This FAQs page provides answers to questions that have been raised about the Love Wolverton planning application and development proposals, particularly by local residents and businesses in Wolverton.
Planning and delivery process and timescales
What stage is the regeneration scheme at, and what happens next?
TOWN, acting for Love Wolverton Ltd (the owner of the Agora Centre), submitted a planning application to Milton Keynes Council in December 2020 for permission to regenerate the site of the Agora and the Agora car park. The application is expected to be decided by Milton Keynes Council’s Planning Committee in Spring 2021.
Work on site, including demolition of the Agora, will commence shortly after the granting of planning permission. Construction is expected to take between 18 and 24 months, with the first homes and businesses being occupied from late 2022 and the whole development being complete by Spring 2023.
Can I view and comment on the planning application?
Yes. The Council is currently inviting comments on the application from statutory consultees and members of the public. It wishes to receive comments by 31st January, but comments made after this deadline will still be accepted.
You can view and comment on the application via the Council’s website planning pages - enter the case reference number 20/03293/FUL.
You can also view all of the application documents in easy-to-download format here.
Why should I comment if I support the regeneration plans?
It’s important for local democracy that as many people as possible give their views on major planning applications, whether critical or supportive.
Often people only comment on applications they oppose, or only give feedback on certain elements that they think are wrong with a proposal. This can give decision-makers including the Council an unrepresentative view of local sentiment.
This planning application is the culmination of many years of work, not just by the developer and its design team but by local people and organisations who have worked to press for regeneration of the Agora over many years. It is a once-in-a-generation decision on the future of Wolverton town centre, and as many voices as possible should be heard.
Why has the project been delayed compared with your original timescales?
While the design was largely developed by late 2019, the planning application was delayed by economic volatility in the long aftermath of the EU Referendum, and then hampered by the challenges of completing work during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Our original programme, drawn up in early 2019, aimed to complete the development in late 2022. The fact that we are now planning for 86 out of 115 homes to be of rental tenure allows for faster building as the construction rate is not tied to how many homes can be sold at one time (unlike many other developments). Therefore, the revised expected completion date of Spring 2023 is only a few months later than originally envisaged.
Will the development be built in phases or all in one go?
We now expect demolition of the Agora Centre and building of the new development to be delivered in a single construction phase. This means a considerably shorter overall construction period than previously anticipated, with less disruption.
Planning permission for demolishing the Agora was granted over a year ago – why hasn’t that happened yet?
The full extent of asbestos within the Agora’s fabric and the cost of removing it safely only became clear following specialist surveys after demolition consent was granted, and shortly before the first Covid-19 lockdown in Spring 2020. With the building vacant and secure, it was decided that it would be safer and more cost-effective to defer demolition until the timescales for redevelopment were clearer. Demolition will now take place after planning permission for regeneration is secured, hopefully in Spring 2021.
Will the demolition and redevelopment process cause a lot of hassle for town centre residents and businesses?
Unfortunately, construction invariably generates additional vehicle movements, noise, dirt and dust. Working with an appointed building contractor, we’ll prepare plans to limit the impact on local residents and businesses for approval by the Council. The planned single-phase delivery programme will keep the period of disruption to a minimum.
The process should also create opportunities locally: construction projects bring a lot of workers into town who will use local cafes and shops, and builders often require local labour.
Will TOWN stay involved in the development after it’s built?
TOWN will remain involved in the development in a transitional capacity for at least a year after it is built. Further details will be given once planning permission is granted.
Why wasn’t I consulted on these plans?
Our Statement of Community Involvement describes our comprehensive programme of engagement and communications on the development. The Public Review held in 2019 was widely publicised – and attended by over 300 people – and the Love Wolverton website has regularly been updated with information, as well as providing a record of key events and documents and a facility to get in touch directly.
We recognise that people who are new to Wolverton in the past year missed the main consultation events, but the vast majority of local people have had good opportunities and have been involved in shaping the plans and their views have been invaluable in positively influencing the proposals.
Development and design: overall approach
Is it really necessary to build on the Agora car park, given how important local businesses feel it is to their trade?
For regeneration to happen, it needs to be economically viable, which means that the revenue produced by selling and letting completed properties justifies the cost of building them. Previous regeneration schemes for the Agora haven’t been built, because they weren’t viable.
