Milton Keynes was designated as a New Town in 1967. In the 1974 Local Government re-organisation Wolverton became part of the new Borough of Milton Keynes. As the new town grew around it, Wolverton’s fortunes declined, and by the early 1970s radical change was seen as the only way in revitalise the town.
As part of Milton Keynes Development Corporation’s (MKDC) commitment to supporting the older towns, a controversial regeneration project – the Agora Shopping Centre – was developed using New Towns Act powers.
The development of the Agora involved the demolition of terraced housing and commercial/retail property in the heart of the town centre, an action which very much reflected the lack of regard given to heritage and conservation in the 1970s.
MKDC were also responsible for the development of Glyn Square, built on land which had been vacant for some time following the demolition of “the little streets” that once faced Creed Street.
Both of these developments were designed to improve the shopping and leisure facilities offered within the town centre, and initially provided a superficial boost to Wolverton’s fortunes. However, the Agora in particular quickly started to create more problems for Wolverton than it seemed to solve.
The Agora opened in 1979 and, less than ten years later, concerns were being expressed as extracts from the 1988 “Plan for Wolverton” show:
“Despite the effectiveness of the 1975 Plan policies in maintaining the shopping area in quantitative terms, there has been a gradual deterioration in the attractiveness of Wolverton as a shopping centre. This problem has two aspects, the poor appearance of the physical environment and the poor range and types of shops within the Agora centre.”
KEEP AT TOP
Agora sold into private ownership
Over time the company changed owners and ultimately the leisure activities ceased. The successful weekly indoor market was replaced with primarily low value, discount goods.
Funding for Town Centre improvements acquired
The majority of this funding was used to improve the public realm around the Agora and make better connections between The Square and Church Street. The Square was also remodelled with a new paving and lighting, a performance area, seating and improvements to the war memorial.
Whilst these improvements were welcomed by the local community, they did little to address the fundamental issues of the scale and design of the Agora building. A continued lack of investment in the fabric of the building and a retail strategy based mainly on the sale of discount goods continued the decline of the Agora.
Owners of the Agora go into administration
and imprisoned for up to seven years for mortgage fraud.
The building was run by administrators until it was purchased by the current owners Leyland Holding Company Limited in July 2011 for £1,000,0002
New owners put the Agora up for sale
Supported by a firm of charted surveyors, a marketing exercise took place but lack of direction from the owners and the sad death of a key person representing Leyland Holding Company Limited resulted in the agent being de-instructed at the beginning of June 2014.
Between June and September 2014 little was known about the position of the owners, and the local management of the centre appeared to be increasingly rudderless. However, there continued to be some limited developer interest in the site, but with a “wait and see” approach apparently being adopted rather than a proactive attempt to purchase the site.
Brickhill Estates reaches agreement to purchase the Agora
Planning Application timeline
KEEP AT TOP
MAY 2018 - 2nd meeting of Agora Redevelopment Parking and Transport Working Group
The second meeting of the Agora Redevelopment Parking and Transport Working Group took place on 14th May 2018.
Feedback on the actions of the last meeting were given:
- Milton Keynes Council had assessed the potential of neighbouring sites to the Agora Car Park to accommodate increased car parking, and the options were discussed.
- Tesco have the right to restrict their car park to use by shoppers at the store.
- There is no requirement in the Lidl planning application for them to provide town centre parking, but they have indicated their willingness to consider various options to support the wider town centre.
Regarding public transport requirements, TOWN reported that their engineers had considered bus stopping and standing arrangements, additional on-street parking and public realm improvements, and come up with some initial ideas. These ideas were discussed and various observations made.
A number of actions were agreed:
- Kings Church Community Centre to clarify parking requirements associated with the centre
- Wolverton Business Association to discuss parking requirements of staff at businesses in the town.
- TOWN to discuss improved bus facilities with officers at MK Council
FEBRUARY 2018 - 1st meeting of Agora Redevelopment Parking and Transport Working Group
The first meeting of the Agora Redevelopment Parking and Transport Working Group took place on the 5th February. The meeting was Chaired by Cllr Rob Middleton (a Wolverton Ward Member) and attended by representatives from the Town Council, Wolverton Business Association, Wolverton Mosque, Churches Together in Wolverton and Future Wolverton.
The meeting considered the complex issues surrounding parking and transport in Wolverton Town Centre, and the likely impact of the redevelopment of the Agora and associated car park. Views of the different stakeholders were gathered and discussed.
