Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Comments of Milton Keynes Council on English Partnerships' Review


  Milton Keynes Council is pleased to have the opportunity to respond to this review. As the largest of the New Towns with the largest residue of new town land controlled by EP, we experience their ex-CNT role. As a borough with not only an ageing new town infrastructure but also some significant older urban areas in need of regeneration, we have an interest in their role in promoting urban renaissance and regeneration. Finally, as the fastest-growing town in the United Kingdom, we have a particular interest to ensure that the funding mechanisms managed by EP or their successors adequately address the costs of the growth that EP and its predecessors' activities bring. Moreover, with the MK and South Midlands planning review underway, there is the prospect of further growth in the future.


  2.1  MK's New Town role is the dominant element in its approach to the EP review, and generates some significant unmet, and growing needs. To address both sustainable new development, and urban regeneration in a sustainable way in MK, MKC supports transferring EP functions into a more locally accountable body. With or without elements of EP or any successor body, there should be significant Local Authority involvement. With significant local and regional accountability, and a brief wider than physical development, a joint development body would ensure governance that was both more holistic and more transparent to the citizen. Greater local sensitivity could ensure that a proportion of local undeveloped assets could be used to address inherited problems of under-funding, the needs of further growth and local regeneration needs.


  3.1  The review aims are:

    "To review the role of English Partnerships in delivering the Governments' policies; to consider the future ownership of CNT assets and liabilities, and recommend such changes as might be necessary in the light of the review. To consider English Partnerships' structure and processes to ensure effective and efficient delivery of its remit".

  The parts in bold refer to elements of particular importance to MK.

  3.2  Delivering the Governments' Policies

  Whilst MK Council generally supports the views presented jointly by the New Towns Special Interest Group, there are specific additional points relevant to MK. The continuing development of MK, and its ongoing review through the MK and South Midlands Study, are outstanding examples of how prosperous and sustainable communities can be developed. Past and present Regional Planning Guidance requires housing growth to be accommodated in and around MK. The current mechanisms for this, a core part of EP's role, leave significant deficits outlined below, some inherited some continuing. Extrapolated to the future, these mechanisms are unlikely as they stand to provide the coherence outside the New Town designated area, nor in the wider cross-regional context. An important measure of how "EP functions" help to deliver the Government's policies will be around the delivery of the sustainable future development of the sub-region around MK. This future development needs to be based on the integration of, inter alia:

    —  Development of sustainable urban and rural communities.

    —  Transparent and empowered local governance.

    —  Delivery of first class services.

    —  Ensuring Social Inclusion.

  Maintaining a separate agency, EP, responsible for part of only one of those, urban development, is unlikely to produce the requisite joining-up of government to deliver Government policies. A new local mechanism, more firmly linked to the fabric of local and regional governance, would provide the locally sensitive steer that will be needed to implement future plans for the MK sub-region.

  3.3  CNT assets and liabilities

  MK is the product of EP and its predecessor organisations, CNT and MKDC. Since then demise of MKDC the local authority has seen a progressive decline in the resource available to deliver local services in MK. This has been accelerated since MKC was established in 1997 as a Unitary Authority under Local Government Reorganisation. As a result of lags in the SSA process, MK is left with public funding allocations which do not reflect current liabilities. As a result of development decisions taken by MKDC, MK is left with an expensive infrastructure whose deficiencies and degeneration, accelerated by the pattern of development pursued, represents a significant and growing liability. Whilst MK may contain a significant proportion of CNT assets, in the form of 900 Hectares of prime, serviced development land, it also represents a very significant body of CNT liabilities. Present funding mechanisms do not enable EP's asset base in MK to be used to meet the inherited liabilities in MK as outlined in previous representations to Government. A review of EP's structure and processes is an opportunity to identify a way of better linking inherited assets and liabilities.

  3.4  Effective and efficient delivery

  Seen on a regional or national scale, the importance of MK rests on its potential as a sustainable and planned community with significant scope for further growth into the foreseeable future. the under-funding of local services is endemic, and affects Police, Fire, Health and other partner agencies as well as the local authority. The development of MK will not be shown to be in any sense sustainable if the inherited deficits are not addressed. If they can be, MK can be an exemplar for promoting sustainable urban development. This can include, inter alia:

    —  Introduction of higher densities on appropriate sites within the city's urban envelope.

    —  Re-working inherited development schemes on the West and East Flanks and outside the designated area.

    —  Promoting a sub-regional network of neighbouring towns and settlements as part of the inter-regional study.

    —  Transformation of the City Centre of Milton Keynes.

    —  Integration and regeneration of the older towns within the new settlement.

  The review of "EP functions" should allow for the promotion and pursuit of excellence and Best Practice in urban development, but also the integration of all the related elements of governance that go to make up sustainable and prosperous urban communities. The effective and efficient delivery of this must include a significant role for local democracy and accountability, unlikely to be provided through current organisational arrangements.


