Rural suburbia flying high: Andrew Brown overcomes his nerves to enjoy an aerial view of Britain's fastest-growing urban area

THE queasy part of a helicopter ride comes at once, when after the noisy preparation it squirms into the air and waits there for a few moments. You notice that your feet are hanging unnaturally 20ft from the ground with only a very clear window to rest on. As soon as the beast starts to move higher and faster, like an aeroplane, it is perfectly relaxing and flight seems as ordinary as a bus ride.

Thinking of Milton Keynes as a city is as difficult as staying frightened on a helicopter flight. For what stretches below you is countryside. It is rather suburban countryside, but it still looks less urban than most of Surrey or West Sussex. Perhaps the secret of Milton Keynes' success and attractiveness is that it is a suburb without an 'urb'. Though about 10,000 of its inhabitants commute to London every day, a slightly larger number commute into it from the surrounding countryside.

As they never tire of telling you, this is Britain's fastest growing urban area, and has been for the past 25 years. And, as it celebrates its silver jubilee, none of it looks urban at all.

On the maps in the development office you can see where a net of roads was laid across the countryside in 1967: but once netted, much of it was left in peace. There are still 2,000 acres (800 hectares) of farmland to be developed over the next 20 years. A further 50,000 people are to be accommodated there, if 35,000 jobs for them can be found.

The helicopter flies over the sights of the town: the three buildings huddling together in a vast car park comprise De Montfort University, formerly an offshoot of Leicester Polytechnic. A Japanese boarding school stands next to the Grand Union Canal: they came here in preference to Rome or Paris. There is even a new prison, at Woodhill. The outer wall is built of the same red brick as surrounds a modern Sainsbury or Tesco superstore, but that is the closest you come to 'heritage' in Milton Keynes.

This lack of 'heritage' is the nicest thing about the city. It does lack a certain grandeur, as would any town whose most famous work of art is a set of concrete cows. But a look round the rest of the South-east is enough to show that artificial is better, any day, than phoney.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager / Section Manager - Airport Security

£40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a critical role within the secur...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45-55k

£20000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The company is an established, ...

Recruitment Genius: E-Commerce Manager - Fashion Accessories

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Senior / Assistant Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Exciting new position available at an independ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn