What is the timeframe for the project?
We are currently working hard to finalise our planning application, and we aim to submit the full planning application for the regeneration scheme in Autumn 2020.
The timeframe thereafter is subject to obtaining planning permission, the timing of planning permission and any pre-commencement conditions attached. However, assuming planning permission is granted in Winter 2020/2021, the subsequent milestones are likely to be:
• Winter 2020/2021 – demolition of the Agora Centre;
• Spring 2020 – commencement of redevelopment;
• Summer-2022 – completion of Phase 1;
• Autumn 2022 – completion of Phase 2.
Will the development be phased?
The approach to phasing will be determined through the forthcoming design and planning process. Our working assumption is that there will be two phases of development: building on the site of the Agora building, including reinstatement of Radcliffe Street, will take place first; with development on the car park following. This will also give time for any works off-site to create new and improved town centre parking facilities to be implemented.
Will a disorderly Brexit or a market downturn delay the project?
The uncertainty over the terms of the UK’s expected departure from the EU isn’t at all helpful, and no project or business can be fully ‘proofed’ against the potential consequences of leaving without a Withdrawal Agreement. Trivselhus, the project’s funders, are part of Sodra Timber, Sweden’s largest privately-owned timber company with an annual turnover of SEK 18 billion, giving them resilience as an investor. They are committed to the UK, and are investing through a UK subsidiary. They have taken a view on the individual merits of the Agora project that the longer-term potential outweighs the near-term risks. In the event of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, their investment role remains committed to enable the project to complete.
Will the demolition and redevelopment process cause a lot of hassle for town centre residents and businesses?
We’ll do all we can to minimise disruption and support business as usual. Detailed method statements will be required as part of planning applications and these will address how vehicle movements, noise, dirt and dust will be managed and controlled. The process should also be an opportunity – construction projects bring a lot of workers into town who will normally use local cafes and shops.
Will the design be in keeping with Victorian Wolverton?
Wolverton town centre is a conservation area, so any new development should preserve or enhance the local character. This does not mean copying Victorian design but it does mean making fitting references for example in the types of buildings, materials and detailing. We’re asking for views on the best things about Wolverton so we can understand what local people cherish most about the town – see Get Involved.
What green space will there be? Will any of it be public?
The development will be laid out around a series of green courtyards that will provide private gardens and shared areas for use by people living in the homes backing onto them. We are exploring creating a new ‘pocket park’ around the London Plane trees on Buckingham Street, and two car-free ‘little streets’ are proposed connecting with existing paths.
Are you going to keep the trees on the site?
We’ve had a tree survey carried out by a professional arboriculturalist and hope to retain all of the ‘Category A’ – that is, most important and valuable – trees on the site. This includes the stands of London Plane trees at the eastern end of the Agora car park and next to Buckingham Street by the south-east face of the Agora centre. It’s inevitable that many of the more recent trees in the centre of the car park will have to be removed but we aim to replace as many as possible through new planting.
Will the development be sustainable?
The development will be mainly built with Trivselhus’ closed-timber-panel system which provides exceptional airtightness and low energy demand. Renewable energy from air source heat pumps and/or solar photovoltaic panels will further reduce carbon emissions. External areas will be designed to manage rainwater and encourage biodiversity. The location and design of the development will encourage public transport use, walking and cycling.
How many new houses and flats will there be in the scheme? What about affordable housing, retirement housing or live-work units?
The proposals will include at least 100 new dwellings, about half of which will be terraced houses and half flats or duplexes. All dwellings will meet or exceed national space standards. By agreement with Milton Keynes Council, a proportion will be for shared ownership or affordable rent. No specific ‘retirement’ provision is currently planned but there will be a number of generously sized apartments particularly suited to people ‘downsizing’ from larger properties. Draft plans include three ‘loft’ studio units for creative live-workers.
What new shops and services are you planning?
We propose around eight new shop units totalling 1,200sqm facing Church Street and the Square. We’ve appointed agents to let these units, with a brief to focus on small and independent occupiers who will complement and enhance Wolverton’s existing offer and encourage both residents and visitors to the town. Possible uses include a ‘convenience’ supermarket to replace the lost Co-op, new restaurants, specialist food shops such as a bakery or butcher, and a small gym or exercise centre.
