“I am amazed!” writes i reader Mike Hyde, in response to yesterday’s art feature “Concrete Bungle”. “Having lived in Milton Keynes for 23 years I have yet to meet a citizen who is critical of our wonderful and successful city. We love our grid system, our shopping mall, our parks, lake system and open spaces boasting 20 million trees. A flawed urban experiment? I think not.”
Thank you, Mike, for giving me the excuse to finally write In Defence of Milton Keynes. Writing as an insider – I grew up 15 minutes away – MK has its faults. The pretensions and post-war brutalism lend themselves to the fantasies of JG Ballard or Huxley.
We need more Milton Keynes, though. Worryingly, David Cameron has quietly dropped his support for a new generation of “garden cities”, which the Government had presented as a solution to Britain’s rapidly worsening housing shortage.
Imagine: a new town with superb transport connections, little traffic congestion, entirely navigable by bicycle; lively nightlife, restaurants, theatre and entertainment; exhaustive shopping; cheap family housing; a young workforce, lots of jobs at new businesses - and global corporations relocating there. A safe town, with ample leisure activities for all age groups, major music gigs and abundant countryside.
Anyone who lives in or near Milton Keynes will recognise MK as just such a town. I was lucky. Milton Keynes was a great place to grow up - from a toddler wobbling round Willen Lake country park to being let off the leash as a teenager.
“The visual aspect from the grid roads will not do it any justice,” concedes my uncle Bruce, who rated it alongside Slough until he worked in MK. The most valid criticism of Milton Keynes, population 230,000, is the damage it has done to so many once-thriving towns within 45 minutes’ drive.
Yes it lacks the complex layers of our older cities - but then it is only 46 years young. If the British economy is to rebound with any force, towns like Milton Keynes will be critical.