Six councils including Milton Keynes yesterday met on Wednesday (16 June 2021) with the Government to start talks on bringing a multi-billion pound growth investment package to the area.
A growth deal bid for Milton Keynes could bring huge investment to the town – for the new MK:U central university, and a new transport network – in return for taking thousands of new homes up to the year 2050.
Called the Central Area Growth Deal, it involves councils in the middle of the Oxford to Cambridge Arc. The Government sees the Arc as central to its economic growth strategy.
Councils in Cambridgeshire and Oxfordshire have already reached deals with the Government, and a central deal would fit in the last part of the Arc jigsaw.
Speaking at a meeting of the full Milton Keynes Council on Wednesday, leader Cllr Pete Marland (Lab, Wolverton) confirmed that he had an “excellent meeting” with five neighbouring councils, including Central Bedfordshire and two districts in Northamptonshire.
Conservative leader, Cllr Alex Walker (Stantonbury) fears that it could mean Milton Keynes accepting a population of 500,000 by 2050.
Population growth is a dividing line between the main parties and within the Conservative group itself.
In a vote in January on the council’s strategy for growth to 2050, the blue party voted three ways, with its leader and others voting for, six abstaining and four in opposition.
Newly elected Conservative councillors Scot Balazs, who sensationally won Newport Pagnell South from the Lib Dems in May, and Chris Wardle (Newport Pagnell North and Hanslope), both nailed their colours to the mast over housing development proposals.
Plans for thousands of homes in Milton Keynes East and at Tickford Fields Farm near Newport Pagnell were both big issues on the doorstep for the newbie councillors. Both pledged to hold council leaders to account.
Before the last election the council as a whole accepted a strategy for growth within the council’s own boundaries. The current population is about 284,000.
For Cllr Walker a 430,000 population figure marks a line in the sand and he urged Cllr Marland not to give in to pressure from anywhere, including from the Conservative Government, to accept growth to 500,000.
“Could you give your assurance to the council that no matter what happens, no matter what pressure is put on you by neighbouring authorities, your own political group or indeed by the Government, that you will not put 500,000 within our borders back on the table.”
Cllr Marland said 500,000 “within our borders” has “never been a proposition“.
“For the 27th time, 500,000 was always the figure around Greater Milton Keynes.
“The threat of inappropriate development comes from the Government’s aim of one million houses across the Arc, which all councils across the Arc are consistently in opposition to,” he added.
After the meeting Cllr Marland said: “We are at the very early stages of starting conversations.
“We will be making sure that councillors and the public know about it.“
And Cllr Marland added that he suspected that the Government may make an announcement in the autumn.