Milton Keynes Council’s planning guidance for the site, the Agora Development Brief SPD, recognises that building on the car park may be necessary for viability and other reasons. The Council therefore made the decision in 2019 to sell the car park to Love Wolverton Ltd. in recognition that it needs to be included within the regeneration scheme.
The Agora site is exceptionally costly to regenerate.
- As well as safely removing a lot of asbestos from the Agora Centre and demolishing the building, underground utilities and services need to be diverted, historic foundations need to be dug up, ground levels have to be re-engineered, and a new electricity substation has to be provided.
- As is proper in a Conservation Area, the required standard of design, landscaping, building materials and detailing is high.
- Milton Keynes Council’s policies on sustainable design, plus the welcome fact that the Council has declared a climate emergency, demand that we invest in high levels of energy efficiency and on-site renewable energy.
The only way we can meet these costs and deliver the high-quality regeneration scheme Wolverton deserves is to maximise the use of the site, which means building on the car park as well of the site of the Agora itself. It should be noted that while the proposed development seeks to optimise the use of this previously-developed site, it contains fewer homes than the Council’s local plan proposes for the site.
While the same amount of development floorspace could theoretically be accommodated on a smaller footprint by building taller, this would be out-of-keeping with the character of Wolverton and would lead to a less balanced mix of houses and flats.
We’re sensitive to local concerns about the loss of shoppers’ parking – see the FAQs on transport and parking below.
The proposed scheme seems very dense – isn’t there a risk of overdevelopment?
The Agora Centre and car park site is allocated in Milton Keynes Council’s Local Plan, Plan:MK, for development of 140 dwellings, and with requirements established by the Agora Development Brief SPD for significant retail development in addition to housing.
Achieving this level of development – while providing a range of dwelling sizes, meeting design standards such as internal space, external space and overlooking, and maintaining even a reduced level of public car parking – would entail significantly taller and bulkier development than proposed which would not be appropriate for the site.
Our proposed scheme of 115 dwellings in a mix of houses and flats, with a modest amount of additional retail and community space, balances the need for housing delivery and viable regeneration with sensitivity to the historic character of Wolverton and a desire to create generous homes based around people-friendly, walkable streets.
Why isn’t the design Victorian in appearance?
The design responds deliberately to the Victorian character of Wolverton, but isn’t meant to be a copy.
As well as the mainly red-brick elevations, which use a similar wall- and window-proportioning system to Victorian buildings, the design includes details like paired front doors, recessed porches, corner entrances, glazed brick courses, lintels and arches which are characteristic of Wolverton.
The scale of buildings – two-to-three-storeys along streets, three-to-four storeys on corners – follows existing patterns in the town, and the appearance of larger corner buildings has been addressed following public feedback to give a more familiar scale.
Some aspects of the design do depart more explicitly from precedent, with good reason. For instance, parapet roofs (which appear ‘flat’ from the street) are characteristic of Victorian architecture elsewhere, though not in Wolverton – but they play an important role in concealing from view the roof-mounted plant and machinery that is an integral feature of modern sustainable buildings.
For a full discussion of the character and appearance of the proposals, please read our Design and Access Statement.
Why not remove Block F at the east end of the site to allow some parking to be retained and more open views of the Church?
As we’ve explained from the outset, a certain amount of development has to be achieved for regeneration to be feasible, given the high cost of redeveloping this site.
Block F contains nine apartments and makes an important contribution to the overall scheme. Achieving this elsewhere on the site instead would require unwelcome and alien increases in height and massing that local people and statutory consultees have consistently told us are unacceptable. In urban design terms, leaving a small area of the car park undeveloped at the eastern end of the site would also make for a weak edge to the development and miss the opportunity to mark the beginning of Wolverton’s most important street with a four-storey building – as suggested by the Neighbourhood Plan.
In response to comments on previous designs, we’ve already reduced the massing of Block F, making it more clearly subservient to neighbouring listed buildings whilst ensuring it retains a scale appropriate to a ‘marker’ building.
Homes and residents
Why has the development changed from mostly homes for sale to mostly homes for rent?
The housing market has been volatile in recent years, and reliance on private sale would risk delivery slowing down (or stalling entirely) in adverse conditions, and reduce the amount of affordable housing that can be provided.
