Thinking of moving to Milton Keynes? Here is some information on the City.
Milton Keynes Man and Van
Milton Keynes (i/ˌmɪltən ˈkiːnz/ mil-tən-keenz), sometimes abbreviated MK, is a large town in Buckinghamshire, England. It is the administrative centre of the Borough of Milton Keynes and was formally designated as a new town on 23 January 1967, with the design brief to become a ‘city’ in scale. It is located about 45 mi (72 km) north-west of London
At designation, its 89 km2 (34 sq mi) area incorporated the existing towns of Bletchley, Wolverton and Stony Stratford along with another fifteen villages and farmland in between. It took its name from the existing village of Milton Keynes, a few miles east of the planned centre.
At the 2011 census the population of the Milton Keynes urban area, including the adjacent Newport Pagnell and Woburn Sands, was 229,941, and that of the wider borough, which has been a unitary authority independent of Buckinghamshire County Council since 1997, was 248,800, (compared with a population of around 53,000 for the same area in 1961. Almost all the approx 196,000 population increase since 1961 has arisen in the urban area).
Birth of a “New City”
In the 1960s, the British government decided that a further generation of new towns in the south-east of England was needed to relieve housing congestion in London.
Since the 1950s, overspill housing for several London boroughs had been constructed in Bletchley. Further studies in the 1960s identified north Buckinghamshire as a possible site for a large new town, a new city, encompassing the existing towns of Bletchley, Stony Stratford and Wolverton. The New Town (informally and in planning documents, “New City”) was to be the biggest yet, with a target population of 250,000, in a ‘designated area’ of 21,850 acres (34.1 sq mi; 88.4 km2). The name “Milton Keynes” was taken from the existing village of Milton Keynes on the site.
The site was deliberately located equidistant from London, Birmingham, Leicester, Oxford and Cambridge with the intentionthat it would be self-sustaining and eventually become a major regional centre in its own right. Planning control was taken from elected local authorities and delegated to the Milton Keynes Development Corporation (MKDC).
The Corporation’s strongly modernist designs featured regularly in the magazines Architectural Design and the Architects’ Journal. MKDC was determined to learn from the mistakes made in the earlier New Towns and revisit the Garden City ideals. They set in place the characteristic grid roads that run between districts (‘grid squares’), as well as the intensive planting, lakes and parkland that are so evident today. Central Milton Keynes was not intended to be a traditional town centre but a business and shopping district that supplemented the Local Centres in most of the grid squares. This non-hierarchical devolved city plan was a departure from the English New Towns tradition and envisaged a wide range of industry and diversity of housing styles and tenures across the city. The largest and almost the last of the British New Towns, Milton Keynes has stood the test of time far better than most, and has proved flexible and adaptable. The radical grid plan was inspired by the work of Californian urban theorist Melvin M. Webber (1921–2006), described by the founding architect of Milton Keynes, Derek Walker, as the “father of the city”. Webber thought that telecommunications meant that the old idea of a city as a concentric cluster was out of date and that cities which enabled people to travel around them readily would be the thing of the future achieving “community without propinquity” for residents.
The Government wound up MKDC in 1992, 25 years after the new town was created, transferring control to the Commission for New Towns (CNT) and then finally to English Partnerships, with the planning function returning to local council control (since 1974 and the Local Government Act 1972, the Borough of Milton Keynes). From 2004 to 2011, a Government quango, the Milton Keynes Partnership, had development control powers to accelerate the growth of Milton Keynes.
Along with many other towns and boroughs, Milton Keynes competed for formal city status in the 2000, 2002 and 2012 competitions, but was not successful. Nevertheless, the term “city” is used by its citizens, local media and bus services to describe itself, perhaps because the term “town” is taken to mean one of the constituent towns. Road signs refer to “Central Milton Keynes” or “Shopping” when directing traffic to its centre.
