Developer TOWN has submitted a planning application for the long-awaited £28 million redevelopment of the Agora Centre, Wolverton, Milton Keynes. This is a major milestone for the Love Wolverton project, a development of 115 new homes, shops and community space laid out around new and reinstated streets in the historic railway town.
TOWN has brought together several leading design practices, including URBED (currently writing the National Model Design Code), Mikhail Riches Architects (winners of the 2019 RIBA Stirling Prize) and Mole Architects (designers of the multi-award-winning Marmalade Lane Cohousing development in Cambridge).
At a time when resilience in the face of global climate and health crises has never been more important, the Love Wolverton development offers a 21st Century blueprint for town-centre living:
- Generously-sized homes at high-density but low-rise, with lots of natural light, good insulation and private outside space.
- A series of car-free streets and shared courtyard gardens provide a safe environment for children’s play and neighbourly living.
- A place that enables more sustainable ways of living, with exceptional access to local facilities, a wide mix of transport choices, and on-site renewable energy production.
Responding to the vision of the Wolverton Neighbourhood Plan, and designed with the input of hundreds of local residents and stakeholders, the proposals will restore a long-lost street – Radcliffe Street – and bolster Wolverton’s independent high-street with new small shops.
86 homes for market and affordable private rent, ranging from one-bedroom apartments to four-bedroom terraced houses, are also proposed across five development blocks. The proposals also build on the success of Marmalade Lane by incorporating a new cohousing community for over-50s consisting of 29 apartments for market sale and social rent and shared facilities, co-designed with Still Green Cohousing.
The architecture celebrates Wolverton’s redbrick Victorian heritage and rich character, and the layout knits the site back into the town’s walkable street grid.
Other features include:
- a new, flexible, high-street community space to be locally owned and managed on behalf of the community;
- a new ‘pocket’ park created around retained plane trees, offering a place of quiet in the bustling town centre;
- a new sustainable mobility hub, with improved bus-stopping facilities, better cycle links towards Wolverton railway station, and on-site bike hire and electric car club facilities available to all local residents, alongside permit-controlled car parking; and
- a renewable energy ‘microgrid’ to reduce on-site carbon emissions, generate clean energy and provide a return to the community – supporting an overall reduction in operational carbon emissions of 70% compared to the building regulations.
The planning application has been prepared over the last two years in consultation with Milton Keynes Council, key stakeholders and residents of Wolverton. Activities included a ‘Public Review’ attended by over 300 people, Minecraft-based design workshops with local school students, and an arts-led programme to say goodbye to the soon-to-be-demolished Agora Centre. Councillor Robert Middleton, Wolverton ward councillor on Milton Keynes Council and chair of the Agora Regeneration Working Group, said:
“I’m delighted that after nearly two years of hard work by the developer, community representatives and Milton Keynes Council, this milestone has finally been reached. There’s still much more work to do, but I’m confident this redevelopment can deliver for everyone in Wolverton whether small businesses, residents, faith groups or shoppers from outside the area. Our town centre is so very important; thankfully this close to £30million investment promises a very bright future for our cherished and historic town.”
The scheme design comprises six development blocks ranging between two and four-storeys and laid out in a grid of streets designed on Dutch low-traffic ‘home-zone’ principles to be green, sociable and play-friendly. David Rudlin, Director of urban designers and landscape architects URBED, said:
“Recent months have shown more powerfully than ever the value of pleasant, safe streets in neighbourhoods where people’s everyday needs are met locally. There is national interest at the moment in how we design places to be dense but not tall, to achieve an inclusive social mix, to prioritise play and nature over cars, and to address the future of the high street creatively. This scheme has the potential to be an exemplar for others.”
The plans respond to Milton Keynes Council’s declaration of a climate emergency by targeting a 70% reduction in carbon emissions against standard Building Regulations. Meredith Bowles, Director of Mole Architects, said:
“We’re entering a period when there will rightly be ever closer attention paid to the carbon emission generated by new buildings. Milton Keynes has robust policies on sustainable development and our design aims to meet and, in some areas, exceed them. Homes will be cheap to run and, given the location, transport choices and local amenities, it should be attractive for people to live with a small carbon footprint here.”
The design aims for a modern expression of Wolverton’s robust Victorian architecture – a key issue for local people during consultation. David Mikhail, Director of Mikhail Riches Architects, said:
“We’ve tried to capture the Victorian spirit of original Wolverton: pioneering rather than backward-looking, while learning from the best of what has gone before. The needs of towns like Wolverton today are different from 150 years ago – the focus now has to be on how we help people live fulfilling lives within environmental limits – but there will always be a need for good homes in liveable neighbourhoods, which is what this scheme offers.”
The incorporation of Still Green’s over-50s’ cohousing community into the scheme will play a key role in bringing long-term residents to Wolverton town centre. Margaret Newens of Still Green Cohousing CIC said:
“Cohousing is about having a private home in a self-supporting community of neighbours, which is increasingly important as people grow older and are at greater risk of loneliness and isolation. Our development will have lovely big apartments, shared facilities for socialising and a peaceful, wildlife-friendly courtyard garden that green-fingered residents will look after – right in the heart of town close to shops, services and transport, and with canal and Ouse Valley Park walks nearby. And people who get involved in the next few months will get input into the detailed design.”
With the project delayed by market uncertainty and then the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the move to a private-rented sector delivery model is expected to speed up building. TOWN Director Neil Murphy said:
“The last few months have shone a spotlight on how uncomfortable many homes are to spend a lot of time in and how much worse living conditions often are for renters. TOWN’s first rental development will pioneer a more community-oriented rent model: generous houses and apartments – 7% bigger on average than national space standards – with plenty of private and communal outside space, accessible to people on a wider range of incomes than if they were for sale. And, although the delay in reaching this point has been frustrating for everyone, the good news is that we’ll be able to build for rent much more quickly than for sale, meaning less disruption and faster realisation of the benefits of regeneration locally.”
The application is expected to be decided in Spring 2021. If granted, works to deliver the scheme will then commence in mid-2021 and take up to two years.