Private renting is the fastest-growing sector of the housing market, especially among groups such as young professionals and younger families who would prefer to live in urban centres rich in amenities and transport connections – like Wolverton – rather than in suburban estates where they have to rely on their cars. With median house prices almost nine times median earnings in Milton Keynes, renting also provides an important choice for people who can’t access or don’t want the burden of a large mortgage; or who, for whatever reason, don’t want to buy a home at that stage of their life.
Renters also value low and predictable energy bills, the no-hassle maintenance of shared spaces and public realm, and a wide choice of transport alternatives to suit different aspects of their busy lives – all key features of the proposed regeneration scheme. Renters will also have the option of long-term, stable tenancies as standard.
Within the rental development we’ll also be delivering a policy-compliant level affordable homes in a mix of flats and houses, and those tenants will also benefit from the services that come with living in a professionally-managed built-to-rent development.
Is this project about gentrification – a gated community for rich commuters rather than ordinary Wolverton people?
Not at all. Most of the homes will be for rent rather than sale, making them accessible to a wider range of households and incomes, including those without the savings needed for a deposit or to secure a mortgage. There will be 31 affordable homes, which will be earmarked for people with lower incomes, in line with Milton Keynes Council’s housing policies.
And the homes that are for sale within the Still Green Cohousing community address a specific need: for supportive housing for older people in a location close to amenities and services. Still Green are based in Milton Keynes, with members who are existing Wolverton residents.
The layout knits the site back into Wolverton’s street grid, and anyone will be free to walk or cycle along those streets and use the planned pocket park. Shared courtyards will not be accessible to the public because they form secure shared garden spaces for residents – much like regular private gardens are not expected to offer public access.
Does having a concentration of homes for rent risk creating a transient community, or encouraging anti-social behaviour?
No. Professionally-managed built-to-rent developments are different from the small-scale buy-to-let provision often associated with private renting, and have added benefits for their residents and for the wider community. It’s in the landlord’s interest to manage the development to high standards for the long-term so that they retain existing tenants and attract new ones, keep good relations with their neighbours and build a good reputation.
Tenants within the development will be offered longer-than-usual tenancies, with rents linked predictably to inflation, low (clean) energy bills and a range of additional services including free fast fibre broadband. Homes will be generously sized (on average 7% larger than national space standards), well-equipped, warm, airy, well-ventilated and have ample shared and private outside space.
In return for this high-quality offering, tenancy agreements will place commensurate requirements on tenants to play their part to make the development, and Wolverton more widely, a great place to live.
How does Still Green Cohousing fit into the project?
Cohousing is a form of development that enables residents to live in a neighbourly, supportive way. In additional to their own private dwellings, residents have the benefit of shared facilities including space to cook, dine and socialise together, and work together to manage the community themselves.
Still Green Cohousing is a long-established over-50s cohousing group in Milton Keynes. Cohousing is particularly suitable for older people, who are at greater risk of isolation and loneliness and can benefit strongly from networks of mutual support.
Having built the award-winning Marmalade Lane cohousing community in Cambridge, TOWN is working with a number of cohousing groups across the country and had previously considered other sites in and around Milton Keynes for a development for Still Green Cohousing.
Easy access to shops, amenities and public transport makes Wolverton town centre an ideal location for an older people’s cohousing community, and the town centre will benefit from a new group of residents who will use local services and engage in the wider neighbourhood.
The proposed development for Still Green comprises 29 one-, two- and three-bed apartments (25 for sale and four for social rent) and shared facilities.
Still Green Cohousing welcome enquiries from prospective members. Further details are available on their website.
Can I express interest in renting or buying a home here?
Once the project is under construction, full and early advertising of rental opportunities will be undertaken – but you can register here to ensure you are kept informed.
If you are interested in living in Still Green Cohousing, you can read more and make contact through their website.
Why did the development grow from 105 homes to 115 homes since the Public Review?
The number of homes grew from 105 to 115 owing to the redesign of Block C from a mix of houses and flats to an all-flatted design to suit the requirements of Still Green Cohousing. The overall capacity of the development, and the number of residents expected to live there, is largely unchanged.
Business, community and public services
What difference will regeneration make to the local economy?