The area that was to become Milton Keynes encompassed a landscape that has a rich historic legacy. The area to be developed was largely farmland and undeveloped villages, but with evidence of permanent settlement dating back to the Bronze Age. Before construction began, every area was subject to detailed archaeological investigation: doing so has provided a unique insight into the history of a large sample of the landscape of south-central England. There is evidence of Iron Age, Romano-British, Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman, Medieval and Industrial revolution settlements. Collections of oral history covering the 20th century completes a picture that is described in detail in another article.
When the boundary of Milton Keynes was defined in 1967, some 40,000 people lived in three towns and seven villages in the “designated area” of 21,863 acres (88.48 km2).
- The concepts that heavily influenced the design of the town are described in detail in article urban planning – see ‘cells’ under Planning and aesthetics (referring to grid squares). See also article single-use zoning.
Since the radical plan form and large scale of Milton Keynes attracted international attention, early phases of development include work by celebrated architects, including Sir Richard MacCormac, Lord Norman Foster, Henning Larsen, Ralph Erskine, John Winter, and Martin Richardson. The Corporation itself attracted talented young architects led by the young and charismatic Derek Walker. In the modernist Miesian tradition were the Pineham Sewage Works, which Derek Walker regarded as his finest achievement, and the Shopping Building designed by Stuart Mosscrop and Christopher Woodward, which the Twentieth Century Society inter alia regards as the ‘most distinguished’ twentieth century retail building in Britain. The contextual tradition that ran alongside it is exemplified by the Corporation’s infill scheme at Cofferidge Close, Stony Stratford, designed by Wayland Tunley, which carefully inserts into a historic stretch of High Street a modern retail facility, offices and car park. The Development Corporation also led an ambitious Public art programme.
The urban design has not been universally praised, however. Francis Tibbalds, president of the Royal Town Planning Institute, described the centre of Milton Keynes as “bland, rigid, sterile, and totally boring.”
Grid roads and grid squares
Milton Keynes Development Corporation planned the major road layout according to street hierarchy principles, using a grid pattern of approximately 1 km (0.62 mi) intervals, rather than on the more conventional radial pattern found in older settlements. Major internal roads run between communities, rather than through them: these distributor roads are known locally as grid roads and the spaces between them – the districts – are known as grid squares. Intervals of 1 km (0.62 mi) were chosen so that people would always be within walking distance of a bus stop. Consequently each grid square is a semi-autonomous community, making a unique collective of 100 clearly identifiable neighbourhoods within the overall urban environment. The grid squares have a variety of development styles, ranging from conventional urban development and industrial parks to original rural and modern urban and pseudo-rural developments. Most grid squares have Local Centres, intended as local retail hubs and most with community facilities as well. Originally intended under the Master Plan to sit alongside the Grid Roads, the Local Centres were mostly in fact built embedded in the communities.
Roundabout junctions were built at intersections because the grid roads were intended to carry large volumes of traffic: this type of junction is efficient at dealing with these volumes. The major roads are dual carriageway, the others are single carriageway. Along one side of each single carriageway grid road there is a (grassed) reservation to permit dualling or additional transport infrastructure at a later date. The edges of each grid square are landscaped and densely planted, some additionally have berms. Traffic movements are fast, with relatively little congestion since there are alternative routes to any particular destination. The national speed limit applies on dual carriageway sections of the grid roads (70 mph (113 km/h)) and most single carriageway grid roads (60 mph (97 km/h)), although some single carriageway speed limits have now been reduced to 40 mph (64 km/h). Consequently the risk to unwary pedestrians and turning traffic is significant, although pedestrians rarely need to cross grid roads at grade, as underpassesexist in several places along each stretch of all of the grid roads. However, the new districts to be added by the expansion plans for Milton Keynes are departing from this model, with less separation and using ‘at grade’ crossings. Monitoring station data shows that pollution is lower than in other settlements of a similar size. This can be partially attributed to the large number of trees, especially as trees line grid roads in most places.