The agreed outcomes of the meeting included:
- Producing an ownership plan for the land in the Town Centre in order to explore other potential locations for town centre parking
- Clarifying public transport requirements
- Checking the agreed parking conditions for the Tesco Car Park
- Checking the planning permission for Lidl to see if there was any allowance made for general Town centre parking
DECEMBER 2017 - MK Council agrees in principle transfer of Agora car park
Milton Keynes Council agreed to transfer the Agora car park to developers Town on the 19th December 2017 subject to a number of stringent conditions:
- that Town obtain planning permission for the site with a scheme which meets local planning policy, including the Wolverton Neighbourhood Plan and Agora Development Brief – this includes ensuring access to the garages at the rear of Buckingham Street, and meeting parking standards required by MK Council
- that a working group is established to address concerns over parking provision in the Town Centre – this group will include representatives from the Town Council, Future Wolverton, local businesses, and local faith groups
- that Town engage in a comprehensive community consultation process to devise a regeneration scheme for the Agora site which meets community aspirations and is financially viable
We understand that the first meeting of the Parking Working Group is expected to take place in January, and wider community consultation on the overall scheme is likely to begin in the Spring of 2018.
Unlike the previous developer who put together a scheme for the Agora site, Town decided to secure an “in principle” commitment from MK Council for the transfer of the car park in advance of beginning the consultation process with local people.
This is because they wanted to get commitment from funders and others to the project, so they could guarantee it would definitely be delivered.
This would means that if planning permission is obtained by Town they should be able to proceed without delay, and Wolverton should not be in a position of another developer being unable to go ahead.
DECEMBER 2017 - Update
A possible new scheme for the redevelopment of the Agora and Wolverton Town Centre is being proposed by developer Town http://www.wearetown.co.uk/
Before Town begin the process of preparing a formal planning application, they need to agree the terms upon which Milton Keynes Council would transfer the Agora Car Park to them (the Agora Car Park forms part of the overall development site as set out in the Wolverton Neighbourhood Plan and Agora Development Brief).
A discussion about the terms of this land transfer is taking place on Tuesday 19th December at 5.30pm at the Civic Offices, Central Milton Keynes. This meeting is open to the public and will consider the commercial issues surrounding the transfer of the car park land.
Along with Milton Keynes Council and the Town Council, Future Wolverton have been consulted on the outline proposals. We are pleased that this proposed development takes into account most of the issues that were highlighted in the Wolverton Town Centre Neighbourhood Plan and Agora Development Brief.
However, this does not mean the plan is perfect and Future Wolverton will be engaging with Town to continue to make improvements to the proposal before it goes to the planning committee in the Autumn of 2018. Future Wolverton would be willing and keen to assist in any community consultations that Town will be holding on their planning application, as we have done for the Railway Works planning application, and previous scheme for the Agora site.
Any member of the public or local group can also engage in discussion with the developers whose contact details are on their web site http://www.wearetown.co.uk/contact/
The following statement was issued by developers Town on the 14th December:
TOWN has been working since the start of 2017 to bring forward a scheme for the long-awaited regeneration of the Agora centre, Wolverton.
This would be the culmination of an involvement with Wolverton and the Agora that began in 2012 when TOWN director Jonny Anstead was part of a team that helped prepare the Wolverton Neighbourhood Plan and the Agora Development Brief Supplementary Planning Document (SPD), which are the two guiding documents for the redevelopment of the site.
TOWN agreed terms with Leyland Holding Company, the Agora centre’s current owner, in the autumn of 2017, for the purchase of the building. It has also discussed terms with Milton Keynes Council (MKC) for the purchase of the associated car park, which would be included as part of a comprehensive redevelopment of the site. The car park is leased to the Agora owner for use by the Agora’s customers, and is also used informally. MKC is expected to take a delegated decision on its sale to TOWN on 19th December, which would allow plans to move forward.
As part of the process of setting a fair value for the car park, it has been necessary for TOWN to agree with Milton Keynes Council as landowner some parameters for the regeneration scheme we intend to pursue, based on an indicative masterplan. This plan has been the subject of preliminary consultation with MKC, Wolverton & Greenleys Town Council and Future Wolverton. However, it is not a resolved or detailed design, and isn’t close to being ready to submit for planning. Its purpose is to inform the terms of MKC’s disposal and provide a framework to inform the design process in due course.
TOWN’s approach is grounded in the principles set by the Neighbourhood Plan and SPD, which were widely consulted upon and have the support of many local stakeholders. Key aspects include:
- reinstatement of Radcliffe Street between Church Street and Buckingham Street as a lively new shopping street, and restoring the traditional street frontage on the south side of Church Street;
- seeking to provide a replacement small supermarket for the lost Co-op, a range of other small shops and a café/workspace;
- a mix of homes ranging from studio flats to four-bed family houses, including affordable homes, custom-build opportunities and potentially specialised accommodation for older people;
- new parking spaces including dedicated short-stay shoppers’ spaces and flexible on-street parking; and
- public realm improvements to create a better pedestrian environment around the site, improve bus stopping arrangement and potentially release additional car parking.