As well as the physical improvements that removing the Agora and building high-quality new development will bring, economic experts Lichfields estimate that regeneration will bring:
- £2.3m in increased economic output from the commercial uses within the development, creating 46 direct new full-time-equivalent jobs;
- £2.2 million per annum of additional resident expenditure within local shops and services, supporting a further 26 new full-time equivalent jobs directly and 21 supply chain jobs indirectly;
- over £1.8 million of new revenues to the public purse in the first four years after completion, including £752,000 of New Homes Bonus payments alongside Council Tax and Business Rates income.
Additionally, over £50m of additional output and over 300 full-time equivalent jobs will be created or sustained during the construction period.
What new shops and services will be provided by the development?
Eight new shop units are proposed, ranging from 64 square metres to 240 square metres in size. A small convenience supermarket is proposed to replace the former Co-op. The two units facing the Square will be kitted out to allow restaurant/catering uses. Other units, mostly on Church Street, will be for general retail use, but are also available for local public services such as a health centre or dentist if required.
We aim to attract a mix of occupiers to build on the independent, community-oriented ethos of Wolverton’s existing ‘high street’. Priority targets include a taproom, bakery, butcher and bike shop. Some units may be taken by existing Wolverton businesses looking to relocate or expand to modern premises. Ultimately, though, occupier interest will be the main determinant of the mix.
Will local/independent occupiers be priced out by high rents?
The plans are for small shop units suited to independent businesses. Over 90% of the development is residential, and the quality of the retail offer will play a big part in attracting residential tenants, so it isn’t in anyone’s interest to narrowly maximise retail rents at the expense of quality or distinctiveness. This perspective will drive the approach taken to lettings.
Rents are set by the market and, with the retail sector heavily impacted by the Covid pandemic, rent will have to be competitive to attract good occupiers. We’re confident the rents we’ve assumed in our revenue models are competitive and fair against local benchmarks.
We’re keen to hear at any time from businesses interested in retail opportunities – please get in touch.
Are you planning new late-night takeaways?
No. Hot food takeaways have their own planning use class and we have not applied for permission for that for any of the retail units. Restaurants could offer a take-away service, within limited hours.
If the Agora car park is built on, won’t a shortage of parking harm businesses in the town centre?
It’s vital that there is the right level of parking in Wolverton to sustain local businesses. Although initially built to serve the Agora Centre, years of non-enforcement of restrictions and charges have meant the Agora car park has come to be seen as a free facility for all town centre visitors.
A parking survey carried out by an independent company, using a surveying methodology agreed with Milton Keynes Council, found that – with the exception of Friday early afternoon, during prayers at the Central Jamia Mosque – the Agora car park is not fully used and there is sufficient spare capacity in surrounding streets and other short-stay options to accommodate shoppers’ needs. You can read the full details of the parking survey findings in section 10 of the submitted Transport Assessment.
The survey also found that a lot of use of the Agora car park is for long stays, with over 30% being for 7.5 hours or more, and with around 10% of spaces occupied overnight. Long-stay users include residents, employees, users of community space and rail commuters avoiding parking charges at Wolverton station. Even without regeneration of the site, unfettered use of the Agora car park for long stays would be unlikely to remain a viable option.
As part of the scheme design, we’re proposing to create 18 new parking spaces – 16 for short-stay shoppers’ parking and two for electric car club cars – on Church Street and Buckingham Street where on-street parking is currently restricted; these will be public spaces on adopted highway land within the ownership and control of Milton Keynes Council. We’ve also offered to work with the Council on new parking controls to ensure that on-street parking is more efficiently managed for shoppers, employees, visitors and residents throughout the week.
And, while the data does not support the argument that redeveloping the Agora car park will lead to a parking shortage, and is thus not a reason to prevent redevelopment, we’re assisting work being led by Milton Keynes Council to look at providing additional public car parking in the town centre through proposed remodelling of the St George’s Way estate. Initial studies indicate that, alongside better residents’ parking and improved landscaping, a public car park of around 60 spaces could be delivered.
How will the Friday parking needs of the Central Jamia Mosque be met?
Our parking survey showed that the Agora car park is used to capacity during Friday prayers at the Central Jamia Mosque. This ‘peak’ lasts approximately two hours. While it’s unsurprising that worshippers use the Agora car park, as it is directly opposite the Mosque, there are many alternative short-stay parking options within a short (5 minutes / 400 metres) walk, including other large car parks.
