.