What happens next?
If the Council decides to sell its car park to facilitate the comprehensive regeneration of the Agora site, work on a planning application will begin in Spring 2018. There will be a full process public involvement, and TOWN will work with key stakeholders including Wolverton and Greenleys Town Council and Future Wolverton to make this engagement as broad as possible. We’ll aim to submit a planning application in autumn 2018, which – if approved – would allow work on site to commence in mid-2019.
We know from long involvement with the site how important the regeneration of the Agora is to Wolverton and how invested local people are in it being done well. Until the legal process of acquiring the site is completed and work on the scheme starts in earnest, it will be difficult for us to answer fully all the questions people may have about particular aspects of the intended scheme or how the transition from current to future uses will be managed and phased. However, during that period we will aim to be as open and transparent as we can be – by posting regular updates on this blog, and by keeping in regular contact with the community’s representatives on the Town Council and Future Wolverton.
A note on parking
One point we do want to address briefly here, because we’ve been asked about it a lot in recent days, is car parking and specifically concerns about the possible effects of the redevelopment of the Agora car park on Wolverton town centre.
We recognise that even though the Agora car park is technically restricted to uses of the Agora centre, this is not enforced and it has customarily been used as a general town centre car park. Whilst it is only lightly-used at most times, there are specific peaks during the week when it is used heavily.
We believe that reinstating street frontage along the length of Church Street – as used to be the case and as is discussed in the SPD – is important to successful regeneration, particularly to creating a more welcoming gateway to Wolverton town centre. This would mean redeveloping the car park.
The SPD states that adequate car parking must continue to be maintained, whether in the form of a dedicated car park or through provision of adequate car parking spaces to meet local need in other ways. It also requires a detailed survey of parking to be undertaken to inform any planning application. TOWN will fulfil these requirements before any planning application is submitted.
The indicative scheme discussed above shows a net increase in the overall number of parking spaces compared with the existing car park. Some of these would be for dedicated residential use, but many would be flexible spaces available for use for different purposes at different times of day – as is characteristic of streets across Wolverton.
MARCH 2017 - Latest Update
Another developer TOWN (http://www.wearetown.co.uk/) are now in discussions with the Agora owners regarding acquisition of the building and surrounding land.
TOWN made an unsuccessful bid to acquire the Agora site 18 months ago. They were re-approached by the Agora’s owner in August 2016 and entered into a dialogue about acquiring the site which is ongoing.
TOWN has engaged with Future Wolverton as the organisation responsible for writing and overseeing the Wolverton Neighbourhood Plan to adoption. TOWN will be visiting the site several times in March as part of this ongoing dialogue.
Future Wolverton remain committed to ensuring that Agora redevelopment meets the aspirations of the Neighbourhood Plan. We are also committed to ensuring that local people can play an active part in the planning process should TOWN’s interest progress to a planning application.
TOWN have stated to us that should they acquire the Agora, they are committed to making every effort to consult with local residents and businesses as to how the site should be regenerated. They are also hoping to engage with the Co-op as quickly as possible to secure its role in any new development.
JANUARY 2017 - Annoucement made that Co-op & Post Office will close in April 2017
We have been in contact with both organisations this week (week beginning 16th January 2017) and can give the following update.
The Co-op’s lease of its premises in the Agora expired in 2010. Since that time the Co-op has been under threat of being asked to leave the property by the company who own the Agora building, with the consequence that the Foodstore and Post Office (run on a franchise agreement by the Co-op) would close.
Concerns about the condition of the building, the working conditions of staff, and water damage to the stock further exacerbated the situation.
Some time ago Future Wolverton was involved, informally, in efforts to find an alternative location for the store in Wolverton. These efforts did not result in any viable site in Wolverton Town Centre.
The Co-op has told us that they have been unable to secure a new lease agreement from the owners of the Agora, which leaves them unable to continue operating the store in Wolverton. They have also said that should there be an opportunity to return to Wolverton in the future they would actively consider doing so.
The Post Office is run as a franchise operation by the Co-op. The Co-op gave notice to the Post Office that they wished to end the franchise arrangement over a year ago. Future Wolverton have been working with the Post Office since this time to try and identify a local business who might be interested in taking on the franchise. To-date this has been unsuccessful.
