Magazine article Management Today

Milton Keynes Comes of Age

Magazine article Management Today

Milton Keynes Comes of Age

Article excerpt

On April Fool's Day we shall all wake up to find no more New Towns left in England. At midnight on 31 March. Milton Keynes becomes the 21st and last post-war urban dream to lose its development corporation and turn into a borough town like any other. It's the kind of thing that in Milton Keynes gets talked about in wine bars. 'Anybody who isn't worried about it', says corporation executive, 'isn't worried about anything. 'and he isn't even one of the staff who will be out of a job.

Since it was set up in 1967, the corporation has steadily followed the basis plan for Britain's flagship designer greenfield site, encompassing three small Bucking-hamshire towns and 13 villages just beside the MI. Using reason beyond the power of mere financial inducements, it has brought more than 3 billion pounds sterling of investment, mostly from 2,500 private companies, some 250 from overseas. It helped to create what was then Europe's largest covered shopping mall, attracted Europe's biggest japanese boarding school, devised Britain's first energy park and raised Christendom's first purpose-build ecumenical church, to be opened by the Queen on 13 March.

But at the witching hour there will be some 2,500 acres still undeveloped. And amng the corporation, the business community and local politicians, there have been regrets that the handover to the Department of the Environment's Commission for the New Towns (CNT) -- whose function it is to complete the development programme and sell off what is left-comes much too early.

Since the decision was made by the Government five years ago, the corporation, with a staff of around 500, has worked towards its own demise, shedding property and responsibilities at an increasing rate. A year ago 11 of their service were privatised, including property management, planning, engineering and legal services. In December a property agent picked up one of the business's largest portfolios.

The changes have not gone unfelt. Two years ago, when Parcelforce moved there from London, the relocation service was a major element in helping the Post Office choose the town from among 100 looked at. "No matter what my problem was or what I was trying to get', says the company's facilities manager, Danny Eastman, 'the corporation would go through all the different kinds of housing available and take responsibility for solving the problem, even after we had got here. But recently a lot of staff and a lot of the people I dealt with haven't been there. The service seems to be turned over to agencies who don't have the full gamut of housing, and their rents seems to be 8-10 pounds sterling more a week. The housing is still there, but the responsibility for making it happen isn't. The system's winding down.'

Mac Makino, managing director of NYK, the Japanese transportation company which established its main UK office in Milton Keynes in August 1990, says he will miss the corporation's services. 'It's a big organisation,' he points out. 'The initial contract was made by their commercial department, but when it comes for instance, to planning permission, we need to talk to other departments of the same corporation, so we have been in constant contact with them. They can provide very useful information about any Japanese companies coming into Milton Keynes and so forth. They have been so helpful and very enthusiastic. That was one of the reasons why we came here. If they dissolve, I don't know who is going to take over these functions.'

With unique remit to flexible and maintain the levels of inward investment, as well as to realise the remaining assets for the Treasury, the CNT will keep a 125-strong office and there will be a separate promotional agency of up to 10 people.

In the matter of the changeover, the corporation and the CNT are naturally anxious that as little of the join as possible is seen (they like to use the word 'seamless'). A commitment is still there: overseas agencies will continue to go into bat on the New Towns' behalf. …

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