Are you proposing new public services such as a community centre, doctor’s surgery or public toilets?
Wolverton is well-served for public services and the proposed development isn’t expected to create a need for new facilities. The development will make financial contributions (known as ‘Section 106’) which can be used by the Council to bolster existing local services if deemed necessary, or to contribute to cost of providing public toilets within the town centre.
Will the reinstated stretch of Radcliffe Street be open to traffic? What will it be like?
We want the reinstated stretch of Radcliffe Street to work as a linear public space which is pleasure to walk down and linger in. We intend that it will be open to cars, one way, to provide a new link between Church Street and the Square, and will have on-street parking; but low-speed design, good landscaping and wide pavements will make it a people-friendly street.
Will there be changes to existing streets, for example one-ways systems?
Existing streets around the site are not in our control and any changes must be agreed and made by Milton Keynes Council as the local planning and highways authority. We are working closely with the Council and local stakeholders to examine a number of options including:
- making Church Street one-way between Creed Street and Radcliffe Street to support enhanced bus stopping arrangements, improved parking and a better pedestrian experience;
- new crossings at key town centre junctions to make it easy to walk and cycle around town and to get to and from Wolverton railway station; and
- new and improved town centre parking facilities and management.
How will people living around the site, for example on Buckingham Street, access their back lanes/garages?
All properties that currently have access through the site will continue to do so.
What will happen to the bus stops and bus routes?
We are working closely with Milton Keynes Council and local operator Arriva to give Wolverton the bus terminus it deserves. We expect that most or all buses will continue to operate from Church Street, where the existing single bus bay will be expanded to at least three, enabled by making Church Street one-way. New shelters will be provided, and routes should be unaffected.
Won’t building on the Agora car park harm local businesses and cause parking chaos?
Regeneration isn’t economically viable if limited to the footprint of the Agora centre. Milton Keynes Council’s adopted Agora Development Brief SPD indicates that development may extend all the way along Church Street, depending on townscape, conservation and parking considerations and whether a viable development can be delivered without needing to build along the full length of Church Street.
We agree with the position set out in the SPD that any proposals for developing the car park need to be evidence-based, including being informed by a survey of parking usage. We’ve commissioned independent specialists to undertake comprehensive surveys across the town centre, and agree that it’s important that the loss of the Agora car park is offset by the creation of additional town centre parking provision and improved control of existing parking across the town centre.
Working with Milton Keynes Council and members of the Agora Regeneration Working Group, opportunities to more than offset the number of spaces that currently existing within the Agora car park have been identified, including at St George’s Way and on Radcliffe Street. These could be in a mix of on-street, as happens across most of Wolverton, and/or in new designated parking areas.
We’re working closely with Milton Keynes Council officers and members to ensure that these opportunities, which are outside of our direct control, are examined and delivered to a timescale that dovetails with delivery of the regeneration scheme.
Can you guarantee replacement parking will be delivered? Where will the money come from?
We can’t guarantee delivery of anything on land we don’t own, but we’re working very closely with Milton Keynes Council to ensure interventions off-site can be aligned with the programme for delivering regeneration on-site. Local stakeholders, including Church Street businesses, are also involved in this process through the Agora Regeneration Working Group.
The project will provide substantial sums of money in Section 106 contributions and the Council may choose to direct this to fund local highway and parking improvements.
How much car parking are you proposing for the new development?
The site is extraordinarily well located and served for all modes of transport. Wolverton railway station is a short walk away; Church Street is the main northern bus terminus for Milton Keynes; local services are easily accessible on foot and Wolverton is well connected to the rest of MK for cyclists by the Redway network.
Average car/van ownership in Wolverton is under 1.1 cars per household; a quarter of household have no car/van and only 28% have more than one – so despite Milton Keynes’s reputation for embracing the car, Wolverton is somewhat different. We expect people opting to buy or rent in the new development will make similar choices; the ability to live a good lifestyle without being car-dependent will be one of its major selling-points.
So, on average, we plan to provide every dwelling within the new development with at least one parking space, and some larger homes with an additional space. In total, around 120 spaces will be provided within the design boundary of the site; some of these will be reserved for residents; others will be for flexible residential and public use at different times of the day; and there will be several dedicated short-stay spaces serving businesses. None of these spaces are being considered as counting towards replacing the public provision of the current Agora car park.