Multi-million pound plans to redevelop the middle of Wolverton were aired in public, even as Whitehall mulls over a bid to grant listed building status to the controversial Agora shopping centre.
Members of the public at the Milton Keynes Council Development Forum raised their concerns on Monday over a lack of parking if spaces in the adjoining car park are built over.
Developers with Love Wolverton believe there is enough parking space within walking distance in the town even if the car park is built on, but Andy Forbes, the pastor of King’s Church does not support that view.
Mr Forbes, who was speaking on behalf of the three churches in the centre of Wolverton, says another 30 car parking spaces need to be designed in to make the scheme better. He agrees that the Agora is a “carbuncle” and should be demolished.
“Parking is an issue with events in the town centre,” said Mr Forbes. “The use of the car park was measured over one week, with the main day being on Friday, when prayers are at the mosque. There is double parking on those days.
“During Ramadan, it is like that every day, and when there are other events in the town, there is pressure on parking spaces.”
Mr Forbes believes the parking issue could be resolved if fewer homes are built, and 30 more spaces are provided.
Neil Murphy, a director of Love Wolverton partner, developer TOWN, said that parking is a main issue of concern. But he thinks this can be dealt with by a mixture of dedicated residential spaces, parking in the town centre, and using space on the nearby St George’s Way estate.
“If people park at Tesco instead, I don’t think they would want the PR of fining Muslims going to Friday prayers,” said Mr Murphy. “People will have to get used to going for a short walk.”
The £25m Love Wolverton plan involves replacing the Agora and its car park with 105 new homes and businesses. Mr Murphy described the new centre of Wolverton having a Victorian design to it, with 9m wide ‘little streets’, car-free streets, more bus stops in a one-way Church Street, and a new pocket park with a cafe.
Mr Murphy also said the redevelopment would mean the loss of “a lot of trees”.
“We are trying to integrate as many as we can but this is not the sort of plan that you can design around trees, unfortunately.”
The new homes, he said would be designed for “urbanite” first-time buyers, with apartments built on top of corner shops, and communal courtyards. Mr Murphy also said energy generated from renewable sources could be stored in a Tesla battery.
The fact that the Government is considering an anonymous request to give the 1970s-built Agora protected status was also raised. And the developers vowed to fight it with a “long line of barristers” if the minister does decide to grant listed building status.
Pastor Andy Forbes said: “If the Agora is listed it would be a horror story. Who would want to list that monstrous carbuncle? A majority of the residents can’t believe that it might be listed.”
A spokesperson for Historic England said the application for listing is still being considered.
She added: “There is no particular time frame for listing decisions. Our advice will remain confidential until a decision is made by the Heritage Minister.”
The Heritage Minister is the recently bereaved Conservative MP for Taunton Deane, Rebecca Pow, who took up the role on May 23. Her husband, Charles Clark, died in June.
Love Wolverton is hoping to lodge a planning application with Milton Keynes Council in August. They can use feedback from Monday’s meeting to make tweaks in the design before it is formally submitted to the planning process.