'Risky' £4m decision coming up on taking new Milton Keynes university to the next stage

A decision on spending £4m in a risk-laden move to the next stage of building the new MK:U university in Milton Keynes is set to be made on December 3.

Councillors heard yesterday (Wednesday) that steady progress is being made on the £400m project which is a partnership between Milton Keynes Council and Cranfield University.

The site earmarked for the new university

The site earmarked for the new university

“There is some risk but it is the best shot we’ve ever had, ” said Geoff Snelson, the council’s director of strategy and futures. He said £11million is available and there is “no viable project that stands a better chance of success.”

He told the scrutiny management committee that £4.06million would take the project through to March, and include £2.56 million for architectural, design work and project management. It would then need Government money.

Mr Snelson said one of the risks was that the Government might not come up with the money. But they are working on plans in case the project fizzles out or is delayed.

“We are barrelling on but keeping a clear eye on the risks,” he added.

The council has already stumped up £3million and it sees the technical focus of the new university to be key to economic success.

Professor Lynette Ryals OBE, the chief executive of MK:U, earmarked for land opposite Sainsbury’s at Witan Gate, said it was on track for planning permission in 2020, breaking ground in 2021 and opening in 2023.

Describing it as a “national asset,” Prof Ryals said: “There is so much excitement and demand from companies we feel 2023 is a long way away.

“There is only a few hundred million standing between us and this university,” she said. It would then cost £75million to run over five years.

She said MK-based banking giant Santander has made a £30 million commitment, and MK:U is supported by 50 businesses who together employ more than 200,000 people.

It will offer courses in cyber security, robotics, space science, as well as teaching people business skills.

Councillors repeated concerns about how MK would house 1,300 new students each year, and eventually up to a total of 5,000 by 2028 and after that up to 15,000.

That would put it on a par with Northampton University.

Cllr Jenni Ferrans (Lib Dem, Monkston) said local renters were facing higher and higher rents, and people are being made homeless.

“We have to be talking about new accommodation, there is no surplus in the city whatsoever,” she said.

Prof Ryals said many of the students could already be living locally, or even commute. They are designing student blocks of flats on the site.

Designs are being drawn up which show a university in a covered indoor street, similar to a shopping centre.

Councillors recommended that Prof Ryals should carry out an assessment of the local housing market, and to speak to the health service.

And, after being told that MK:U is only a working title, they want thought to be put into how the university’s name can “be used for the wider promotion of Milton Keynes.”

Prof Ryals received a round of applause from councillors.