Santander will be allowed to build its new headquarters on a car park in Milton Keynes after councillors decided that the loss of parking spaces in the city centre is a price worth paying.
Members at Thursday’s Development Control Committee were glowing in their praise of the bank’s plan for an iconic new seven storey Digital Hub building which they reckon is on a par with the Network Rail HQ close by.
The new office block will sit on two current car parks, between Grafton Gate and Elder Gate, and is a coin’s throw from the bank’s existing base, Station Square, and the old bus station.
The plan is for it to have trees growing inside, offices, space for local firms and start-up companies, and a new auditorium for community use.
Councillors heard that there are currently 580 car parking spaces on the site, 296 for some Santander employees, and 284 for members of the public.
The bank will provide 300 temporary spaces for its staff while construction takes place. It will also pay the council £378,000 to cover the permanent loss of 151 public parking spaces.
But council officers say 133 public spaces will not be provided on a temporary basis, which could cause disruption.
The Digital Hub will eventually provide 884 spaces for staff and 133 for the public. According to the council this will be a total of 253 spaces fewer than needed, according to council formulas for calculating such matters.
Council senior planning officer David Buckley said the application would breach council policies, however he said the importance of it to the local economy justified making an exception to normal rules.
Nick Roberts, for Santander, told the council that the company is excited about the move across the road.
The bank is providing a vital £30 million to the development of the digitally focused MK:U university and expects the move to add £35 million to the local economy.
“The time is right for us to consolidate to the Digital Hub,” he said. “We want to re-invent the workplace going forward.”
But Cllr Ric Brackenbury said: “I wish an application such as this did not have a flaw that big. I do not want to vote against and application that’s this exciting.”
Cllr Andrew Geary was more effusive, comparing the Digital Hub to the award-winning National Rail HQ around the corner.
“It’s a damn good design which is going to give us an iconic entrance outside the railway station,” he said. He added that parking has to be taken seriously and concluded that the issue has “probably been dealt with well enough.”
And Cllr Keith McLean said he didn’t think MK would have a big problem, as some Santander workers parked in public spaces in the city anyway. “No pain, no gain and it’s short term,” he said.
Cllr Martin Petchey said it was right when the world faced a “climate emergency” to encourage travel by public transport.
“It is a great design, in a great location, 400 yards from the railway station,” he said.
Cllr Pauline Wallis vowed to go knocking on Santander’s door if parking became a problem.
“If they park in Bradwell Common I will be coming down and give you hell,” she told the Santander representative. “It’s fabulous, it’s going to look so dynamic. I love it.”
Councillors voted in favour of giving planning permission to the new building.