Contrite councillors promise to back Milton Keynes residents in saga of giant warehouse

MK Council
MK Council

There was much hand-wringing and regret among councillors on Thursday (April 4) when they decided to approve moves they hope will end the saga of a giant warehouse built behind homes.

But residents have been left wondering whether the developer behind an 18-metre tall warehouse in Blakelands could still appeal against restrictions designed to protect residents from too much noise, light pollution, and lorry movements.

Cllr Andrew Geary, a former leader of Milton Keynes Council, told the Development Control Committee that his decision last year to approve the original application had been “one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made on this committee” and the whole issue “sickens him to the core.”

The developer GUPI 6 Limited was allowed to knock down a former John Lewis warehouse, and replace it with one that is almost double the height, and to move it closer to residents in bungalows in Bessemer Court.

The decision was compounded by what the council calls an “administrative error” that left vital legal conditions off the planning approval, giving the developer an almost free hand in what they did with the site.

The exact reasons why the conditions were left off the site remain the subject of internal and external MK Council probes, but the whole saga had left residents seething with anger.

Appealing to the committee to “do what is morally right” and refuse the application, resident John Fernandez said he felt let down by the council. “We trust the professionals and that is what we have gone with.”

And Simon Hussey said the most important thing now was to make sure the hours of operation are restricted, and the business that eventually takes over the warehouse is not allowed to become a 24 hour operation.

“We must do nothing to endanger this important condition,” he said.

The committee was told that legally the developers cannot be ordered to tear down the warehouse, which looms large over back gardens in the area.

Nazneen Roy, the principal solicitor for planning and highways, said a Judicial Review launched by residents, if it was successful, would only be able to reinstate the missing conditions.

And following an offer from the developers to reinstate those lost conditions, a committee decision would be able to achieve the same result.

Quite why the developers made their ‘unilateral’ offer to reinstate the conditions was the subject of some debate but the committee heard that they did not share the reasons with the council.

Cllr Mick Legg said the committee was “stuck between a rock and a hard place” but a decision in favour of granting permission would give them “a chance to put conditions back in”.

And Cllr Rob Middleton said “we are stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea. We can’t get rid of that building, so we need to try to moderate its impact.”

The committee heard that despite agreeing to have the original conditions back in, the developers might still appeal against a restriction on the hours of operation. Residents fear they may be forced to put up with lorry movements, noise, and light pollution for 24 hours a day.

But Tracy Darke, the council’s service director for growth, economy and culture, said the authority would put up a “strong and robust case against a 24 hour operation.”

But Cllr Terry Baines said: “They know they can appeal the conditions because they see the council as weak.”

But Cllr Keith McLean, the committee’s chairman, said: “We would all like to wind the clock back but we can’t. Hopefully we can mitigate some of the effects.”

The committee voted by 10 votes to one to grant planning permission, with conditions attached.