There is a separate network (approx 125 miles (200 km) total length) of cycle and pedestrian routes, the “redways“, that runs through the grid-squares and often runs alongside the grid-road network. This was designed to segregate slow moving cycle and pedestrian traffic from fast moving motor traffic. In practice, it is mainly used for leisure cycling rather than commuting, perhaps because the cycle routes are shared with pedestrians, cross the grid-roads via bridge or underpass rather than at grade, and because some take meandering scenic routes rather than straight lines. It is so called because it is generally surfaced with red tarmac. The national Sustrans national cycle network routes 6 and 51 take advantage of this system.
The original design guidance declared that “no building [be] taller than the tallest tree”. However, the Milton Keynes Partnership, in itsexpansion plans for Milton Keynes, believed that Central Milton Keynes (and elsewhere) needed “landmark buildings” and subsequently lifted the height restriction for the area. As a result, high rise buildings have been built in the central business district. Four of the pedestrian underpasses were closed to ‘normalise’ the streetscape of Central Milton Keynes and the character of the area was set to change under government pressure to increase densities of development. These changes are being opposed by pressure groups such asUrban Eden and the Milton Keynes Forum. More recent local plans have protected the existing boulevard framework and underpasses following the dissolution of Milton Keynes Partnership.
Recent large-scale buildings include The Pinnacle:MK on Midsummer Boulevard and the Vizion development on Avebury Boulevard. The Pinnacle was the largest office building to be constructed in Milton Keynes in 25 years. More recently the Network Rail National Centre has been built at the western limit of Silbury Boulevard; this building occupies a large land area but only rises to the equivalent of six stories; a return towards the design of the original Central Milton Keynes developments.
The flood plains of the Great Ouse and of its tributaries (the Ouzel and some brooks) have been protected as linear parks that run right through Milton Keynes. The Grand Union Canal is another green route (and demonstrates the level geography of the area – there is just one minor lock in its entire 10 mi (16 km) meandering route through from the southern boundary near Fenny Stratford to the “Iron Trunk”Aqueduct over the Ouse at Wolverton at its northern boundary). The Park system was designed by landscape architect Peter Youngman, who also developed landscape precepts for all development areas: groups of grid squares were to be planted with different selections of trees and shrubs to give them distinct identities. However the landscaping of parks and of the grid roads was evolved under the leadership of Neil Higson, who from 1977 took over as Chief Landscape Architect and made the original grand but not entirely practical landscape plan more subtle.
Youngman introduced a policy of creating “settings, strings, beads” for landscape features: ‘settings’ for historic villages and landscape features, ‘strings’ of landscape to make the linear parks hang together and ‘beads’ of public space where residents might linger. Higson also made the landscaping of the Grid Roads, one of the features of Milton Keynes, more subtle, with ‘windows’ cut into the roadside planting so that motorists travelling through had a sense of the major town they were in; early critics had said of Milton Keynes ‘there is no there there’, as the town could not be seen by the motorist just passing through.
“City in the forest”
The original Development Corporation design concept aimed for a “forest city” and its foresters planted millions of trees from its own nursery in Newlands in the following years. As of 2006, the urban area has 20 million trees. Following the winding up of the Development Corporation, the lavish landscapes of the Grid Roads and of the major parks were transferred to The Milton Keynes Parks Trust, a charity which is independent from the municipal authority and which was intended to resist pressures to build on the parks over time. The Parks Trust is endowed with a portfolio of commercial properties, the income of which pay for the upkeep of the green spaces, a maintenance model which has attracted international attention.
Further development plans
In January 2004, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott announced the Government’s plan to double the population of Milton Keynes by 2026. He appointed English Partnerships (EP) to do so, taking planning controls away from Milton Keynes Borough Council and making EP the statutory planning authority. Their proposal for the next phase of expansion moves away from grid squares to large scale, mixed use, higher density development. The more detailed article expands on the details of their proposals. As the first stage in that plan, the Government expanded the boundaries of the designated area, adding large green-field expansion sites to the east and west that were to be developed by 2015.
