A local battle over building more shops in Central Milton Keynes has turned into a test case of national importance according to development campaignists from Xplain.
Earlier this month, a public inquiry opened into Intu’s plans to build over open space at Midsummer Boulevard, perhaps the busiest crossroads in CMK. Historic England and the Parks Trust, which owns a third of the land in CMK, say it will reduce access and damage vistas along Midsummer Boulevard.
Other objectors say that Intu’s plans mean the end of aspirations to open a new transport link, running straight from the train station to the theatre district, and that democracy itself is at stake.
The nub of the matter is localism, and the government’s promise to give local people real power over planning by producing neighbourhood plans.
Yet just weeks after 90,000 MK residents and businesses voted overwhelmingly to adopt CMK’s new business neighbourhood plan, the council was accused of brushing it aside.
By granting planning permission to retail giant Intu, which wants to extend its shopping centre over open space and public highways that are specifically protected in the plan.
“MK Council is living in the past,” says Linda Inoki, chair of Xplain, which campaigns for better development in MK.
“Why won’t they just accept that democracy has entered the planning system? And why are they backing this one, rogue development, when to do so will undermine the entire, new development strategy for CMK, putting thousands of jobs at risk?”
Tim Skelton, chair of MK Forum, which also objects to the plans, said: “The neighbourhood plan is all about giving certainty to CMK.
“It means that we all know where we stand and that developers can prepare proposals that will receive public support. “If we lose, this certainty will be removed for Milton Keynes, as it will for neighbourhood plans throughout the country. “The development of CMK will be thrown into total confusion as no-one will be able to tell what will be approved and what will not.
“It will be a mess, setting the council, developers and the community against each other. Development will inevitably stall and CMK will decline.”
Parish councils throughout MK and indeed England will be watching the results closely.