What is planned for the proposed community space?
During stakeholder and public engagement, it became clear that there’s a need for somewhere for young people to meet in Wolverton that could provide an alternative to places like McDonald’s.
We’ve begun working with Offset Projects on ‘OpenPlan’ – a dedicated project exploring the feasibility of a young-person led space within the new, dedicated community unit proposed on Church Street.
Offset Projects are currently recruiting young people who live in Wolverton and Milton Keynes to join a Steering Group which will guide the future development of this space, and are beginning their work with six public workshops in February and March this year. You can get involved here.
Why aren’t you providing public toilets, a doctor’s surgery or other public services?
Consultations to date with public services providers have not identified a need for additional facilities on-site. Nonetheless, if in future a need is identified for a doctor’s surgery or dentist, for example, the proposed development would be able to accommodate this in the commercial units, which have flexibility as to their use.
Milton Keynes Council may seek contributions to off-site provision of facilities in determining the planning application, and these are governed by a viability appraisal process.
We understand the desire for new public conveniences. Providing these within the development would be expensive, reduce the availability of retail space for new independent businesses and have high long-term maintenance costs compared with other options. We have offered to assist Milton Keynes Council and Wolverton and Greenleys Town Council in identifying and delivering a standalone facility on a suitable site.
Will the site be derelict if TOWN are unable to rent the new homes or shops?
There is negligible risk of being unable to let the new homes or shops.
We want to see more independent shops in Wolverton, can you make this happen?
We’re aiming to ensure the new shop units strengthen Wolverton’s independent retail offer. The units have been ‘soft’ marketed for some time and we remain open to expressions of interest. Further marketing will be undertaken once planning permission is granted with a view to agreeing pre-lets before construction is complete. In addition to a small convenience supermarket, discussions have taken or are taking place with a taproom operator, bike shop and workshop, butcher, and a number of restauranteurs and café operators.
Energy and sustainability
Is this a ‘green’ development?
Yes, we aim for this to be one of the most environmentally sustainable new developments anywhere in the UK. Climate change and biodiversity loss are global crises, as recognised by Milton Keynes Council in its declaration of a Climate Emergency a year ago. The Council has strong planning policies on environmental sustainability, but new development has to go beyond these policies if it is truly to contribute to combating climate change.
Energy use in buildings and transport are the two biggest causes of domestic carbon emissions.
- We’re proposing development that could achieve 80% lower carbon emissions than current building regulations (70% lower than required by Council policy) by building highly energy-efficient, insulated and airtight buildings and supplying them with renewable electricity generated by an on-site microgrid.
- We’re also proposing to mitigate transport emissions by taking advantage of the location, the existing range of transport choices and the opportunity to introduce new bike-share and car-club schemes to reduce reliance on the private car and encourage residents who do own a car to shift to electric vehicles.
It’s not only the environment that will benefit from this approach: residents will enjoy low, predictable energy bills from an ethical source and be enabled to adopt healthier lifestyles through active travel, better air quality and good opportunities in the landscape for socialising and play.
What is the proposed energy ‘microgrid’? What benefits will it bring Wolverton?
A ‘microgrid’ is a small electricity network which is formed by connecting on-site renewable energy generation – in these proposals, solar photovoltaic (PV) panels mounted on roofs – to a large on-site battery. Electricity is fed into and stored in the battery, which then supplies individual homes and businesses in the usual way. The battery is also connected to the National Grid, so that any additional electricity needed to meet peaks in demand can be bought in when needed.
The benefit of a microgrid over individual renewable installations for each property is that the battery avoids any surplus electricity being wasted – which is important given that the supply of renewable electricity is usually greatest when demand is least, and vice versa. The battery means that around two-thirds of the development’s total energy needs will be generated on site.
As well as providing an exemplar for future developments to learn from, the microgrid would be under the long-term management of Wolverton Community Energy, a social enterprise which reinvests its profits in renewable energy projects locally. There may also be scope to connect surrounding energy-hungry buildings to the microgrid, helping to reduce their energy bills and their carbon footprint.
Won’t a lot of solar panels be an eyesore?