In June 2004 Milton Keynes Partnership Committee (MKPC), was created by the Government and was a committee of the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), the national housing and regeneration agency for England. MKPC was created to ensure a co-ordinated approach to planning and delivery of growth and development in the ‘new city’. Milton Keynes Partnership was disbanded in 2011,holding its last meeting in March of that year. Its functions were folded back into the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), with Milton Keynes Council handling planning permission for established areas of MK.
The open air National Bowl is a 65,000 capacity venue for large scale events.
The 1,400 seat Milton Keynes Theatre opened in 1999. The theatre has an unusual feature: the ceiling can be lowered closing off the third tier (gallery) to create a more intimate space for smaller scale productions. There are further performance spaces in Bletchley, Wolverton, Leadenhall, Shenley Church End, Stantonbury and Walton Hall.
The municipal public art gallery (Milton Keynes Gallery beside the main theatre) presents free exhibitions of international contemporary art.
In Wavendon, The Stables provides a venue for jazz, blues, folk, rock, classical, pop and world music. It is closely associated with jazz artists Cleo Laine and the late John Dankworth. The venue also hosts an annual summer camp for young musicians.
There are two museums: the Bletchley Park complex, which as well as housing the museum of wartime cryptography, also hosts theNational Museum of Computing including a working replica of the Colossus computer, and the Milton Keynes Museum, which includes the Stacey Hill Collection of rural life that existed before the foundation of the new town.
MK also has a literature scene, with groups like Speakeasy meeting regularly and hosting performance events, and former poetry and arts magazine, Monkey Kettle which ran between 1999 and 2014. In addition, two performance poetry groups exist – Poetry Kapow!, an offshoot of Monkey Kettle though now independent of the parent organisation, specialising in live, multi-discipline, interactive poetry/art/music events, usually featuring slams; and Tongue in Chic, a regular open mic poetry event which features headline poets such as John Hegley.
In May 2011, the outgoing Mayor, Debbie Brock announced the appointment of Mark Niel as the first official Milton Keynes’ Poet Laureate.
In July 2010, the Central Arts Centre was opened by Radio One DJ Jo Whiley. The centre is regenerated from the former Central Bus Station. It is home to the “Buszy” Skate Plaza, which is where the name for the regenerated venue has come from. The venue hosts independent cinema, live performance, gigs, art shows/exhibitions, dance activity, a thrift shop, office and conference facilities and the MK’s only social enterprise hub.
Milton Keynes Arts Centre is situated in the historic village of Great Linford in the north of MK, between Wolverton and Newport Pagnell. Milton Keynes Arts Centre offers a year round exhibitions, families workshops and courses. Situated across many of Great Linford Manor’s exterior buildings (barns, Almhouses, Pavilions), the Arts Centre offers a special historical setting.
Westbury Arts Centre is situated in the west of MK, near Shenley Wood. It is based in a 16th-century grade II listed Farmhouse building. The Art Centre has been providing spaces for professional working artists to create work since 1994. The oldest part of the house was built in the sixteenth century and has been greatly extended over the years. It has several acres of garden and is home to several protected species of bats and newts.
Milton Keynes also boasts several choirs – the OU Choir, the Milton Keynes Chorale, the New English Singers, the Cornerstone Choir, Quorum, and others, along with a variety of amateur drama groups, and amateur musical theatre groups.
The Open University‘s headquarters are based in the Walton Hall district, though as this is a distance learning institution, the only students resident on campus are approximately 200 full-time postgraduates. Cranfield University, an all-postgraduate institution, is in nearbyCranfield, Bedfordshire. Milton Keynes College provides further education up to foundation degree level, however a Postgraduate Certificate in Education course is available; run in partnership with and accredited by Oxford Brookes University.
