The Parks Trust Concludes Two Year Consultation On Alternative Land Uses
The Parks Trust exists to look after the green spaces in Milton Keynes forever. That sounds very straightforward, so why would the Trust ever contemplate alternative uses for any of its land? David Foster, Chief Executive explains why the Trust’s Board has been contemplating what to some people is the unthinkable.
We’re passionate about Milton Keynes’ rich and varied parks and want to ensure that we can continue to manage them to a high standard forever. We also want to be able to keep investing in them so that they contain the facilities and features that people want.
If we’re to achieve our aspirations for the parks it’s really important that we continue to build The Parks Trust’s financial health and secure its long-term financial sustainability. As a self-financing charitable trust we’re entirely responsible, at no cost to local taxpayers, for raising the £5 million a year it costs to maintain our parks, woods, lakes and landscapes. We generate this income principally through our commercial property and financial investments and also from enterprises on our parkland. For example we rear sheep and cattle on our flood plain meadows, hire out boats and run windsurfing courses at Willen Lake, let ice cream franchises in the parks, charge for parking (at just four of our 52 car parks) and sell firewood and willow trees specially grown for cricket bats.
Like all charities we are governed by charitable objects and under charity law any money we raise can only be used in pursuit of these objects. They are to provide, maintain and equip parks and green spaces in Milton Keynes; to advance public education and to provide facilities for leisure and recreation.
Like many businesses, and people with endowment mortgages and pension funds, the financial crisis in 2008 hit the Trust hard and set back the good progress we had been making to get the Trust to a position where it had sufficient funds to be confident about being able to maintain the parks to a good standard forever. In those two years our investment fund lost around 30% of its value and it was important for the Trust to have a plan to rebuild our asset base. Without a strong asset base the Trust could find itself in a position of not being able to generate enough money to finance the maintenance of the parks and landscapes in the future.
Taking action to secure the future of MK’s parks
Our plan to rebuild the Trust’s assets so that we could safeguard the long term future of the parkland included: cutting costs where we could without reducing the quality of the parkland; exploring new ways to generate income from our land; borrowing to enhance and expand our commercial property portfolio; and reviewing all our land to explore if there were any areas that were not essential to the park network and might be considered for alternative use.
We reviewed all our land using the criteria in our carefully worked out policy on The Acquisition, Disposal and Development of Land. We identified a number of small areas where we were willing to contemplate some form of alternative use and in 2012 we submitted a list of 25 green estate sites for possible consideration to Milton Keynes Council who had issued a ‘call for sites’ as part of the preparatory work for the new local development plan. These sites amounted to less than 1% of our total land and were selected as they did not work particularly well as parkland and were of lower value as open space, for wildlife, or visually than the rest of our parkland.
How we consulted
At the same time as suggesting these sites to the Council we began a consultation process by writing to all those parish councils with sites in their parish and held meetings with numerous parish councils and residents groups to discuss the sites. In some areas the parish council and ward councillors asked us to withdraw sites and this we did in Woughton on the Green, Loughton and Peartree Bridge. In some areas such as Great Linford ideas were worked up with the Parish Council to show how any money generated from alternative use of the land might be spent on parkland in the parish.
What we have decided
Over the last two years we have been carefully considering the feedback from our meetings and various discussions. We have also been working on our long term financial strategy, and with the market recovery our finances are now looking much healthier than they were in 2008. As a result we have decided that we only wish to consider future options for six sites:
Landscape adjacent to the National Badminton Centre, Loughton Lodge
The site was brought forward in the process by Milton Keynes Council who worked with Badminton England last year to secure planning permission for residential development on our 7.41 acre site which will help fund the development of a new National Badminton Centre at the Bowl. The land in question is background landscape sandwiched between two busy roads and, although it is not unattractive, it is not an integral part of the park network or of significant wildlife interest.
A disused car park off the V11, adjacent to M1
This small car park between the M1 and V11 has been closed off and unused for many years due to anti-social behaviour. We understand that Western Power Distribution is likely to require this site to accommodate an electricity substation to provide power supply infrastructure for new homes and employment sites in Milton Keynes. In principle we would support this change of use provided it is well landscaped, the leisure route through the site is diverted and an alternative more convenient car park for this part of the park network is provided.
A redundant temporary football pitch at Kiln Farm
This site is surrounded by industrial units and is not in a residential area. It used to be a temporary football pitch for Milton Keynes Development Corporation’s sports and social club but hasn’t been used for this purpose for many years. The playing surface is very poor and there are no longer changing rooms attached to it.
Redundant leisure facilities adjacent to the Inn on the Lake Public House, Mount Farm
The freehold of the pub and associated sports and leisure facilities at Mount Farm were transferred to the Trust when it was set up in 1992 as part of a portfolio of income earning assets that would help pay for the maintenance of the green estate. The pub continues to generate rental income for the Trust but the sport and leisure facilities have not been used for many years and are not commercially viable. We intend to explore the idea of some institutional facility for this 4.94 acre site, perhaps a nursing home or a nursery, along with some improvements to the adjoining council-owned parkland and lake that could be made into a better asset for Bletchley.
The watersports and leisure area at Willen Lake South
Willen Lake is one of the most popular leisure destinations in MK and has over 1m visitors a year. Over the next couple of years we intend to develop and consult on a masterplan to show how we could upgrade the leisure facilities in the area around the café and watersports area to provide more and better toilets, food, drink and some new attractions.
The car park at Glebe Roundabout, south east corner of Campbell Park
This 1.23 site, currently used as a car park, has outline planning permission for a residential development as part of the wider development of the Campbell Park area. Any development here would need to be of high quality reflecting its importance as a gateway to Campbell Park. It would also need to complement the Milton Keynes Development Partnership proposals for their development sites either side of Overgate (which will include additional public open space and connections to Campbell Park).
What is happening to the other proposed sites and the next steps?
We have decided not to proceed with proposals for any of the other sites we initially identified for consideration. The next steps for five of the six sites (the first having already secured planning permission) will be to work up proposals and then undertake further consultation. The V11 car park is likely to be brought forward by Western Power Distribution in the next few months but the other four sites will take at least a year before any proposals are ready.
We would like to thank everyone who has taken the time and trouble to understand our position and to give us their thoughts and ideas over the past two years.
We are not currently considering speculative approaches about any of these sites. When we have considered whether alternative uses are feasible we will update details on our proposals here.
If you need any further information about this or any aspects of The Parks Trust’s land please contact Phil Bowsher, firstname.lastname@example.org.