A town centre neighbourhood plan could be ‘weakened’ after the Secretary of State backed plans to redevelop intu Milton Keynes shopping centre, it was claimed this week.
Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Local Government, last week announced his backing for the shopping centre’s redevelopment bid, 685 days after it had initially been approved by councillors, and after a seven-day public inquiry.
The decision had been called in as local organisations felt it conflicted with the newly established CMK Business Neighbourhood Plan by building on public open space.
Now that a final decision has been taken, objectors fear the plan, which was voted through by residents in May 2015, has been weakened.
Councillor Chris Williams was on the development control committee that granted the scheme, but was one of two members of the panel who voted against the plans.
He said: “My concerns remain the same now as they did then. I’m disappointed that the Secretary of State supported the intu planning application.
"It’s not because I don’t think intu should develop that site - because the better offer they give the better it is for Milton Keynes.
"It’s simply that in my view it went against the newly established neighbourhood plan. The Secretary of State has taken the point of view that he believes that the planning application does conform to the neighbourhood plan. I don’t.
"In theory if the Secretary of State has said that the development conforms with the neighbourhood plan, then the plan remains intact. However, in practice I believe that it weakens the neighbourhood plan in Milton Keynes, but also all neighbourhood plans.
"If people have gone through the process of developing a neighbourhood plan for the area, and that plan is approved in a referendum, then it should be the central plank for any planning applications.
"The Secretary of State has cast doubt on the validity of the CMK neighbourhood plan and the value of plans everywhere else."
Linda Inoki, from pressure group Xplain, was also worried it could stifle plans for a public transport system through the centre.
She said: "Naturally Xplain is disappointed that even more of Midsummer Boulevard will be blocked off and concerned about the impact this will have on delivering a new public transport system.
"After much debate at the public inquiry, the inspector seems to have decided that this was a special case and that giving planning permission would not breach development policies in the new Neighbourhood Plan.
"I don't know what planning experts will make of all this, but locally it's very important because 90,000 residents and businesses combined to vote for the CMK Neighbourhood Plan.
"The plan sets out a fresh strategy for bringing thousands of new homes and jobs to CMK while respecting the original, spacious layout of the grid and public realm.
"Neighbourhood Plans are there to make everyone’s lives easier, including developers and local authorities. Milton Keynes Council now has a new head of planning and hopefully the Council's political leaders will also make sure that this kind of conflict is kept to a minimum in future."
Central Milton Keynes Town Council, which also objected to the plans, said it was "studying the planning inspector's report and taking expert advice on the way forward."
But Martin Breeden, development director of intu, said the scheme would "provide an outstanding city centre public space for Milton Keynes."
He added: "The scheme will bring new brands to Milton Keynes, attract more visitors from outside the city during the day and evening and create hundreds of jobs in the retail, hospitality and construction sectors.”