In the 1960s, the UK government decided that a further generation of new towns in the South East of England was needed to relieve housing congestion in London. This new town (in planning documents, 'new city'), Milton Keynes, was to be the biggest yet, with a target population of 250,000 and a 'designated area' of about 22,000 acres (9,000 ha). At designation, its area incorporated the existing towns of Bletchley, Fenny Stratford, Wolverton and Stony Stratford,[d] along with another fifteen villages and farmland in between. These settlements had an extensive historical record since the Norman conquest; detailed archaeological investigations prior to development revealed evidence of human occupation from the Neolithic period to modern times, including in particular the Milton Keynes Hoard of Bronze Age gold jewellery. The government established a development corporation (MKDC) to design and deliver this new city. The corporation decided on a softer, more human-scaled landscape than in the earlier English new towns but with an emphatically modernist architecture. Recognising how traditional towns and cities had become choked in traffic, they established a 'relaxed' grid of distributor roads about 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) between edges, leaving the spaces between to develop more organically. An extensive network of shared paths for leisure cyclists and pedestrians criss-crosses through and between them. Again rejecting the residential tower blocks that had been so recently fashionable but unloved, they set a height limit of three storeys outside the planned centre.
Milton Keynes is among the most economically productive localities in the UK, ranking highly against a number of criteria. It has the UK's fifth-highest number of business startups per capita (but equally of business failures). It is home to several major national and international companies. Despite economic success and personal wealth for some, there are pockets of nationally significant poverty. The employment profile is composed of about 90% service industries and 9% manufacturing.
It may startle some political economists to talk of commencing the building of new cities ... planned as cities from their first foundation, and not mere small towns and villages. ... A time will arrive when something of this sort must be done ... England cannot escape from the alternative of new city building.
On 23 January 1967, when the formal "new town designation order" was made, the area to be developed was largely farmland and undeveloped villages. The site was deliberately located equidistant from London, Birmingham, Leicester, Oxford, and Cambridge, with the intention that 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). Before construction began, every area was subject to detailed archaeological investigation: doing so has exposed a rich history of human settlement since Neolithic times and has provided a unique insight into the history of a large sample of the landscape of North Buckinghamshire.
The Corporation's strongly modernist designs were regularly featured 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 a programme of intensive planting, balancing lakes and parkland.Central Milton Keynes ("CMK") was not intended to be a traditional town centre but a central business and shopping district to supplement local centres embedded 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. 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 Melvin M. Webber, 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 founded, 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 2004–2011 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 (unsuccessfully) for formal city status in the 2000, 2002 and 2012 competitions. However, Milton Keynes was successful in competing for city status in 2022, for Queen Elizabeth II's Platinum Jubilee Civic Honours. It is to be formally awarded the status by Letters Patent later in 2022.
The name 'Milton Keynes' was a reuse of the name of one of the original historic villages in the designated area, now more generally known as 'Milton Keynes Village' to distinguish it from the modern settlement. After the Norman conquest, the de Cahaignes family held the manor from 1166 to the late 13th century as well as others in the country (Ashton Keynes in Wiltshire, Somerford Keynes in Gloucestershire, and Horsted Keynes in West Sussex). The village was originally known as Middeltone (11th century); then later as Middelton Kaynes or Caynes (13th century); Milton Keynes (15th century); and Milton alias Middelton Gaynes (17th century).
The urban design has not been universally praised. In 1980, the then president of the Royal Town Planning Institute, Francis Tibbalds, described Central Milton Keynes as "bland, rigid, sterile, and totally boring." Michael Edwards, a member of the original consultancy team,[g] believes that there were weaknesses in their proposal and that the Development Corporation implemented it badly.
Grid roads and grid squares
The geography of Milton Keynes – the railway line, Watling Street, Grand Union Canal, M1 motorway – sets up a very strong north-south axis. If you've got to build a city between (them), it is very natural to take a pen and draw the rungs of a ladder. Ten miles by six is the size of this city – 22,000 acres. Do you lay it out like an American city, rigid orthogonal from side to side? Being more sensitive in 1966-7, the designers decided that the grid concept should apply but should be a lazy grid following the flow of land, its valleys, its ebbs and flows. That would be nicer to look at, more economical and efficient to build, and would sit more beautifully as a landscape intervention.
