To celebrate Milton Keynes’ 50th birthday, the AJ has reproduced an in-depth planning study of the new town from 1969
This week the Interim report to the Development Corporation for Milton Keynes - the largest and most ambitious of our new town plans so far - was released by Llewelyn Davies, Weeks, Forestier-Walker & Bor, consultants to the corporation. The following planning study is a summary of that report, accompanied by a series of aerial views of the designated area as it is today (photos, Aerofilms Ltd) flying northwards across the site, and with down-to-earth views of some of the villages and buildings within the designated area whose environmental qualities demand to be preserved
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An ambitious outline plan for Milton Keynes - the new town to take London overspill in the South-east region - was released this week, when Milton Keynes Development Corporation published the interim report of its consultants Llewelyn Davies, Weeks, Forestier-Walker & Bor.
It aims to create a city for a quarter of a million people by the end of the century, within the designated area of 21 900 acres (8863 hectares). Here it is proposed to build a town to achieve a population of a quarter of a million in thirty years, taking in the Midland towns of Bletchley, Wolverton, and Stony Stratford and a dozen or so small villages, and stretching - including large areas of parkland - from the M1 in the East to the A5 in the west.
Unlike previous new towns Milton Keynes is to be based on a fifty-fifty partnership of public investment and private enterprise, mostly at the sort of density which will attract the spec housing firms to come in, and at which it is believed that most families will wish to live, in what is confidently predicted to be an increasingly prosperous and leisurely future.
It is equally confidently believed that there will be no difficulty in attracting private development and industry to this new city, which will be able to offer the quality of life in the way of provision for education, health services, shopping, recreation and jobs which will enable the developers to sell all the houses they are permitted to build.
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This is a bold plan for partnership indeed and if it comes off and can attract the necessary support from private capital it will benefit the entire new town population by the quality of social provision and standards or public services it will have to set, variety of educational provision, variety of jobs and recreational possibilities – all the things that the earlier new towns so notably lacked for the first decade of their existence.
From the first mooting of a new town in this area the idea has had strong backing from the county council (indeed the original scheme, with monorail linkage to London, was the proposal of county architect Fred Pooley, as is readily acknowledged at the opening of the consultants’ report). Since 1967, 21 900 acres (8863 hectares) of land in North Bucks have been designated as the site, and the name of the new city is that of one of the small villages in the area.
It is believed that the location, lying as it does between London and the industrial Midlands, and between the M1 and the A5, is a favourable one for location of industry. Two railways and the Grand Union Canal cross the site. On the east-west axis, Bletchley - at present a dismal town - lies about half way between Oxford and Cambridge. Indeed it must be said that the site exemplifies in every way the trend planning approach to which the Teggin plan for developing Wash City (AJ 15.1.69) was the antithesis.
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The master plan
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The master plan to which the consultants were instructed to work is in summary: ‘to incorporate Bletchley, Wolverton and Stony Stratford in a way that preserves their individual sense of local community; to fit the existing villages and hamlets into the development, not sweep them away; to protect the fertile land round Stony Stratford as far as possible; avoid permanent creation of large agricultural enclaves that would be uneconomic to farm; and phase the development in a way to achieve the least prejudice to agricultural land for the time being’. In addition the consultants were to ‘recognise the potential value of land in the north-eastern part of the site for large-scale industrial development; to restrict access from the M1 motorway to junctions already in existence (some being necessarily redesigned); to enable the valley’s gravel deposits to be worked before permanent development, and to prepare a rational programme for brick clay working related to the needs of the industry in the area; and to devise a solution to the problems of storm water drainage in consultation with the authorities concerned’.
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One odd feature of the brief which some may question is the statement that ‘the primary purpose is to provide homes and jobs for people mainly from Greater London, with possibly some overspill from South Buckinghamshire’. Yet the new city is halfway between London and Birmingham: London’s population is already declining, Birmingham’s housing and schools problem is one of the country’s worst; why then should Birmingham not have at least an equal share in the new city with its promise of higher standards?
‘The relationship of the town to its subregion presents special problems’, says the report, ‘by reason of the close proximity of large-scale town expansions proposed at Northampton and Wellingborough, and also at Bedford.’ All should be ‘balanced towns capable of an independent existence in so far as this is possible in a region which is already relatively well urbanised’.
The four towns will however ‘inevitably form a group’ with inter-town travel for various purposes, and the MOHLG is now investigating their ‘possible interaction… and their attraction to and affinity with the rural areas nearby’. Possibilities of some shared facilities, for higher education, entertainment and so on can well be envisaged.
The brief lays down ‘five fundamental requirements’ for the planner to consider: on transport, town centre(s), residential provision, employment and leisure. On transport the brief states that ‘car ownership is expected to increase to 1 · 5 units per family during the time the city is being built’. But the planners are to examine ‘the advantages and economics of various levels or use of public transport’, and to consider integration of short and long-distance transportation in the plan.
It suggests - rather obviously - that ‘an early decision must inevitably be made between a single- or a multicentred city.’
It points out that in housing ‘the aim should be to provide for a wide range of living conditions; to attract a full range of social and economic groups, and to provide a safe, convenient and agreeable environment at a reasonable cost’. To achieve this it is considered that ‘rationalised building methods will be necessary for a considerable proportion’ of housing, of which the Development Corporation hopes that private enterprise will provide 50 per cent - half of it for sale, half for letting.
Next the brief points to the need to provide ‘a wide range of employment in manufacturing and service activities’, and that industrial sites must be ‘based on an assessment of possible preferred patterns for the build-up of employment’ while allowing ‘substantial scope for future adjustment’.
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Finally it declares provision for all sorts of recreational activities to be ‘essential’, and calls for an assessment of the needs and levels of provision for many forms of passive and active, indoor and open-air activities.
In conclusion the brief calls for a plan that will ‘provide for continuous development which should nonetheless be in reasonably self-contained stages’; based on ‘fairly firm plans for development over the next five and possibly ten years’, which however ‘must be flexible enough to accommodate future changes in ways of living’; urges that ‘the settlement must be an attractive, convenient and economical town … readily recognisable as a cohesive entity, both as a community and as a structure having a strong urban character and well defined boundaries’ and designed to provide for ‘a wide variety of interests, income groups and individual tastes’, giving ‘very serious attention’ to the problems of ‘integrating the existing communities with the incoming population’. ‘Comparative cost analysis is to be applied at all stages of design, phasing and pace of development’, based on information from the MOHLG, and an estimate of costs and returns must accompany the master plan.
The consultants preface their interim proposals for the physical planning of the town by a guestimation of what life will be like thirty years from now-and find it remarkably comfortable.
Work will be different, requiring ‘special skms, special training and advanced education. Purely manual labour will have almost disappeared. Production will be highly automated and require very few workers. Higher incomes and more free time will accelerate the already rapid growth of every kind of recreation. Activities at present the privilege of relatively few, such as golf, riding and sailing, will be available to all. Higher educational standards for everyone will increase the demand for music, opera, ballet. Dramatic changes will result from the discoveries of medicine, science and technology.’ In contrast with previous new towns, the report declares ‘Milton Keynes will be strongly influenced by market forces’.
What does this mean in practice? the report asks, and answers: ‘A city with room for change will look more open; homes that can grow will have more space around them; trees and landscaping will establish the visual character… including the primary roads which could be built as parkways… Encouraging a mixed character of development throughout the city will give variety to all parts of Milton Keynes, as the mixing of uses does in older cities. Pedestrian paths, roads and public transport will pass the same places - separated where necessary for safety - but each allowing people to come directly to their destination… Above all Milton Keynes will be built by many different people and imagination and experiment must be encouraged’.
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The shape of the new city is largely governed by the siting of the existing towns, Bletchley in the south and Stony Stratford, Wolverton and New Bradwell in the north: by the presence of the M1 on its eastern boundary and the existing road and rail links of the three main towns. But here the Ministry of Transport also comes into the picture, having under consideration ‘new regional road policies in relation to Milton Keynes’. The consultants’ proposed city road system springs essentially from their concept of how people will be able to live in about thirty years’ time, in comparatively affluent urban conditions. Foreseeing this they considered housing density of prime importance and have adopted an average of eight dwellings to the acre (20 to the hectare) in 1991, ranging between six and ten dwellings per acre (15 and 25 per hectare), an average lower than that proposed or existing in almost any urban settlement in Britain today. Of itself this suggests a diffuse road system, and the consultants have compounded for 200 acre to 300 acre (81 hectare to 121 hectare) residential areas, with a road spacing of two-thirds of a mile (1km) - to avoid the need for multi-level intersections. This would give the environmental quality aimed at, with a primary road grid which could be constructed as dual carriageways as and when required, the spacing being deliberately chosen to make possible the use of traffic light control systems rather than extensive construction.
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The residential areas within the primary grid would be accessible from two points on each side of the grid – in all, eight access roads to each residential area, and the final road spacing works out at about 300 metres in the predominantly residential areas (see diagrams p365). This could cause problems where cross traffic between areas was heavy, but the roads throughout the areas would not form the fairly even grid that the diagram suggests, but could be ‘bent’ to provide more or less road space according to the requirements of each housing area within the grid.
Indeed it may well be that when these interim proposals are worked out in detail some of the primary roads would become more important than others and therefore receive special treatment. Some may be wider, with fewer access points than others, creating in effect a road system with a primary, secondary and tertiary structure. The whole road system is to be looked upon as being superimposed upon, but separated from, a pedestrian network system.
Concrete proposals of importance are the incorporation of the existing A5 road in the plan, with a new, highspeed transportation route running approximately alongside it. In the course of preparing their interim report, the consultants have considered forty-six different types of public transportation systems, since even with an average of 1.5 cars per family there will obviously be many journeys to be made by public transport. The diffuse nature of the new development has suggested a bus system rather than any form of fixed track system, because of cost and flexibility and also because the walking distance to any of the fixed track systems would inevitably make the system unattractive compared to the use of private cars. Describing their researches in this direction Walter Bor at the press conference said they had chosen a small mini-bus system, with an eye to the future development of a computer controlled ‘dial-a-bus’ or ‘telebus’ system.
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Computer software - let alone the installations - for such developments is as yet undeveloped, but the idea seems to be in line with the trend set by the emerging computerised control of traffic lights, and therefore worth pioneering. However, there are many points of detail about which one would like to know more.
For instance, there is the design of a ‘green-wave’ traffic light system, which might be required to minimise delay over sets of two-way roads at right angles. Again, what would be the detailed road system in the city centre - of which we have heard little so far? How much car parking space will be provided there? Where is the bus and bus/rail interchange envisaged, since routing over a diffuse area cannot always be direct? One awaits the answers to these and other questions in the final report.
The consultants’ report goes on to describe the region and the area in some detail, pointing out some of the problems (such as the intended expansion of other existing towns in the region, which will be competing for industry with the new city); and the care that must be taken not to destroy the special character of Stony Stratford where ‘the wealth of attractive buildings and… good quality urban spaces as well as its High Street need to be conserved’. One way of ensuring this, they suggest, is by associating it with the development of the ’major educational campus’ of the new city.
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There are also some thirteen villages and hamlets, each with individual character, and with open land ‘appropriate for sensitive infilling development’.
And throughout the designated area there arc many sites of archeological interest, many or which, fortunately, are sited near the Loughton Brook between the Grand Union Canal and the River Ouzel, where the consultants are proposing the creation of a linear park, or linked parks with provision for various forms or outdoor recreation. Some other problems of the site seem less easy of solution: Bletchley has been the centre of a brick-making industry for a very long time, and there are active clay workings in the designated area, which it is felt would be ‘an unreasonable constraint on the planning of the new city’ were they allowed to continue. There are also gravel workings in the eastern sector. But most of the area is ‘covered by a particularly sticky and heavy clay, which makes the siting of playing fields an unusually difficult problem’.
The consultants suggest, however, that the Ouse valley with the flooded gravel pits of Cosgrovc and Linford could become a fine water recreation park on the edge of the site, while the smaller Ouzel and the Loughton Brook valley might be kept ‘permanently under water’ in areas needed for stormwater balancing reservoirs.
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And along the western edge of the new city, it is suggested, ’it should be possible to buffer the ’productive farmland from the built-up areas with parks, golf courses and playing fields.
The report then examines the problem inevitable to a big build-up of population over a comparatively short period: whether the build-up to the target of 150,000 people by 1989 starts ‘slowly’ at 4,500 a year from 1969 to 1974, or faster at 6,000 a year for the first five years, there will be an inevitable imbalance of age groups with high pressure for school and nursery school places, as well as maternity beds, which will – theoretically – shrink as the years go by and population stabilises.
However a bold programme of school building, providing nursery schools, ‘first schools’, ‘middle schools’ and secondary schools, grouped to allow the sharing of a ‘scarce resources centre’, prepared by a working party under R. P. Harding, chief education officer to Bucks County Council, has been accepted by the education committee, as well as a highly developed system of further education, which is declared to be ‘a fundamental necessity for the new city’, besides an increased provision of special schools which will inevitably be required. There is no reference to the ‘community schools’ idea of provisions shared by schools and the community (so impressively described at last year’s RIBA conference), unless the ‘scarce resources centre’ is a faint reflection of that conception.
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Pioneering health service
All this is fairly conventional - one is not even sure, with the secondary schools grouped around a campus, that comprehensive secondary education is accepted. But in planning its future health service Milton Keynes, says the report, ’is well placed to be the location for an important step forward in the organisation of medical care for the community.
’The National Health Service… is due for development in several important respects. The most significant will be the bringing together of the family doctor, the local authority service and the hospital service into a single integrated system.
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’In Milton Keynes we are fortunate in the enthusiastic interest shown by the county medical officer of health, the medical practitioners in the area and the Oxford Regional Hospital Board. A medical planning group, representative of all these elements, under the chairmanship of the county medical officer… is at work on a comprehensive health plan for the new city.
‘This plan is aimed at making the maintenance of health, the early discovery of illness and its effective treatment an integral part of social activity in Milton Keynes.’ The plan is based on general medical practice based on health centres serving a population of about 30,000, and located in association with the secondary schools, with a central hospital campus at the city scale.
Another working party with the county council has also been established to plan the city’s social services and determine their land use requirements. It has not yet reported further than to suggest a basis of 30,000 population as an appropriate administrative grouping.
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Vague about water supplies
A rather vague section of the report deals with the problems of water supply for the new city. Bucks Water Board, it seems, has ‘made arrangements that will ensure adequate water supplies for the new city up to 1975’ (that is, for the first six years of thirty years of rapid growth as proposed in the report). ’The Water Board will need further sources of supply to sustain growth beyond 1975 and it has a number of possibilities under consideration both for the medium and longer term.
’The problems of supplying Milton Keynes in the longer term form part of the general problem of supplying water to the South-east, which has been described by the Water Resources Board as one of managing abundant natural resources efficiently so that water can be made available in time where it is wanted.
‘It will be the responsibility of the statutory authorities and others concerned to take all possible steps open to them to ensure that from all the possibilities there is an adequate and timely source of supplies for Milton Keynes in the years immediately after 1975.’ The corporation is understood to be ‘in regular touch with the Ministry of Housing’ on this matter, but what is being considered is not revealed in the report.
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From this problem the report turns to the proposed phasing of development and details of developments proposed for immediate action (see p374).
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It is recommended that during the first decade from the founding of the city development should be mainly concentrated on the land between the River Ouzel and the A5 road, although roads and services would be developed throughout the area of the city in this period. The plan proposes the early linking of Stony Stratford, Wolverton and New Bradwell with Bletchley and their integration into the new city; it links early development with the M1, and house building will begin where it ‘will provide early support for the new city centre’, the first parts of which would include some recreational and commercial provision. At completion of this stage there would be between 100,000 and 120,000 inhabitants in the new city.
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New road links, by-passing Stony Stratford, Wolverton and Bletchley, are essential as part of the new primary road network, and must precede most other building since ‘With the exception of the A5 and parts of the A422, none of the existing roads within the designated area is able to carry traffic generated in the building of the new city’. A primary road running north-south is therefore an essential immediate development, linking the New Bradwell area to Bletchley, and another linking the M1 at Broughton to this new primary road and the A5. This would be followed during the next five years with ‘some peripheral development of Bletchley, Wolverton, New Bradwell and Stony Stratford’. The immediate development of residential areas at two villages - Woughton-on-the-Green and Simpson - is also recommended.
And a major recreation facility at the city centre, early development of parts of the proposed parks and a first health centre are recommended for development in the first five years, plus whatever ‘educational, commercial and social facilities are necessary to keep ahead of the pace of development’.
Extensive areas for early industrial development should be made available during the next five years, towards the M1 interchange at Broughton, and near Wolverton and Bletchley.
Facing hard facts
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This brief and summary of the interim proposals for the new city takes the first forty pages of the report. It is followed by 130 pages of ‘evidence and discussion’, which range over wider fields and more effectively brings out the enormous practical, social and economic difficulties that face the planners, designers and future inhabitants of the new town. That it does not also present solutions to these may simply show that under existing conditions there are no solutions, a useful fact to face, if not to accept.
This section also brings out some absurdities of our present ‘planning’:
the fact that the Department of Economic Affairs set up a planning team with the MOHLG in March 1968 to report on ‘a new physical and economic strategy for the South-east, which ’it is anticipated… will not be completed before December 1969 - the date for completion of the plan for Milton Keynes’;
the fact that in February 1968 members of the Development Corporation, Bucks CC, MOHLG and the Standing Conference on London and the South-east ‘recommended a number of assumptions’ on the planning of Milton Keynes, and pointed out that major developments already planned for Northampton, Wellingborough, Bedford, Lutoo, Leighton-Linslade and Dunstable (plus minor developments in Towcester, Newport Pagnell, Olney, Buckingham and Winslow) ’will provide counter attractions which will make the task of the corporation more difficult’.
That meeting urged that ‘Recognising problems of contiguous communities the corporation should support the Bucks, Beds and Northants county planning authorities in planning an orderly development which, with understanding on all sides, will be complementary to the development of Milton Keynes.’
It was therefore to be assumed that ‘it will be necessary to prepare new plans for the period beyond 1981 and Milton Keynes itself must be planned – wherever feasible - to allow for a range of different possible futures’.
Rather a tall order surely, and one which must raise the question whether the designation of a new city in an area which was already expanding through the work of its local authorities, was sensible in the first place?
Effects on agriculture
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It is acknowledged in further discussion that the new city will bring large problems beyond its boundaries for agriculture, through trespass; and difficulties of waste disposal if the existing large scale dairy, poultry and pig farming in the area are to continue.
The conclusion reached is that it would therefore be best to turn to cereals, on farmland within the designated area, until it is actually required for building, while ‘in some places it should be possible to buffer the productive farmland from the built-up areas with parks, golf courses and playing fields’.
Rate of growth
The rate of growth is then considered. It depends, of course, upon ‘the speed at which public utilities can be provided. Since the declared goals of Milton Keynes include the provision of the necessary social facilities apace with the growth of the availability of resources, particularly within the county, to effect this provision must also be significant. It would be unrealistic to recommend as desirable a growth rate which did not recognise the constraints which these factors might impose.’
The group however favours the most rapid growth that can be achieved. ‘Confidence in the new city on the part of industrialists, retailers, house purchasers as well as GLC tenants; early provision of major facilities and early benefits to existing residents are more likely to be achieved if development takes place relatively quickly at a speed recognised as having been determined in large part by the desirability of these conditions, and to which the capacity of the building industry has been adjusted.’
This rather obvious conclusion might have been more useful if any calculations could have been presented, estimating the amount of investment required adequately to service the population at varying rates of growth, so that the Ministry of Housing could begin to press the other ministries concerned for co-operation in making the necessary financial provision. It has been estimated that 77 per cent of the cost of a new town must go to housing, services and roads, which leaves only 22 per cent of the money available for education, health and social services, shopping and recreational provision. Is this enough?
Housing standards and costs
But the crucial question discussed is that of high mortgages, high rents, high housing standards - and low incomes of many of the families most needing accommodation in the new city. It is an old dilemma, and no solution to it is offered, but is worth quoting for its clear presentation of the obvious.
The decision having been taken that the housing at Milton Keynes is to be fifty-fifty for rent and owner occupation, the report points out that ’if 50 per cent of the dwellings are to be in owner occupation, a fairly high proportion… must be bought by households with modest incomes… Many of these will be in need of financial assistance and advice in buying a house, as they are those most likely to meet with difficulties in obtaining mortgages…
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‘The reluctance of building societies to lend to such households could be countered by a willingness on the part of the corporation to act as a lender itself: but the corporation has been instructed to regard itself only as a lender in the last resort and cannot therefore equal the demands which otherwise might be made on it.’
Moreover ’faced with the demand in M1lton Keynes from households of modest income wishing to purchase houses but unable to obtain high mortgages, the private market is likely to respond by building houses at standards of space and amenity which are lower than those applied to many public housing schemes. The intention of the corporation to secure housing of high quality… thus presents a dilemma between the maintenance of standards and the capacity of newcomers to obtain and repay mortgage loans, or pay high rents.’
The discussion leads back inevitably to the proposal of rent rebate schemes for households of very limited means: but the problem of insisting on high standards of houses for owner occupation which are beyond the purse of potential buyers remains unresolved, and leaves one wondering why a fifty-fifty plan for house ownership was chosen under these adverse circumstances.
The document offers no solution - only some small palliatives - of the hard fact that if the corporation insists on housing of decent quality, whether to rent or to buy, many of the people who ought to be rehoused there will not be able to pay either an adequate rent or to get a mortgage. This is no new or special problem - it faces every local authority and is a national problem.
But it is something new to have it presented so clearly and publicly by the consultants to a new town corporation. Is it conceivable that the discussion it engenders could move the Ministry of Housing, the DEA and the Treasury to attempt to find a solution, so that the ‘affluent society’ foreseen in the first part of the Milton Keynes report does not find the country stocked up with substandard housing?