No – most solar panels will be concealed behind roof parapets and thus not visible from the street in many locations. Some will be visible on south-facing pitched roofs but there are few of these within the proposals.
Streets and access
What changes are you proposing to Church Street?
We’re proposing to formalise bus stopping arrangements by introducing marked bays for buses on the south side of Church Street, which will be interspersed with new town centre car parking spaces and better landscaping, including new paving and planters. There will be an improved bus stop, with a new shelter and real-time passenger information displays, at the same point along Church Street as now.
With the support of local stakeholders through the Agora Regeneration Working Group, we’re also proposing that the Council introduces one-way vehicle movement, east to west, along Church Street between the junctions with Creed Street and Radcliffe Street. This could allow the carriageway to be narrowed and the pavement widened, with similar landscape treatments introduced, on the north side of Church Street. We think that this would be a considerable improvement for residents and visitors to Wolverton. However, the plans do not rely on this, and it is a matter for the Council to decide on.
Are you proposing to introduce one-way streets?
In addition to the options for Church Street described above, the reinstated section of Radcliffe Street will be one-way (north to south) and the Mews Street running through the development will be one way (west to east). This will maximise efficient movement through the site, discourage unnecessary through-movement and help prevent streets becoming dominated by traffic so that they are inviting to pedestrians and cyclists.
Why aren’t you proposing that the streets within the development be adopted by the Council?
The streets within the development have been designed so that they function as spaces for people, with vehicles as guests. In order to make the environment nicer for people, aspects of their design, including paving and landscaping, vary from Milton Keynes Council’s normal highways standards.
This means it is likely to be better for the development, and easier for the Council, for the streets to be managed and maintained under the same estate management arrangements as the rest of the development. This also allows on-street parking within the development to be allocated and managed.
Will you be able to close streets to the public?
It’s proposed to create new formal public rights of way to ensure that as-of-right public access is maintained to privately-managed streets within the development. The details of this will be discussed and agreed with Milton Keynes Council.
As noted in the Wolverton Neighbourhood Plan, it might be useful to the community for the option to exist to close the planned stretch of Radcliffe Street just north of the Square and south of the junction with the proposed Mews Street from time to time for markets, street parties or other events. This stretch of the street is not required for vehicle access to properties, so if and when it is closed traffic will circulate as it does now. In this case, this stretch of street may be more appropriately designated as a permissive path rather than a public right of way.
How will residents next to the site on Buckingham Street access the rear of their existing properties?
Access to the rear of properties in Buckingham Street will be maintained in full via the reinstated Radcliffe Street, and via a new Mews Street which will run from east-to-west to the south of the proposed development blocks and incorporate the existing backway behind these garages.
The Mews Street has been designed specifically so, like other streets, it will become a formal public right of way and ensure that access to these properties is maintained.
Landscape and trees
What is happening to the trees on the site?
The three high- and medium-value large plane trees south-east of the Agora Centre will be retained and incorporated into a new public ‘pocket’ park on Buckingham Street. This is line with the requirements of the Wolverton Neighbourhood Plan.
The root and crown protection areas around the high-quality trees in St George’s Churchyard adjacent to (and overhanging) the site, which contribute to the green backdrop, will be fully protected.
75 new trees will be planted across the site as a result of the development, including 18 edible fruit trees within residents’ gardens. These new trees will be chosen to provide ecological value and seasonal interest, and help to ensure a significant improvement over the current low-quality trees on site as a result of the proposed development.
60 trees will be removed as a result of the development, 57% of which are either ‘low value’ or ‘unsuitable’ for retention, as classified by an independent arboricultural (tree) surveyor.
Please read our tree surveyor’s report for further details.
Will there be public access to green spaces within the development?
Yes. A new publicly accessible ‘pocket’ park, just off Buckingham Street and The Square will be provided. This will incorporate the three existing plane trees south east of the Agora Centre, with new planting and benches to provide a tranquil spot for relaxation and repose.
Green courtyards within residential blocks will not be publicly accessible, as they are gardens for the shared of use residents, but boundary treatments (i.e. walls and fences) will be designed to offer views of greenery within.
Streets will also have a green feel, with planting strips at the front of houses, new street trees and other planting.
Isn’t the amount of green space you’re providing insufficient for the amount of housing?
