The debate, organised by technology networks SPARC and Biztech, concluded that the city had stood still while the rest of the world had moved on. It risked losing its innovative businesses.

The discussion took place at the Open University, where an audience of business, academic and public sector delegates heard a panel answer questions about the city’s aspirations.

Joining chairman Fredi Nonyelu were Peter Muir, chair of the Milton Keynes Economy and Learning Partnership; Dr Leslie Budd, of the Open University Businesss School; Cranfield University deputy vice chancellor Professor Clifford Friend; Brian White, vice chair of the Federation of Small Businesses North Bucks branch; Gerry Hardcastle, director of customer oriented engineering at Nissan Technology Centre Europe; Oxford2-Cambridge Arc executive director Dr Nicholas Miles.

A 21st-century strategy was vital if Milton Keynes were to harness its enormous potential, the forum heard. Dr Miles warned that the city would “wither away” if it could not retain its image as an innovative city, while Mr Muir said: “We have a challenge to release ourselves and our energies in the private sector but we need the public sector behind that.”

Professor Friend added that a knowledge-based economy was key but it needed a commitment to skills development and to research in knowledge-intensive industries. However, the forum’s consensus was that, having been ahead in many areas, the city had “plateaued”. It had to act to retain innovative businesses.

Mr Hardcastle said that he never mentioned Milton Keynes when discussing the location at Cranfield of Nissan’s Technology Centre Europe. “Nobody has considered Nissan is in Milton Keynes,” he added.

Discussing whether plans for a university in Milton Keynes were ambitious enough, several felt it vital to the city and praised the Open University for taking the lead. Others supported Brain White in that it was a case of “the emperor’s new clothes”. Professor Friend agreed that the present university model was past its shelf life.

Invest Milton Keynes director Grant Seeley said: “The future of Milton Keynes is about capturing the gems we have, pulling businesses together and discovering the facilities and support networks they need.”

Dr Budd warned that a fixation with high technology and world class may not deliver the objectives the city desired. Mr Muir said: “We need to build what will be a unique contemporary partnership in the UK between the public and private sectors otherwise business will go elsewhere. People are trying hard but it’s a much bigger issue and we’re not doing it.”

Pictured: Dr Nicholas Miles (left) and Gerry Hardcastle at the debate.

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