Objections mount for new £28m development in heart of historic Milton Keynes town
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Some objectors say the design of the homes planned for the Agora site in Wolverton looks "Swedish, not Victorian", while others say the whole scheme will cause parking chaos.
This week the Wolverton and Greenleys Town Council has registered a string of objections to the proposal, which is due to be decided by Milton Keynes Council shortly.
The town council welcomes the opportunity to redevelop the Agora site. But it says the project, ironically called Love Wolverton, is "fundamentally flawed" on three key issues: conservation, parking and height and mass of the proposed buildings.
They say the houses proposed by developer TOWN are not keeping with the Victorian heritage of Wolverton and the "boxy" roof designs would be a conspicuous intrusion into the historic rooftop vistas of the Conservation Area.
Their objection states: "Consequently, the character and appearance of the CA would not be preserved or enhanced, and this could further lead to more residents submitting applications to install dormers to the rear of their properties which would fit with this development, rather than the terraced roofs that are seen to be a historic feature of the town."
It adds: "The development should echo the Victorian feel of the town...There is no sign of traditional windows and doors included within the design. This is within the conservation area and any development by local residents would be expected to comply: window shape and size and colour should match in with designs which are already in place."
The town council also objects to the number of new homes, saying: "The original plan from TOWN encompassed around 105 homes, however, there has been an increase of properties designated for the site from 105 to 115 on this new proposal."
The second objection is about parking, and the town council says the plan fails to meet MK council's standards of car parking per dwelling provision.
"The developer is supplying 88 spaces, but only 80 of these are available to residents for parking as it includes eight electric spaces for charging only which reduces this to 80 available spaces that permits are sold for, this is unclear. This is a deficit of 105 spaces," they state.
The Love Wolverton/TOWN proposal involves the demolition of the existing Agora building and also encompasses the current 120-space car park used by shoppers and members of the public.
"We are losing 120 Agora car park spaces for the gain of 16 short stay," says the town council, whose members are worried that parking overspill would cause chaos on surrounding streets.
Their objection adds: "The loss of Agora parking spaces would have a detrimental impact on the Town Centre Parking for its current users such as the mosque, St Georges Church and the King’s Community Centre (KCC). Town centre retailers are suffering from the current pandemic and the loss of so much public parking would deal them a further blow by reducing the attractiveness of the town centre as a shopping destination."
However, MK Council has already agreed to revamp St George's Way and build a new public car park opposite Glyn Square in a bid to counteract any parking problems.
Finally the town council is asking that an entire block of flats in the plan, Block F, be scrapped because it is "completely out of context" with the area and its open views as a gateway to the town.
"Omitting Block F would also go some way to alleviating the parking issues by retaining two dozen existing spaces and reducing demand by reducing the number of homes," the objection states.
Love Wolverton, however, say the project would not be viable without Block F. They have spent almost two years years putting together their proposals and say they have been welcomed by hundreds of people.
But some residents are still far from happy. One wrote on the council's planning portal: "In July 2015 1452 residents voted in favour of the Wolverton Neighborhood Plan which took four years to be put together...While the plan cannot be completely prescriptive it was designed to have some flexibility to deal with the many situations and unknowns that occur over time.
"It was designed to maintain the Victorian streetscape that we have and improve on that so that deterioration was halted and consolidate future efforts to improve the town.It was not intended to allow the introduction of a completely modern Swedish high density housing estate in the heart of the town centre towering over its Victorian surroundings and dominating the Town Square."
Another echoed the 'Swedish, not Victorian' view.
Love Wolverton describes the plans as a Dutch-style "21st Century blueprint for town-centre living", saying the homes will be high density but low-rise. They say the development will have a strong sense of “Wolvertonness”.
"While the architecture of the scheme is contemporary, it learns from Wolverton," said a spokesman.
They propose an on-site bicycle hire scheme to discourage people from using cars and electric car club facilities for the new residents. And they even plan to build a renewable energy ‘microgrid’ to reduce on-site carbon emission, with around two-thirds of the development’s total energy needs generated on site.
The microgrid would be under the long-term management of Wolverton Community Energy, a social enterprise which reinvests its profits in renewable energy projects locally. It is chaired by Marie Osborne, who is also CEO of Future Wolverton.
Though Love Wolverton's plans have yet to be debated by the council's development control committee, they have been welcomed by the town's Labour ward councillor Rob Middleton, who is Cabinet member for Resources.
He said when the planning application was submitted in December: “I’m delighted that after nearly two years of hard work by the developer, community representatives and Milton Keynes Council, this milestone has finally been reached. There’s still much more work to do, but I’m confident this redevelopment can deliver for everyone in Wolverton whether small businesses, residents, faith groups or shoppers from outside the area. Our town centre is so very important; thankfully this close to £30million investment promises a very bright future for our cherished and historic town.”
Meanwhile the Love Wolverton website states: "We’ve been surprised and delighted at the public response to our planning application, with over 100 responses sent to the council by its 31 January target date.
"The responses have contained a balance of opposition and support and, while we accept that some people remain unhappy with some elements of the plans because of parking, tree loss and other factors, we’ve been heartened to read about your many reasons for supporting the scheme, including the quality of the design and the planned new shops."
TOWN director Neil Murphy said today: "We are very disappointed with the town council's response. We have engaged with them in depth over two plus years and explained that a lot of the changes they feel are necessary would render the project unviable and leave the Agora standing."
He added: " While we understand the concerns, there really is a lot of local people who are welcoming the project, and we regret that the town council has not joined them."