‘We can’t stay the same forever’

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AS the multi-million revamp of John Lewis reaches its final stages, the flagship Milton Keynes store’s boss has spoken out on some key issues.

Paul Hunt is MD of John Lewis at thecentre:mk as well as chairing the Shopping Centre Association of 200-plus retailers.

“Milton Keynes is pretty unique,” said Mr Hunt, whose business employs some 577 people. “It is very important for the long-term future that the centre thrives and attracts more names.

“Primark coming to Central Milton Keynes will be excellent. There is a debate about what and why but that is not my decision.”

On the question of whether keeping the city’s grid road system is important, Mr Hunt said: “There is a big question to ask, not wanting to get into the middle of a political debate.

“I can see why people who built Milton Keynes are defending it but equally I see the need for the economy to develop.

“We can’t stay the same forever. We need transformation to at least stay where we are.”

Mr Hunt said if the 140,000 sq-ft John Lewis had not been allowed to redevelop it could have faced a situation where “we could not sustain” the store in the centre.

He added that redevelopment does carry risks as there is no guarantee that customers would like what they see. But he said the signs were good.

Mr Hunt added: “In the last week we have seen customers come back. We seem to have passed a tipping point.

“I hope at the end of it, people will say it has been a fantastic investment by John Lewis which is beneficial to Central Milton Keynes.”

Mr Hunt has also been a key player, alongside residents and community groups, in drawing up a Business Neighbourhood Plan for the city centre.

He revealed that the process of drawing up a vision has been “challenging” but that the 63 hectares of land which could be developed in the city centre gives Milton Keynes an “exciting long-term future”.

Details of what is included in the plan will be revealed at a public consultation exercise opening in October. These include a business event at the Network Rail National Centre on the evening of Wednesday, October 10.

Businesses will be able to discuss and debate issues with the CMK Alliance Steering Group members and submit responses to the consultation.

At the same time a second consultation exercise is taking place. Milton Keynes Council is consulting on its draft Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) until November 12. The council is seeking to ensure the “unique design” of Central Milton Keynes is maintained and growth is “properly planned”. It proposes retaining the connectivity (integrity) of the grid unless an adequate network remains and wider and significant benefits result.

Visit the websites www.milton-keynes.gov.uk/udla and www.cmkalliance.co.uk