Regarding the overall redevelopment of the Agora, we do not know the current position of the developer who secured planning permission for the site last year (Brickhill Estates). We do know that another developer (TOWN) has shown interest in acquiring the site. It seems likely that whichever developer secures funding to buy the site first will be able to proceed using the existing planning permission (as this relates to the site and doesn’t belong to any one developer).
The Neighbourhood Plan policy for the Agora site specifically mentions the need to keep the Co-op and Post Office. Therefore any developer wishing to redevelop the site needs to actively engage with them, and provide a location for the Post Office (if there is a business willing to take on the franchise).
OCTOBER 2015 - Agora Planning Application receives approval
Future Wolverton are very disappointed that Milton Keynes Council approved the application, especially after a debate that showed that many councillors had concerns.
We have always said that while it will be very good to see the Agora replaced, this scheme is not the best that it could be.
It is further disappointing that for a second time in 2 months, Milton Keynes Council has approved an application which does not comply with a recently adopted Neighbourhood Plan.
SEPTEMBER 2015 - Update on Agora Planning Application
The deferment was agreed by Councillors because the viability appraisal for the development was not received until the 18th August 2015, too late to be given due consideration by Council Officers and for the Development Control Committee report to be updated accordingly.
The application is expected to be heard on Thursday 1st October at the Civic Offices, Central Milton Keynes. Public are welcome to attend.
AUGUST 2015 - Update on Agora Planning Application
Future Wolverton has considered the changes made by the applicant, and has submitted a further response to the planning application which can be viewed here.
Members of the public can continue to make comments on the application up until the application goes back to Development Control Committee on Thursday 3rd September 2015.
JULY 2015 - Update on Agora Planning Application
This means that no decision has been made yet to approve or reject the scheme put forward for the Agora site by Brickhill Estates.
The deferment of the decision took place because new information about the viability of the development was submitted to the planning authority after the committee report was published. The viability statement (VS) received from the applicant indicated that the scheme was not viable with the full section 106 contributions and level of Affordable housing as set out and proposed in the report. You can read a copy of the Update report submitted to Development Control Committee at the meeting on the 9th July here.
Section 106 contributions pay for infrastructure like school places, play facilities and health care.
The application is back on the Agenda for the Development Control Committee on Thursday 3rd September 2015.
JUNE 2015 - Future Wolverton response to the Agora Planning Application
The response sets out objections to a number of issues where the application does not meet the policies and aspirations in the Neighbourhood Plan that this community has worked so hard to develop.
To read Future Wolverton’s response to the application click here
Brickhill Estates have now made a response to Future Wolverton’s response, which can also be viewed here.
The Future Wolverton Board will be making additional comments on the Brickhill response which will be uploaded once they have been shared with the developer and submitted to Milton Keynes Council.
MAY 2015 - Issues raised at Public Meeting
Design of residential
Too much residential property – concern over the impact of a large number of new dwellings in the centre of town
Concern over lack of outside space for new residential properties
Not lifetime homes or wheelchair friendly
Where will residents hang their washing
Rubbish disposal for residents and businesses
Not sure about the design trying to look “old” when it’s new!
Tallest building should be 3 storeys
Concern that there is no old people’s housing
Like flats not houses
Density of dwellings too much
Don’t put all the social housing together
Needs to be a greater mix of housing
Concern that the 2 bed flat mix will attract a transient population which does not contribute to the community
Residents want a mix of 1 and 2 beds for young and old people
Would like to see some houses in the development as well as flats
Concern over access for deliveries for shops
There should be no more takeaways in the new retail
Retail rents need to be realistic for small traders
We want quality new retailers
We want more frequent, quality markets
Lack of sustainability in the design of the property – what about green roofs?
Sustainability not mentioned in the planning application
Should be a 20 mph speed limit for Radcliffe Street
Pavement width and street width too narrow
Needs to be street parking
The new Radcliffe street should be more pedestrian friendly
The split bus stop is a concern
Concern about retaining two way traffic on Church Street
Scheme favours car drivers over pedestrians
Access to garages at the back of Buckingham Street north side compromised by the scheme
Support two-way on new Radcliffe Street but concerns over rat running – will need to be pedestrian friendly and traffic calmed
Church Street must stay two-way
Concern over no pull-ins for buses on Church Street
What about Friday’s when all the parking in the Town is full because of the Mosque?
People working in the town should have parking permits
Not enough parking – but never will be!
Access to the new residents parking will require driving down Buckingham Street
Need to introduce a residents parking scheme across Wolverton
If residents have more than one car where do they park?
