Despite being the butt of a thousand jokes, Milton Keynes is about to have its moment in the sun. It's been a long time coming. As it celebrates the 40th anniversary of its designation as a "New Town", the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh are joining in with the celebrations. On 29 November, they'll be opening a new football stadium, no less. But has it ever moved beyond the sniping about concrete cows? Can this boom town look to the future, rather than back over a chequered past?
Milton Keynes was a huge social experiment where existing villages, forward-thinking town-planning, uncompromising architecture and a need to generate thousands of new homes all collided next to the M1 in Buckinghamshire. With no obvious good solution to the current housing crisis, it would be nice to think that housing solutions from the previous generation worked out alright in the end.
The site was chosen because it is equidistant from London, Birmingham, Leicester, Oxford and Cambridge. There were hopes that it would become a self-sustaining regional centre in its own right.
But the results have been mixed. The Modernist approach of its grid system and Garden City districts appears far-sighted 40 years down the line. But what the English want and what they need from their housing has often rubbed against many architectural grand plans, causing Milton Keynes to be labelled soulless, suburban and boring by its detractors.
The older villages of Stony Stratford, Wolverton and Bradwell, which merge with the edges of the new town, still prove popular today. They offer the traditional high street, local pub, a few shops and the hotch-potch of period styles you'd expect to see anywhere else in the country, and this familiar set-up seems to command higher property prices than those within the centre of Milton Keynes.
Such architectural big guns as Lord Foster and Ralph Erskine have contributed to Milton Keynes's development over the years, resulting in some hidden gems amongst the sprawl, but parts of the new town have fallen into neglect, tarnishing the original vision of a bright, new environment. Areas near the centre, such as Conniburrow and Fishermead, haven't fared well and the prefabs in Netherfield, which were originally intended as temporary housing for the builders, have become very shabby.
There's hope that regeneration is not far away in these areas and it seems that England's largest new town is set to carry on growing. Brownfield sites such as Broughton are expanding as part of the Government's housing initiative, with eco-conscious homes keeping alive the innovative spirit of 40 years ago. Close to Fishermead is The Hub:MK, a central development that has high hopes for raising excitement levels in an area desperately in need of a boost. A cosmopolitan Central Piazza will blur the boundaries between work and play, and provide shops, restaurants and a business centre, as well as swish apartments for those wishing to live in the thick of it without breaking the bank.
Some of the original 1960s properties have held their appeal – the Oldbrook area being one – but it's the new-builds that are selling fast. Buyers are attracted by the shops opening on new estates and an improving nightlife, and the easy commutes to Birmingham and London (59 and 37 minutes respectively by train). With so many new developments around, there's something for everyone from the eco-homes of Oxley Park to the Prince of Wales-backed Upton One site where uPVC windows are banned and insulation is made from lambswool.
It's been 15 years since the Queen last visited Milton Keynes and she'll certainly notice a difference. Residents love Milton Keynes – its convenience, facilities, affordability and constant desire to improve means this town is mutating once again, dragging the old towards the new just as it did 40 years ago. Controversial it still is, boring and predictable it isn't.
What you can buy
Price from: £169,950
The Hub:MK is a dynamic development of offices, hotels, shops, cafés, bars, restaurants and apartments right in the heart of Milton Keynes. One- and two-bedroom pads are on current release injecting style and affordability within striking distance of the station.
Crest Nicholson (0870 084 3482; www.thehubcmk.co.uk)
Price from: £196,400 to £550,500
These futuristic, innovative and eco-friendly houses are currently being built in tranquil parkland by Paul Newman Homes. From one-bedroom flats to six-bedroom houses, the glass and cedar-wood elevations, along with fully fitted kitchens, offer great style and value, as well as easy links to the nearby M1.
Paul Newman Homes (01908 696 984; www.paulnewmannewhomes.co.uk)
This detached Victorian house is steeped in character and history. There are five bedrooms, three receptions and a family kitchen, as well as good sized gardens. Bradwell is a pretty village less than two miles from central Milton Keynes, making it the perfect bolthole.
O'Riordan Bond (01908 325 707; www.oriordanbond.co.uk)
This 17th-century listed house is a few miles outside Stony Stratford to the west of Milton Keynes. Vaulted ceilings, stone floors and working shutters feature in the five bedrooms, three receptions and two bathrooms, while outside there's half an acre with extra living space in a detached annexe.
Knight Frank (01865 790 077; www.knightfrank.co.uk)Reuse content