The 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 distributor 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. This spacing was chosen so that people would always be within six minutes' walking distance of a grid-road 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.[h] The grid squares have a variety of development styles, ranging from conventional urban development and industrial parks to original rural and modern urban and suburban developments. Most grid squares have a local centre, intended as a retail hub, and many have community facilities as well. Each of the original villages is the heart of its own grid-square. Originally intended under the master plan to sit alongside the grid roads, these local centres were mostly in fact built embedded in the communities.
Although the 1970 master plan assumed cross-road junctions,roundabout junctions were built at intersections because this type of junction is more efficient at dealing with small to medium volumes. Some major roads are dual carriageway, the others are single carriageway. Along one side of each single carriageway grid road, there is usually a (grassed) reservation to permit dualling or additional transport infrastructure at a later date.[i] As of 2018[update], this has been limited to some dualling. The edges of each grid square are landscaped and densely planted – some additionally have noise attenuation mounds – to minimise traffic noise from the grid road impacting the adjacent grid square. Traffic movements are fast, with relatively little congestion since there are alternative routes to any particular destination other than during peak periods. The national speed limit applies on the grid roads, although lower speed limits have been introduced on some stretches to reduce accident rates. Pedestrians rarely need to cross grid roads at grade, as underpasses and bridges were specified at frequent places along each stretch of all of the grid roads. In contrast, the later districts planned by English Partnerships have departed from this model, without a road hierarchy but with conventional junctions with traffic lights and at grade pedestrian crossings.[j]
Cycleway network in Milton Keynes. The national cycle routes are highlighted in red.
There is a separate network (approximately 170 miles (270 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 Hub:MK, built between 2006 and 2008. The taller glass tower, Manhattan House, has fourteen storeys.
The original design guidance declared that commercial building heights in the centre should not exceed six storeys, with a limit of three storeys for houses (elsewhere), paraphrased locally as "no building taller than the tallest tree". In contrast, the Milton Keynes Partnership, in its expansion 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.[k]
More recent local plans have protected the existing boulevard framework and set higher standards for architectural excellence.[l]
Caldecotte Lake, Milton Keynes
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; these were identified as important landscape and flood-management assets from the outset. At 4,100 acres (1,650 ha) – ten times larger than London's Hyde Park and a third larger than Richmond Park – the landscape architects realised that the Royal Parks model would not be appropriate or affordable and drew on their National Park experience. As Bendixson and Platt (1992) write: "They divided the Ouzel Valley into 'strings, beads and settings'. The 'strings' are well-maintained routes, be they for walking, bicycling or riding; the 'beads' are sports centres, lakeside cafes and other activity areas; the 'settings' are self-managed land-uses such as woods, riding paddocks, a golf course and a farm".
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-mile (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 initial park system was planned by Peter Youngman (Chief Landscape Architect), 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. The detailed planning and landscape design of parks and of the grid roads was evolved under the leadership of Neil Higson, who from 1977 took over from Youngman.Campbell Park is described by Nikolaus Pevsner as "... the largest and most imaginative park to have been laid out in Britain in the 20th century". The park is listed (grade 2) by Historic England,
In a national comparison of urban areas by open space available to residents, Milton Keynes ranked highest in the UK.
Forest city concept
The Development Corporation's original design concept aimed for a "forest city" and its foresters planted millions of trees from its own nursery in Newlands in the following years. Parks, lakes and green spaces cover about 25% of Milton Keynes; as of 2018[update], there are 22 million trees and shrubs in public open spaces. When the Development Corporation was being wound up, it transferred the major parks, lakes, river-banks and grid-road margins to the Parks Trust, a charity which is independent of the municipal authority. MKDC endowed the Parks Trust with a portfolio of commercial properties, the income from which pays for the upkeep of the green spaces. As of 2018[update], approximately 25% of the urban area is parkland or woodland. It includes two Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Howe Park Wood and Oxley Mead.
Milton Keynes (Village) is the original village to which the New Town owes its name. The original village is still evident, with a pleasant thatchedpub, village hall, church and traditional housing. The area around the village has reverted to its 11th century name of Middleton(Middeltone). The oldest surviving domestic building in the area (c. 1300 CE), "perhaps the manor house", is here.
In early planning, education provision was carefully integrated into the development plans with the intention that school journeys would, as far as possible, be made by walking and cycling. Each residential grid square was provided with a primary school (ages 5 to 8) for c.240 children, and for each two squares there was a middle school (ages 8 to 12) for c.480 children. For each eight squares there was a large secondary education campus, to contain between two and four schools for a total of 3,000 – 4,500 children. A central resource area served all the schools on a campus. In addition, each campus included a leisure centre with indoor and outdoor sports facilities and a swimming pool, plus a theatre. These facilities were available to the public outside school hours, thus maximising use of the investment. Changes in central government policy from the 1980s onwards subsequently led to much of this system being abandoned. Some schools have since been merged and sites sold for development, many converted to academies, and the leisure centres outsourced to commercial providers.
Milton Keynes City Discovery Centre at Bradwell Abbey holds an extensive archive about the planning and development of Milton Keynes and has an associated research library. The Centre also offers an education programme (with a focus on urban geography and local history) to schools, universities and professionals.
The municipal public art gallery, MK Gallery, presents free exhibitions of international contemporary art. The gallery was extended and remodelled in 2018/19 and includes an art-house cinema. There are also two multiplex cinemas; one in CMK and one in Denbigh.
In 1999, the adjacent 1,400-seat Milton Keynes Theatre opened. 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 is a further professional performance space in Stantonbury.
Milton Keynes Arts Centre offers a year-round exhibition programme, family workshops and courses. The centre is based in some of Linford Manor's historical exterior buildings, barns, almshouses and pavilions. The Westbury Arts Centre in Shenley Wood is based in a 16th-century grade II listed farmhouse building. Westbury Arts has been providing spaces and studios for professional artists since 1994.
The M1 motorway runs along the east flank of MK and serves it from junctions 13 and 14 within the environs of the MK urban area, and junctions 11a and 15 slightly further away via other connecting roads. The A5 road runs right through as a grade separateddual carriageway. Other main roads are the A509 to Wellingborough and Kettering, and the A421 and A422, both running west towards Buckingham and east towards Bedford. Additionally, the A4146 runs from (near) junction 14 of the M1 to Leighton Buzzard. Proximity to the M1 has led to construction of a number of distribution centres, including Magna Park at the south-eastern flank of Milton Keynes, near Wavendon.
Many long-distance coaches stop at the Milton Keynes coachway, (beside M1 Junction 14), about 3.3 miles (5.3 km) from the centre and 4.3 mi (7 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 average age of the population is lower than is typical for the UK's 63 primary urban areas: 25.3% of the borough population were aged under 18 (5th place) and 13.4% were aged 65+ (57th out of 63). The "mean age is 35.7 and the median age is 35. 18.5% of residents were born outside the UK (11th). At the 2011 census, the ethnic profile was 78.9% white, 3.4% mixed, 9.7% Asian/Asian British, 7.3% Black/African/Caribbean/Black British, and 0.7% other. The religious profile was that 62.0% of people were reported having a religion and 31.4% having none; the remainder declined to say: 52% are Christian, 5.1% Muslim, 3.0% Hindu; other religions each had less than 1% of the population.
In 2014 and 2017, Milton Keynes ranked third in terms of contribution to the national economy, as measured by gross value added per worker, of the 63 largest conurbations in the UK. In 2020, its ranking slipped to seventh.
Milton Keynes has consistently benefited from above-average economic growth, ranked as one of the UK's top five cities. In 2020 it was ranked sixth of 63 for business startups (per 10,000 people).
In 2013,[q] 99.4% of enterprises being SMEs, just 0.6% of businesses locally employ more than 250 people (but more than one third of employees), whereas 81.5% employ fewer than 10 people. The 'professional, scientific and technical sector' contributes the largest number of business units, 16.7%. The retail sector is the largest contributor of employment. Milton Keynes has one of the highest number of business start-ups in England, but also of failures. Although education, health and public administration are important contributors to employment, the contribution is significantly less than the averages for England or the South East.
75% of the population is economically active, including 8.3% (of the population) who are self-employed. 90% work in service industries of various sorts (of which wholesale and retail is the largest sector) and 9% in manufacturing.
In 2015, the Borough of Milton Keynes had nine 'lower super output areas'[r] that are in the 10% most deprived in England, but also had twelve 'lower super output areas' in the 10% least deprived in England. This contrast between areas of affluence and areas of deprivation in spite of a thriving local economy, inspired local charity The Community Foundation (in its 2016 'Vital Signs' report) to describe the position as a 'Tale of Two Cities'.
In 2018, the number of homeless young people sleeping rough in tents around CMK attracted national headlines as it became the apex of a national problem of poverty, inadequate mental health care and unaffordable housing. On a visit to refurbishment and extension work on the YMCA building, Housing Minister Heather Wheeler declared that 'Nobody in this day and age should be sleeping on the street'.
Its surface geology is primarily gently rolling Oxford clay or, more formally:
... a portion of more or less dissected boulder clay plateau, with streams falling fairly steeply to the [Great] Ouse and Ouzel flood plains, across slopes cut chiefly in Oxford clay. Middle Jurassic rocks, in particular the Blisworth limestone and cornbrash, form strong features in the lands bordering the Ouse valley in the north.
Its highest points are in the centre (110 m, 360 ft) and at Woodhill on the western boundary (120 m, 390 ft). The lowest point of the urban area is in Newport Pagnell, where the Ouzel joins the Great Ouse (50 m, 160 ft).
Parks and environmental infrastructure
Because of the (poorly drained) clay soils and the urban hard surfaces, the development corporation identified water runoff into the Ouzel and its tributaries as a significant risk to be managed and so put in place two large balancing lakes (Caldecotte and Willen) and a number of smaller detention ponds. These provide an important leisure amenity for most of the year. Building in the floodplains of the Ouse and Ouzel was precluded too, thus providing long-distance linear parks that are within easy reach of most residents.
The nearest Met Office weather station is in Woburn, just outside the south eastern fringe of Milton Keynes.[u] Recorded temperature extremes range from 39.6 °C (103.3 °F) during July 2022, to as low as −20.6 °C (−5.1 °F) on 25 February 1947; this is the lowest temperature ever reported in England in February. In 2010, the temperature fell to −16.3 °C (2.7 °F)
Climate data for Woburn 1981–2010 (Weather station 3 mi (5 km) to the SE of central Milton Keynes)
^Bendixson & Platt report the Corporation as concerned at this outcome, which was an unanticipated emergent behaviour. In later developments, it aimed for increased permeability through the grid.
^An additional ten-metre wide strip was originally specified to satisfy Buckinghamshire County Council's belief in a future fixed-track public transport system. In 1977 MKDC decided to cease to specify it.
^The 'western expansion area' is what became Fairfields and Whitehouse. The 'eastern expansion area' is Broughton including Brooklands. 'The Hub' is a development of residential tower, hotels and restaurants in CMK.
^Large-scale buildings include
Jurys Inn (10 storeys)The Pinnacle:MK on Midsummer Boulevard (9 storeys) and the
Vizion development on Avebury Boulevard (12 storeys),
^The Network Rail National Centre is at the western limit of Silbury Boulevard near the Central station; this building complex occupies a large land area but only rises to the equivalent of six storeys; The Hotel la Tour (Marlborough Gate and Midsummer Bvd) opens April 2022 and is 50 metres tall.
^ abNot in original designated area but subsequent expansion has grown to include it.
^ abcSouth East Study 1961–1981 (Report). London: HMSO. 1964. A big change in the economic balance within the south east is needed to modify the dominance of London and to get a more even distribution of growth cited in The Plan for Milton Keynes (Llewellyn-Davies et al (1970), page 3
^Croft, R. A.; Mynard, Dennis C.; Gelling, Margaret (1993). The Changing Landscape of Milton Keynes. Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society Monograph Series. Aylesbury: Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society. ISBN9780949003126. The creation of Milton Keynes provided an opportunity to study an extensive rural landscape before it was changed irreversibly. This book brings together the results of 20 years of excavation, fieldwork and documentary studies carried out by the Milton Keynes Development Corporation.
^Cooksey, G. W. (6 March 1976). Kelly, A. V. (ed.). The Scope Of Education And Its Opportunities For The 80s. Goldsmiths College March Education Conference. Goldsmiths College, University of London. pp. 8–10.
^El-Hamamy, E.; B-Lynch, C. (2005). "A worldwide review of the uses of the uterine compression suture techniques as alternative to hysterectomy in the management of severe post-partum haemorrhage". Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 25 (2): 143–149. doi:10.1080/01443610500040752. PMID15814393. S2CID43454496.
Erskine, Ralph (2011). "Breaking German Naval Enigma on Both Sides of the Atlantic". In Erskine, Ralph; Smith, Michael (eds.). The Bletchley Park Codebreakers. Biteback Publishing Ltd. pp. 165–183. ISBN978-1-84954-078-0.
Erskine, Ralph; Smith, Michael, eds. (2011). The Bletchley Park Codebreakers. Biteback Publishing Ltd. ISBN978-1-84954-078-0. Updated and extended version of Action This Day: From Breaking of the Enigma Code to the Birth of the Modern Computer. 2001. Bantam Press.