In 1991 Leicester Polytechnic established a purpose built polytechnic campus in Kents Hill in Milton Keynes, opposite the Open University’s Walton Hall site, which was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1992. This was originally branded ‘The Polytechnic: Milton Keynes’. Later in 1992 Leicester Polytechnic gained university status and was renamed De Montfort University and the site was rebranded De Montfort University Milton Keynes. However, DMU closed the MK site in 2003 and the Open University has expanded to take over the buildings.
Although the town does not yet have its own conventional local university, its founders hope that the University Campus Milton Keynes will be the seed for a future ‘Milton Keynes University’. It is currently the UK’s largest population centre without its own university proper.
Like many parts of the UK, the state secondary schools in Milton Keynes are Comprehensive schools, such as Stantonbury Campus andDenbigh School, although schools in the rest of Buckinghamshire still use the Tripartite System. Results are above the national average, though below that of the rest of Buckinghamshire – but the demography of Milton Keynes is also far closer to the national average than is the latter. Access to selective schools is still possible in Milton Keynes as the grammar schools in Buckingham and Aylesbury accept some pupils from within the unitary authority area, with Buckinghamshire County Council operating bus services to ferry pupils to the schools.
The Safety Centre is a purpose-built interactive centre which provides safety education to visiting schools and youth groups via its full-size interactive demonstrations known as Hazard Alley. Another educational organisation is the Milton Keynes City Discovery Centre at Bradwell Abbey, which holds an extensive archive about Milton Keynes. MKCDC is therefore a research facility, as well as offering a broad education programme (with a focus on urban geography and local history) to schools, universities and professionals. MKCDC also holds an annual programme of events at the medieval priory site on which they are based.
In November 2012, the Milton Keynes Citizen reported ratings company Experian as describing Milton Keynes as one of the leaders in a prospective economic recovery. The same report quoted the Estate Gazette as placing it first outside the M25 for office property growth.
Milton Keynes is home to several national and international companies, including the UK headquarters of Argos, Domino’s Pizza, Marshall Amplification, Mercedes-Benz, Suzuki,Volkswagen AG and Yamaha Kemble.
- Near the station, the former Milton Keynes central bus station has become a youth club called ‘the Buszy’ with a purpose-built covered “urban skateboarding” arena, but the wide expanses and slopes of the station plaza remain very popular among skaters.
- There is a high security prison, HMP Woodhill, on the western boundary.
- Willen Lakeside Park hosts watersports, and the North Lake is a bird sanctuary.
- The Blue Lagoon Local Nature Reserve is in Bletchley
Original towns and villages
Milton Keynes consists of many pre-existing towns and villages, as well as new infill developments. The designated area outside the four main towns (Bletchley, Newport Pagnell, Stony Stratford, Wolverton) was largely rural farmland but included many picturesque North Buckinghamshire villages and hamlets: Bradwell village and its Abbey, Broughton, Caldecotte, Fenny Stratford, Great Linford, Loughton,Milton Keynes Village, New Bradwell, Shenley Brook End, Shenley Church End, Simpson, Stantonbury, Tattenhoe, Tongwell, Walton,Water Eaton, Wavendon, Willen, Great and Little Woolstone, Woughton on the Green. The historical settlements have been focal points for the modern development of the new town. Every grid square has historical antecedents, if only in the field names. The more obvious ones are listed below and most have more detailed articles.
Bletchley was first recorded in the 12th century as Blechelai. Its station was a major Victorian junction (the London and North Western Railway with the Oxford-Cambridge Varsity Line), leading to the substantial urban growth in the town in that period. It expanded to absorb the villages of Water Eaton and Fenny Stratford.
Bletchley Park was home to the Government Code and Cypher School during the Second World War. The famous Enigma code was cracked here, and the building housed what was arguably the world’s first programmable computer, Colossus. The house is now a museum of war memorabilia, cryptography and computing.
The Benedictine Priory of Bradwell Abbey at Bradwell was of major economic importance in this area of north Buckinghamshire before the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The routes of the medieval trackways (many of which are now Redways or bridleways) converge on the site from some distance. Nowadays there is only a small medieval chapel and a manor house occupying the site.
