The changing face of our city landscape

May 01, 2007

ISOBEL McCall is the current leader of Milton Keynes Council and, I’m certain, a woman of the very highest integrity who would never knowingly deceive.

An e-mail she recently sent to a member of Urban Eden, the movement to promote a sustainable extension of the original masterplan for Milton Keynes, (visit www.urbaneden.org) stated that: “A major component of the original masterplan for CMK was the inclusion of a formal tree planting structure: the most strategic element was the creation of tree lined boulevards. There is no intention to destroy this structure and as development takes place most of the boulevard trees remain.”

On the surface, so far so good then, but she continues: “However, there will be situations, for instance around the new Hub scheme and the new Sainsbury site, where the existing positions of the plane trees need to be adjusted.

“Where possible the existing trees will be replanted (can she seriously be suggesting they’ll replant 30- to 40-year-old mature plane trees?) however, in order to ensure the long-term survival of the trees it may be better to plant new semi-mature trees…

“The most significant change to the landscaping will be alongside the gates (these are the cross routes through CMK, between the church and Marks & Spencer for example). In this situation, as development comes forward the existing plane trees will be replaced with trees better suited to being close to buildings: for example, species that grow up rather than spread out. A fastigiate hornbeam is recommended, however the use of a plane tree with a ‘narrow habit’ is currently being investigated.”

Sounds OK on the surface, and of course, we know that Mrs McCall would never tell lies. However, she may just be mistaken. So let’s start to compare the words to the facts and look at the tally of wanton destruction so far.

Urban Eden is fortunate to number among its members town planners, architects and tree care specialists with years of experience who can read and accurately interpret plans, sections and elevations. And there are three official documents where the truth cannot be disguised.

They are: The CMK Development Framework; The Central Milton Keynes Framework and the CMK Handbook – all produced by English Partnerships and all officially adopted by the council even though the last one, alarmingly, was not subject to any public consultation of any kind and the cabinet decided not to publicise it at all.

In addition to the table above, there are areas on the boulevards where plane trees were always intended to be but they have not yet been planted. These are the ‘ghost trees’ that we will also be fighting for. Numbers for these are being calculated now.

One of Urban Eden’s members met recently with a very senior member of several influential committees who spoke ‘non-attributively’.

Our member showed that person our interpretation of the plans. That person was able to confirm that our fears and calculations are broadly correct and the only interpretation that person would use to mitigate it was that the destruction would not happen all at once. Some destruction had already occurred, some was currently under way, other destruction would take place over months, or possibly years.

But, as I’ve said, Cllr McCall is a woman of the highest integrity. So when she says: “…the most strategic element was the creation of tree lined boulevards. There is no intention to destroy this structure…” she cannot have been referring to the wanton destruction of the once wide-open boulevard at the junction of Avebury Boulevard and Witan Gate as compared with the junction of Midsummer Boulevard and Witan Gate (as seen in these photos) or the planned desecration of the boulevards around thecentre:MK.
In the case of the former, what was once a glorious invocation of the original master plan has been changed into a narrow, sunless, pinch-point hemmed in by buildings only their creators could, in Urban Eden’s opinion, describe as beautiful and where pedestrians are now forced to cross a busy dual carriageway because the council saw fit to fill in the underpass.

Cllr McCall’s final words on the subject were; “Hopefully, the above will demonstrate that rather than ‘raping CMK’ (can that be a reference to Urban Eden’s campaign?) its landscaping structure will be reinforced, enhanced and extended. The current campaign to “save the trees” is based on total, and in some cases deliberate, misinformation.”

Oh, Mrs McCall, how could you? Are 1,315 trees already lost and the imminent destruction of 3,248 not enough to convince her?

May I humbly suggest to Mrs. McCall that it’s not too late to reassess the facts we have marshalled and stand firmly behind her council’s number one (out of ten) stated aim, namely to: Improve the quality of the environment in which we live (source: Milton Keynes Council Plan 2006-2009, Council Priorities 2006/09, page 15).

Come on Isobel, join Urban Eden now. Love Milton Keynes, Love Urban Eden. Cheerio.

For more information, visit www.urbaneden.org
Theo Chalmers is managing director of Verve Public Relations. Tel: 01908 275271 or visit www.vervepr.co.uk

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