The dense urban location in Wolverton town centre, coupled with the vision of a neighbourly community, precludes long private gardens. Instead, outside garden space for residents is provided in a variety of ways from shorter private gardens and access to shared communal gardens, to balconies and roof terraces meaning that dwellings often benefit from more than one type of outside space.
Could you amend the development to ensure that the trees on Buckingham Street are retained?
While one of the groups of plane trees on Buckingham Street will be retained and incorporated into a new pocket park, it is regrettable that the other group will be removed. The geometry of the western end of the site, the need to achieve a sufficient level of development for viability, and the requirement to ensure good urban design in line with the Agora Development Brief SPD, means that development blocks need to front onto the Square and the building line needs to continue along Buckingham Street, making it impossible to retain these trees without increases in height and massing elsewhere.
Transport and parking
How do you expect people living in the proposed development to get around?
Wolverton is a compact, walkable place with great local amenities and excellent public transport choices. Residents will have the benefit of many shops and services within easy walking distance, a frequent bus service on their doorstep, and regular trains to Milton Keynes Central, London and Birmingham from Wolverton station a 700-metre / 10-minute walk away. The Redway bike path network can picked up a short distance from the site.
We plan to improve the range of sustainable transport choices available to all Wolverton residents by accommodating NextBike and Brompton Bike hubs on-site and providing an electric car club with, initially, two vehicles. We’ll also be upgrading the Church Street bus stop with a new shelter and real-time passenger information, adding new retail spaces to strengthen and diversify the ‘high street’ offering, and providing all rented homes with free superfast broadband access and plenty of cycle parking. We’ll also be working with incoming residents to offer a travel planning service so that they understand the choices available to them.
All of this means that it will be easier and more attractive for residents to be less reliant on their cars than is often the case in remoter, less well-located ‘estates’, and for some households to do without a private car entirely. The need to travel is reduced by the quality and range of local services, good alternatives to the car exist for many everyday journeys, and when a car is really the only option – for a trip to hospital, to pick up bulky goods or to get out into the country – a car club is on the doorstep. But most households within the development will also have a private parking space.
How much car parking are you proposing for the new development?
We propose 88 spaces on-site for lease by residents, and 16 new public parking spaces plus 2 car club spaces will be created on-street on the south side of Church Street and the north side of Buckingham Street where restrictions currently apply (so 106 spaces in total).
A bloc of 15 residents’ spaces is earmarked for the 29 dwellings of Still Green Cohousing. Cohousing communities typically aim to lower their car ownership and usage as part of their commitment to sustainability. Still Green is no different and are confident there is sufficient provision for their needs.
Of the remaining 73 spaces, 54 are earmarked to ensure at least one space is available for every dwelling with more than one double bedroom, 8 are dedicated for electric vehicle charging, and 11 are ‘pool’ spaces to be allocated among the remaining 32 smaller dwellings on a first-come, first-served basis.
Why aren’t you complying with Milton Keynes Council’s parking standards?
Milton Keynes Council’s adopted planning policies allow lower levels of parking than usual standards where there are “mitigating circumstances” such as “development proposals that are located in a high-density area or within close proximity of a public transport node such as a rail/bus station”. Policy also encourages the promotion of “realistic alternatives” to the car, which we’re proposing to invest in through a revamped bus stop, on-site car club and two bike-hire facilities.
Based on these policies, the characteristics of the location, the provisions of the proposed development and relevant evidence on car ownership and use (see below), we’re confident the proposed level of parking is appropriate.
Isn’t the proposed level of residential parking provision inadequate?
No: we’re proposing a level of parking that’s appropriate to the location, the proposed housing tenures, the availability of alternatives and the wider opportunities and constraints of the development.
At the 2011 Census (Table KS404EW), average car and van ownership in Wolverton was 1.09 vehicles per household. 25% of households had no car, and 46% had one. This means the proposed development would meet the parking requirements over 70% of Wolverton households at the time of the Census.
Vehicle ownership is generally much lower in rented housing, whether market or affordable rent (Census 2011; Table LC4416EW).
- There were over 1,200 households privately renting in Wolverton: 33% of these households had no car or van and 49% had one (82% in total).
- There were around 1,500 household renting affordable housing in Wolverton: 50% of these households had no car or van and 41% had one (91%).
