The #saveourtown campaign group has blasted Milton Keynes politicians for an “11th hour” objection to the retail element of major regeneration plans for Luton – even though their own shopping centre withdrew its concerns in October. 

Milton Keynes North MP Mark Lancaster

Milton Keynes North MP Mark Lancaster

Members of Parliament for the Buckinghamshire town, Mark Lancaster and Iain Stewart, have sent a joint letter to Luton Borough Council backing Milton Keynes Council’s objection to Newlands Park.

A planning decision for the mixed-use site off junction 10 of the M1 had been scheduled for Wednesday night (January 30) but, with January football matters in mind, applicants 2020 Developments – the property arm of Luton Town Football Club – opted to defer the decision.  

With Power Court already given the green light from Luton Council and the Secretary of State, a positive decision for Newlands Park is still needed because that will contribute financially to the development of a new football stadium and surrounding facilities. 

Both developments together would boost the local economy by £250million a year and provide 10,000 new jobs. 

Luton Town and 2020 CEO, Gary Sweet, last week told TalkSPORT that he hoped a new date for Newlands Park would be set for February. 

Meanwhile, details of the Milton Keynes MPs’ joint letter have emerged, which states they ‘wholeheartedly agree and support the objections made by Milton Keynes Council.’

Milton Keynes South MP Iain Stewart

Milton Keynes South MP Iain Stewart

The two issues registered by the local authority are that the ‘Newlands Park development has failed to take into account the latest available empirical data from the Milton Keynes Council Retail Capacity and Leisure Study (MKRCLS) produced in March 2018 and may be underestimating the impact of the proposal on shopping centres outside the Luton Borough Council (LBC) area, such as the city centre of Central Milton Keynes’.

The second objection states that if planning permission is granted, they want ‘LBC to impose a mechanism which links the delivery of the two planning application proposals (making sure Power Court is delivered).’

But #saveourtown has hit back, with deputy chairman Andy King, saying: “Clearly, it’s a strange concept for Milton Keynes to see a football club so loved, so well supported and so deeply connected to its own community, considering they tried and failed to steal ours in the 1980s and then eventually succeeded in destroying Wimbledon’s. Did Milton Keynes Council object to that act of sporting appropriation? Or how about the many other smaller retail parks dotted about their own town, that all compete with the centre:mk? 

“As for the Members of Parliament, there’s really nothing quite like having your finger on the pulse, and this is really nothing like having your finger on the pulse, considering these applications were submitted in August 2016. 

“Luton’s own MPs – Gavin Shuker and Kelvin Hopkins – have been supporters since then, so the mind boggles at why it has taken so long for Newlands Park to register with Mr Lancaster and Mr Stewart.  

“It’s outrageous and, at the same time, laughable that they clearly don’t pay attention to the owners of a huge retail operation in the centre of their own town because Intu Properties, the owners of the shopping centre in Milton Keynes, long ago withdrew their objections to the proposal.  

“You’d have to think that those at the heart of Milton Keynes retail would have a substantially better idea of the supposed threat to their retail and leisure offer, from the 35 per cent of Newlands Park that will actually be retail, than either Milton Keynes Council or these two MPs. After all, Intu’s profitable future depends on them knowing their own marketplace.

“Newlands Park will have so many other uses, but the retail aspect will be complementary to Luton’s existing shopping areas, so is hardly going to threaten the pulling power of the centre:mk. Someone less charitable might wonder what or who is motivating this 11th hour intervention?  

“The Members of Parliament are correct that they have ‘no jurisdiction in the planning process’ of Luton, but it seems they and their council also have little grasp on their own area because Milton Keynes is not, and never has been, a city. A lie repeated a thousand times does not become truth. We’d respectfully suggest they get themselves back to Westminster to sort out a real issue of a somewhat larger significance to the electorate of Milton Keynes and the nation as a whole. 

“We trust our council to do what’s right for Luton, and, in doing so, our town will provide jobs and opportunities to Lutonians but also people in the surrounding areas, including Milton Keynes. That’s the beauty of the Newlands Park and Power Court proposals – everyone wins.”