£4million to take Milton Keynes university project to the next stage is “risk worth taking” say councillors

A key decision to invest more than £4million in a project to build a new university in Milton Keynes by 2023 has been confirmed and welcomed as a risk worth taking.

Wednesday, 4th December 2019, 5:28 pm

A meeting on Tuesday (December 4) was told that the key risk is that the Government does not stump up £100 million when the dust settles after Thursday’s general election.

Councillors and their officers are keen to push the project through to the next stage in March 2020 or they would not be able to meet their ambition to build the £400 million MK:U by 2023.

“The key risk is on the funding model,” said Geoff Snelson, MK Council’s director of strategy and futures, at a delegated decisions meeting. “It will take £400million to build but a £100million element of that is a grant from the Government.

Milton Keynes Council chamber
Milton Keynes Council chamber

“It leaves us having to make a decision if we wish to achieve an opening date of 2023. If we paused until March, because the way university years work, it would flip the opening till 2024.”

Mr Snelson, a member of the MK:U board, said internal reviews had been carried out by the council and its project partner, Cranfield University, and found to be sound, well-founded and that it should continue to the next stage.

“Mindful of the risk, we believe it is worth continuing. We are in good stead even if it has to be paused.”

MK:U’s chief executive, Professor Lynette Ryals told the meeting that Cranfield University’s Council, its governing body, reviewed the project. At a meeting on November 28, they had agreed that it should proceed to the next stage.

Prof Ryals said MK:U had support from MK Council, business and education providers. Another decision would be needed in March, she said.

The project is backed by Central Milton Keynes Town Council, and Cllr Andy Thomas said it is probably the most challenging and biggest project ever in the city centre.

“I can’t imagine a city of half a million without a central university,” he said, urging the council to press on.

Cllr Norman Miles (Lab, Wolverton) said: “It is important that a city like ours has a distinctive university. I strongly support the recommendation.”

Lib Dem Cllr Rex Exon (Bradwell) said: “There are risks but in the grander scale, the benefits to the city will be immense.”

Council leader, Cllr Pete Marland (Lab, Wolverton), said: “It ticks a whole load of boxes for what MK and the region needs. MK:U has captured the imagination.”

Cllr Rob Middleton (Lab, Wolverton), the council’s budget and resources chief, said as there is widespread support and the rewards are immense for the city and the country, he was happy to take the decision and release the money.

The decision is subject to a call in period, after which it will be confirmed if there are no objections under the council’s rules.