Scheme to convert offices into 200 flats in Central Milton Keynes is slammed by councillors

Labour councillors have hit out at a plan to build 200 new flats above CMK Railway Station.

By Sally Murrer
Thursday, 25th March 2021, 5:04 pm
Updated Thursday, 25th March 2021, 6:08 pm

The Station Square development was refused planning permission by MK Council but, following an appeal, the developers were granted permitted planning rights under government legislation.

This means that not only are they going ahead without the approval of local planning officials, but the people of MK will miss out on more than £1m in the form of Section 106 funding.

This funding is a contribution made by developers when they build new housing and it traditionally compensates for the impact of the new homes on the community by paying for new school places, new roads and schemes to ease the pressure on health services.

Station House will be converted into 200 flats

Permitted development also does not require developers to provide any affordable or social housing in their developments, so MK has missed out on hundreds of affordable homes, said Labour s council leader Pete Marland.

Cllr Marland has previously described the proposed Station Square flats as "poky". He says the flats will be sited above an "exceptionally busy and noisy railway station" and have with windows that do not even open.

Recent changes from Government have made it even easier to gain permitted development rights. The rules allow for extra floors to be added to be buildings and issues such as space standards and parking can’t be considered.

This week Cllr Marland has written to Secretary of State for housing and communities, Robert Jenrick, to complain.

Station House at CMK

He said: "I've written to the Secretary of State to highlight how allowing office blocks, such as at Station House, to be converted into housing without proper planning permission has allowed developers to avoid paying out over £1m in Section 106 funding."

Cllr Marland's letter states: "These changes will allow the creation of new homes through replacement and extended buildings and, as proposed, through the largely unrestricted conversion of commercial, business and service buildings.

"The new provisions do not allow the Council to secure suitable mitigation or housing tenure and they serve to undermine the concept of sustainable development and mixed communities. Instead, they endorse a developer’s sidestepping of previously agreed obligations, to essentially increase their profit margin."

It adds: "The most recently proposed changes are simply building on a legacy of extremely poor quality housing that has already been delivered in the conversion of offices to dwellings. Within Milton Keynes this has included the conversion of Station House to 200 apartments, resulting in homes directly above an exceptionally busy and noisy railway station with windows that do not even open.

"How can the further proposed changes be contributing towards achieving the aspirations set out by the Government in the recent proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework, or help to address the recommendations of the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission?"

Cllr Marland fears the new provisions could see thousands of new homes created within Milton Keynes without any form of mitigation towards local infrastructure or moves to support the creation of diverse and inclusive communities.

He told the MK Citizen: “The Conservative Government’s relaxation of the planning rules takes away a local say for people over whether development is suitable for their area or not. It is a system that hands power to developers to convert office spaces into poor quality apartments with few standards, some of which are little more than future slums. It simply isn’t right.

“I have no problem with the principle of converting offices if it is done in the right way and where local people get a say. Relaxing permitted development rights has meant Milton Keynes residents have missed out on over £1m in funding that would have funded new school places, new infrastructure and eased the pressure on our health service. Not only that, but the government is currently thinking about making it harder for local authorities to remove permitted development rights. We oppose that. ”

He added: “We all know that more affordable housing is needed, but bad quality office conversions with no local say over things like parking standards is not the way. It is handing power to developers, and if these polices are not reserved it will see thousands of badly planned, sub-standard homes created without proper infrastructure being provided for them and it’s something we oppose.”

Cllr Alex Walker, who is leader of the MK Conservative group, said: "Conservative councillors fought relentlessly to protect Station Square and Labour left it too late to submit an Article 4 direction which would have helped save the area from the development. We have subsequently pushed for further use of Article 4 across CMK to stop exactly this.

He added: "The irony of Labour talking about “lost money” when they’ve spent £11 million on a Council office refurbishment, and thousands on putting moss on bus shelters, will not be lost on residents.”