  4.1  MK broadly supports the general conclusions of the NTSIG local authorities

    —  Local authorities are best placed to regenerate former New Towns.

    —  English Partnerships, as a nationally directed organisation, is not sensitive enough to local needs and aspirations.

    —  Local authorities with substantial English Partnerships land holdings in their boundaries are discriminated against as they

    —  Cannot realise the value of the assets or borrow against their income streams to provide additional finance to regenerate the New Towns.

    —  Cannot generate benefits through Section 106 agreements to negotiate deals to benefit local communities or planning fee income.

    —  Lose control over the growth of large areas of the New Towns.

    —  Planning powers should be transferred from English Partnerships to the local authorities.

    —  Local authorities should inherit the titles to all English Partnership's interests without their claw back or covenant agreements. Land currently held with claw back arrangements in place should cease to be so;

    —  English Partnership has failed to engage local communities and suffers from a democratic deficit;

    —  The Government needs to take a longer-term view on the growth and sustainability of New Towns, many of which now require regeneration input;

    —  Population increases must be better reflected in the Government's statistics to ensure that the population lag is minimised. This will ensure that growing local authorites will not be discriminated against through SSA allocations.

Key Problems and recommendations identified by NTSIG
Issue to be resolved
Key recommended options

Sustainable development and regeneration To contribute to the sustainable development and regeneration of the New Towns;
Recycling of capital receipts from CNT land asset sales into local regeneration projects;
Ensure Government agencies work with local authorities in developing strategies;
Additional revenue streams are required to help finance development and regeneration.
Access to resourcesAccess for local authorities or LSPs to English Partnerships' assets;
Recycling of receipts back into the locality.
Democratic controlEnglish Partnership should be working in partnership with local authorities and local communities;
English Partnerships should have direct deocratic inputs;
English Partnerships should not operate outside the normal planning system;
English partnerships should not be operating in Wales.
Cost of growthRSG formula should be reviewed
ResearchProvision of a national research agency may be beneficial to local and regional structures
Local authorities should have the capacity and resources to buy-in specialist expertise or acquire the necessary skills in-house.
PlanningTransfer all planning powers held by English Partnerships to local authorites, firstly to streamline planning arrangements and secondly to ensure democratic accountability;
Permit local authorities to gain the benefits of planning fees and utilisation of Section 106 agreements.

  4.2  Given the scale of the development task still proceeding in MK, MKC recognises that it may still need a significant external partner, at least for a transitional period of time. This particularly applies in relation to implementation of any development recommendations that may flow from the MK and South Midlands Study. Any such partner, however, must be an integral part of the local structure of governance, and must be accountable locally. EP does not provide that accountability. A collaboration with SEERA could provide that accountability. It would also provide a regional basis, assuming joint working between RDAs and Regional Planning Bodies, for progressing the outcome of the Milton Keynes & South Midlands Study.

  4.3  MKC recognises that under current arrangements the Treasury benefits from disposal and realisation of CNT assets, and that these receipts indirectly fund redistributive programmes elsewhere in the UK. Currently these assets do not meet the continuing liabilities inherited from MKDC and borne by the local authority. Though the assets should under revised arrangements transfer to a locally accountable body, and should directly assist with these inherited liabilities, MKC recognises that a proportion may still need to be contributed to national programmes elsewhere, within or outside the region. MKC also notes that, provided the area's economic success continues, it is likely under current arrangements to continue to be a net contributor through the NNDR.

  4.4  To manage the scale of development envisaged within and around MK, at least up to 2011 and probably throughout the 20-30 year period of the Milton Keynes & South Midlands Study, MKC would support a local joint development body. This would be charged with implementing currently planned development and any future proposals set out in Regional Planning guidance, and with taking a holistic view to securing an overall sustainable community supported by adequate funding arrangements. EP's current brief is too property-oriented to deliver that approach. it would include representation from MKC, to ensure a continuing community involvement, almost entirely absent from current EP arrangements. It would include representation from the RDA, to ensure that the Government's regional agendas were properly addressed. The balance of membership could be drawn from other stakeholders, including business and the Local Strategic Partnership. It could draw on urban development expertise that might still be provided by a national body, a possible residual role for part of EP.


  5.1  There is broad agreement across Milton Keynes Council that present arrangements do not adequately reflect the needs of partnership-based local governance, sensitive to local needs and transparent for local citizens. Not do they meet the resource needs of creating and maintaining a maturing community, supporting the private and public investment made 30 years. EP in its present form, though much of what it does is to a high standard and well-resourced, does not meet local aspirations. Arguably neither does it meet central government aspirations for sustainable communities able to support excellent services and continuing economic success into the future. There is a very strong case for a locally-based organisation, involving a range of stakeholders and accountable to the locality, to manage the future development of Milton Keynes. This would replace or incorporate much of EP's current activity in the area. It could also offer a significant local role for the Regional Development Agency.

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Prepared 16 April 2002