Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by Milton Keynes Parks Trust (NT 31)


  The Milton Keynes Parks Trust was established as a direct result of the DoE memorandum produced in the late 80's which requested Development Corporations to consider alternative residuary bodies for the transfer of Community Related Assets, in addition to Local Councils. By April 1992 the Parks Trust became fully operational with approximately 4,000 acres of open space liabilities and an endowment of commercial property assets and cash valued at £22.5 million. The Trust has, in the 10 years of its establishment, received a number of accolades including the National Centre of Excellence Award 1997, awarded by the Forestry Authority of England, and together with the MK Council has been a finalist in the Britain in Bloom Award 2000. Sustainability in perpetuity remains the Trust's key objective.

  All residuary bodies received balancing packages of assets from Development Corporations to a greater or lesser extent, which were tailored so that the CRA transfer would be Council Tax (Community Charge) neutral. A body like the Parks Trust, that did not have competing priorities in other areas of need such as Education, Housing or Social Services, has been able to focus on environmental needs and its sustainability without further recourse to public funds. The assets it received were effectively hypothecated by its constitution and charitable status for the environmental cause, unconstrained by political priorities elsewhere.

  The MK Council, which was also generously endowed by the Development Corporation, appears to be facing crisis in Education, Social Services and Housing as a function of political naivity and lack of experience, resulting in poor economic and administrative judgement which in turn has created a climate which rejects local ownership and culpability. "It's all down to central government not understanding the problems and not equipping the Council with sufficient resources to cope."

  The environment, which used to be the jewel in the Milton Keynes crown, is the one area where wholesale savings (and use of Council endowments) have been made in efforts to cross fund expedient solutions to the other problems. The environment requires reinvestment but it does not receive it. The Council's area of responsibility in many places is crumbling to a degree where one would not dare take a visitor without first checking on the state of repair and maintenance. Confidence is draining, pride of stewardship lost and, in places, a feeling of "inner city" helplessness pervades. Confidence is a fickle commodity and , if lost, is particularly difficult to restore. Where perceived as unloved and unprotected the environment starts descending the slippery slope of an Inner City waiting to happen. Milton Keynes is a prime candidate.

  The City's business success does not impinge on the City's ability to address the problem. The planning of Milton Keynes always assumed a greater repatriation of the business rate than that which is achieved currently. Unless more revenues start returning the very ambience and confidence in this place will tumble and its effectiveness as a tax generator will falter.

  The City was planned as a regional centre. Its infrastructure reflects that role. Its tax collecting base, as a Unitary Authority, is insufficient to undertake that role and consequently the Council is doomed to be grasping at windfalls and waiting for decay to qualify it as a lame duck and a place of special need and funding, whether from government or from Europe. It is perverse that an economic success like this New Town cannot attend to its own housekeeping in the public realm properly and professionally. For context, 37 per cent of Local authorities replying to the Public Parks Assessment[7] reported their parks and open spaces to be in decline.

  In conclusion, 10 years on everybody, including even the Council itself, is thankful for the DoE Memorandum which spawned the Parks Trust. The Trust holds stewardship of over half the landscape inheritance of the New Town. This remains isolated from the political vicissitudes of Education, Social Services, Housing and all other competing priorities the Council is obliged to face. The Council remains, in common with many others both New Town and Old Town, ill equipped to deliver with pride and self-belief on the other half.

7   Public Parks Assessment; Heritage Lottery Fund, DTLR, English Heritage and Countryside Agency, July 2001. Back

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Prepared 16 April 2002