New Bradwell, to the north of the medieval Bradwell (Abbey) and just across the canal and the railway to the east of Wolverton, was built specifically for railway workers. It has a working windmill, although technically this lies just a few yards outside of the parish boundary. The level bed of the old Wolverton to Newport Pagnell Line ends here and has been converted to a Redway, making it a favourite route for cycling.
Great Linford appears in the Domesday Book as Linforde, and features a church dedicated to Saint Andrew, dating from 1215. Today, the outer buildings of the 17th century manor house form an Arts Centre, and Linford Manor is a prestigious recording studio.
Milton Keynes Village is the original village to which the New Town owes its name. The original village is still evident, with a pleasantthatched pub, village hall, church and traditional housing. The area around the village has reverted to its original name of Middleton, as shown on old maps of the 1700s. The oldest surviving domestic building in the area, a 14th-century manor house, is here.
The tiny Parish Church (1680) at Willen contains the only unaltered building by the architect and physicist Robert Hooke. Nearby, there is a Buddhist Temple and a Peace Pagoda which was built in 1980 and was the first in the western world. The district borders the River Ouzel: there is a large balancing lake here, to capture flash floods before they cause problems downstream on the River Great Ouse. The north basin is a wildlife sanctuary and a favourite of migrating aquatic birds. The south basin is for leisure use, favoured by wind surfers and dinghy sailors. The circuit of the lakes is a favoured “fun run”.
The original Wolverton was a medieval settlement just north and west of today’s town. The Ridge and Furrow pattern of agriculture can still be seen in the nearby fields and the Saxon (rebuilt in 1819) Church of the Holy Trinity still stands next to the Norman Motte and Bailey site. Modern Wolverton was a 19th-century New Town built to house the workers at the Wolverton railway works (which built engines and carriages for the London and North Western Railway).
The Grand Union Canal between London and Birmingham provides a major axis in the design of Milton Keynes.
Milton Keynes is served by five railway stations. Milton Keynes Central is served by inter-city services. Wolverton, Milton Keynes Central and Bletchley stations are on the West Coast Main Line. Fenny Stratford and Bow Brickhill are on the Marston Vale Line. Woburn Sands railway station, also on the Marston Vale line, is in the small town of Woburn Sands just inside the urban area.
The M1 motorway runs along the east flank of MK and serves it from junctions 13, 14, and 15A. The A5 road runs right through MK as agrade separated dual carriageway. Other main roads are the A509, linking Milton Keynes with Wellingborough and Kettering, and theA421 and A422, both running west to Buckingham and east to Bedford. Proximity to the M1 has led to construction of a number ofdistribution centres, including Magna Park at the A421/A5130 junction.
Many long-distance coaches stop at the Milton Keynes coachway, (beside M1 Junction 14), some 3.3 mi (5.3 km) from the centre (or 4 mi (6.4 km) from Milton Keynes Central railway station). There is also a park and ride car park on the site. Regional coaches stop at Milton Keynes Central.
The main bus operator is Arriva Milton Keynes, providing a number of routes which mainly pass through or serve Central Milton Keynes. Milton Keynes is also served by Arriva-branded services from Aylesbury and Luton as well and Stagecoach East which operate routes to Oxford, Cambridge, Stagecoach Midlands which operates routes toPeterborough and Leicester. Some local services are run by independent operators such as Z&S International and Centrebus.
The nearest international airport is London Luton Airport accessible by Stagecoach route 99 from MK Central station, which runs with wheelchair accessible coaches. There is a direct rail connection to Birmingham International station for Birmingham Airport. In addition, Cranfield Airport, an airfield, is 6 mi (10 km) from the centre. (Although Milton Keynes is allocated an International Air Transport Association airport code of KYN, it does not have an airport. Proposals in 1971 for a third London airport at (relatively) nearbyCublington were rejected).