Across all rental tenures, there were over 2,700 households in Wolverton in which 42% had no car or van and 44% had one.
This means the proposed development would meet the parking requirements of 86% of renting households in Wolverton at the time of the Census, demonstrating a good fit between the needs of the market and the provisions of the development.
Don’t your figures rely on out-of-date and unreliable Census data?
It is true that data from the 2011 Census is now quite old, but owing to its very broad statistical base it remains a reliable source data. Recent Department for Transport guidance on data sources and surveys makes clear that Census data may be used for assessment purposes, and is the only given source of data for vehicle ownership that offers robust and comparable results for small areas.
As comparisons with 2001 Census data often show, it is unusual for there to be radical changes in like-for-like datasets between censuses. It’s likely that the 2021 Census will show (for example) some growth in average car ownership levels compared with 2011, and perhaps some reduction in the rate of households without vehicles – but not to such an extent as to negate the conclusions drawn on the basis of the 2011 Census about the appropriateness of our transport strategy.
Won’t you struggle to let properties if there isn’t enough car parking? Aren’t you excluding people who have to have several vehicles?
No development suits everyone. The vast majority of new ‘estate’ housing is difficult to live in without a car, and households with two or more cars are very well catered for by existing and new developments across the city.
We’re confident that our development will have broad appeal among people who are happy to accept a lower level of vehicle ownership for the benefits of living in a modern, environmentally sustainable development with generously-sized homes that are cheap to run, located in the heart of a well-connected, beautiful and bustling town.
As shown in the data above, it’s already common for residents in rented dwellings not to own a car, and only a small minority tend to own more than one. Of course, if households need to own multiple vehicles then this development may not suit them – but they have many other living options across Milton Keynes.
What about people allocated to affordable homes who don’t have a choice about where to live?
Milton Keynes Council operates a choice-based lettings policy for affordable housing. Allocations are a matter for the Council, but it is unlikely that a tenant who requires car parking will choose, or be obliged to choose, a dwelling where none is provided.
As with market rent properties, households occupying affordable homes with two or more double bedrooms will have a parking space if they want one.
Won’t the lack of residents’ car parking, or the proposed monthly charge for car parking spaces, just mean parking spilling onto surrounding streets?
No. It’s established practice for leases and tenancy agreements for new developments to stipulate that storing vehicles on public land, such as neighbouring streets, is prohibited, and for Section 106 legal agreements made at the time of planning permission to obligate the landlord to take action in the event of a breach of covenant or tenancy – which, if not remedied, can lead to eviction. We expect, and have invited, Milton Keynes Council to impose such an obligation on this development as a condition of planning permission.
Unlike most new developments, this scheme will be actively managed, including allocating and enforcing on-site parking restrictions and ensuring tenant’s obligations aren’t breached. It will be straightforward for members of the public to report suspected breaches.
But it’s not in anyone’s interests for this problem to arise in practice, so the parking policy of the scheme will be made prominently clear to all prospective leaseholders and tenants as soon as they express interest. As explained above, it is quite common for tenants of rented homes not to own a car.
Although not necessary, we’ve explored, and offered the Council support with, introducing a parking control/permit system on neighbouring streets which are currently uncontrolled to give an added layer of reassurance against residential parking ‘overspill’. However, we appreciate that, like car ownership levels, views within the community differ on the introduction of permits.
What about disabled and visitor parking?
As advised by the Council, disabled parking is to be allocated following applications from new residents for disabled spaces.
Visitors will be permitted to park on the new section of Radcliffe Street and the Mews Street during the day when it is more likely that residents are away from home with their cars and so there is likely to be capacity within the site. Visitors will have to show a permit. In the evening, visitor parking will not be permitted but during this time, other town centre car parks are unlikely to be in demand as people will have gone home from work and shops will be closed.
Still Green will manage their own car parking requirements, including visitors, within their own parking allocation.
Why not provide underground car parking?
Underground car parking is very costly to construct and would render redevelopment of the whole site unviable.
Marmalade Lane is referenced as an example of low-car ownership by TOWN, how successful has that been?
Marmalade Lane was built with one car parking space per dwelling and one per four dwellings for visitors. Much of the parking area provided is not used, and a planning application has now been submitted to allow the redeployment of some of the parking area for landscape, reducing the level of parking by 19%.