Concern that it is perceived that any solution to the Agora problem is good enough – there needs to be rigour in the decision making process – any new development needs to be better
Needs to be a balance of tall buildings – concern over the height of buildings towering over the Queen Vic
No context to the drawings to show how the new development will fit with the current buildings
Concern that it looks like a “mini MK” not Wolverton
Concern about impact on surrounding property in terms of noise
No proper provision for an outdoor market
The Square isolated with no retail on the new Radcliffe Street leading people to it
No child friendly spaces/play areas
Why is the levels difference not being used to create parking underneath?
Protection of heritage essential
Lack of public open space and community space – could the development fund the remodelling of The Square?
Like idea of the Business Hub in the Neighbourhood Plan
Like the idea of a mini indoor market
Mostly a good scheme but let’s try to make it better
Right balance of viability and meeting the plans
Good to finally see something happening
For the developer
• Are any of the buildings designed with the facility for green roofs?
• What is the spread of the social housing across the scheme?
• How many people will be living in the new development – i.e. maximum numbers?
• What is the social housing? i.e. shared ownership, rent etc?
• How much residential parking is there?
• Where is the age restricted housing in the scheme?
• How can multiple occupancy/buy to let be controlled?
• What is the specific commitment to sustainability?
• Why no one bed flats?
• Will there be any greenspace/gardens for flats?
• How much are the flats going to cost? What % are affordable?
• What EPC rating will the new flats be?
• How many of the flats proposed by the developer will be for older people?
• Why can’t this work with houses?
• Has any assessment been done about greater visitors numbers to the town and the impact this will have on parking required?
• Has a traffic impact study been done for the effect on Stacey Avenue and Gloucester Rd of opening up Radcliffe Street?
• Has the traffic flow on all the streets around the new development been modelled?
• What about the impact of new residents driving down Buckingham Street to get to access their parking?
• Where are the buses to stop?
• Why are the bus shelter facilities on Church Street being downgraded?
• Is the walkway from the Church to the Agora car park staying open?
• Who are the retailers coming into the scheme?
• What retailers could attract more footfall without a negative impact on local shops?
• Are there any conditions being put on any new retailers?
• Will all the new retail units be let?
• Why can’t there be shops on new Radcliffe Street?
• Will the retail parking allocation be a net increase or decrease?
• Could new Radcliffe Street be shut off for a market?
• Is the Co-op a partner? What will they do whilst the development happens?
• Are there too many shops?
• Why does the developer think that their retail space will be attractive when there are already empty units in Wolverton?
• What guarantees are there that the Post Office will stay in Wolverton?
• Who is funding the scheme?
• Who are Brickhill Estates – what is their trading history for the last 6 months?
• How has the Neighbourhood Plan fed into the Developers plans?
• Has the Agora site been secured by the developer yet?
• What type of trees will be planted?
• Is there bike storage?
• How is The Square changing?
• How does this design create a destination?
• How will the development be managed? Will there be one builder doing it all?
For Milton Keynes Council
• What contribution will the developer be required to make towards infrastructure – school places/health?
• Is there provision for public art?
• How do the numbers stack up in terms of planning new school places?
• Is there any planning gain?
• Has any consideration been given to health centre facilities?
• Why is the planning decision being made before the Neighbourhood Plan is adopted?
• If this particular planning application is rejected what happens?
• What will the council do about selling the car park to the developer?
• If this planning application is not accepted will the Council do a CPO on the Agora?
• Does MK Council support the redevelopment of the Agora at any cost?
• What happens to the existing yellow lines and parking restrictions on roads around the development site once its complete?
• Can new (electric) bus charging units be located outside of Wolverton town centre?
For Wolverton & Greenleys Town Council
• Are WGTC supporting the planning application?
• How will the Town Council take the things said tonight into account?
• Is there flexibility in the Neighbourhood Plan requirements?
MAY 2015 - Future Wolverton Public Meeting
A presentation by the developer about their scheme, was followed by Future Wolverton summarising the key principles within the Wolverton Town Centre Neighbourhood Plan and Agora Development Brief.
Members of the community then worked in groups to consider the key questions they had and the ideas, issues and good features of the proposed scheme.
Below is a summary of the issues raised, followed by a list of questions that have been put to the developer, Milton Keynes Council and the Town Council.
Brickhill Estates have responded to all the questions, and their answers can be viewed here
We understand that it is unlikely that Milton Keynes Council will formally respond to the questions before the planning application is determined, in case it would prejudice the outcome of the planning process. However, the Leader of the Council, Councillor Peter Marland, has responded to a question about the Council’s strategy on the Agora redevelopment (and potential use of Compulsory Purchase powers) and his response can be read here
We have yet to have a response from the Town Council.