THERE has been much talk about Milton Keynes’ uniqueness. With plans to build the first new town since MK, there has been a great deal of reflection in both the media and among politicians, over what has made MK so good and what could be improved in the development of the city.
It is undoubtedly an exciting time for our city and while we are not without critics – Roger Scruton has been particularly vocal – on the whole people are resoundingly positive about what has grown into the MK we now see.
This positivity is evident in the number of developers hoping to invest in our city centre. While Milton Keynes often defies national trends in both layout and economics, at a time when so few companies are willing to invest, there is no greater endorsement.
The investment is focussed around the city centre and the shopping centre. You may have heard about the proposals to bring Primark to thecentre:mk, opening up the market to make it open air, part pedestrianising the area between thecentre:mk and Xscape, the redevelopment of the Point and the addition of two bigger stores in Midsummer Place.
I see these proposals as a vote of confidence. Without the investment we risk falling down the retail rankings and also growing old and tired. But while I play no part in the planning process, I am keen we should have a clear strategic vision for the future rather than respond to a series of potentially disjointed developments. I know this is a challenge the council is acutely aware of.
There are also plans to create an Enterprise Park by Junction 14. While the vision is early in its creation, the Enterprise Park promises to give further business and innovation a home, and is an attractive prospect for many businesses not currently based here. Now is the ideal time for residents to help shape the vision of delivering possibilities for new businesses to enter the area and new jobs to be created. Hand in hand we will see continued growth in population – no bad thing so long as our infrastructure can keep up.
One of the criticisms of MK in the past is it lacks a cultural heart with the centre emptying at weekends. I would be quick to defend this as you need only look at the International Festival, the theatre and the City Orchestra to see a wealth of cultural gatherings. The question is though should our strategic vision for the city centre be doing more to create a “jazz bar” culture or something similar that can be found in places like Durham or Cambridge.
There is little doubt that as the University in Milton Keynes gathers momentum we have an opportunity to see the cafe culture creep into existence here.
I am incredibly excited about the prospect and would ask that we all think carefully in supporting the council in delivering a clear strategic vision for the centre of Milton Keynes to ensure that the next 40 years are as successful as the first.