£35 million regeneration of a town centre site in Milton Keynes, providing new streets, energy-efficient homes, independent shops and an energy microgrid
The Love Wolverton scheme will regenerate an important town-centre site in Wolverton, a Victorian railway town now forming a diverse neighbourhood within the new town of Milton Keynes. Wolverton is a compact, walkable, tight-knit place formed mainly of red-brick terraces laid out on a grid of streets, with a traditional, highly independent mixed-use high street and market square.
The scheme will replace the Agora Centre, a failed shopping and leisure building built by the New Town Development Corporation in the late 1970s, which obliterated an important street, Radcliffe Street, severed the town centre’s two main areas of commercial activity and frontage, and in the eyes of many residents has blighted the town.
The project affords the opportunity to reinstate a second side to the high street, Church Street, address and enclose the Market Square, and open and frame views of important higher-order local buildings, including the Grade II* listed St George the Martyr church. The layout, density and typology of the proposed development captures the essence of the Victorian townscape, with 2-4 storey red-brick-faced buildings with extensive ground-floor active retail and community uses interspersed with many residential front doors.
Proximity to Wolverton train station, turn-up-and-go frequency buses adjacent to the site and the MK redway cycle network means car use can be limited, use for land for parking reduced and extensive landscaping provided, including car-free streets and shared courtyard gardens modelling on learning from TOWN’s earlier Marmalade Lane scheme in Cambridge.
The regeneration of the Agora site helps to strengthen the local resilience by designing new streets and spaces that are pre-adapted for climate change, bring people together, and deepen the mix of amenities that serve local people and make the high street attractive for the benefit of the town.
Love Wolverton will respectively infill the void created by the Agora Centre and its adjacent car park in Wolverton town centre with an exemplar 21st century development in line with the vision of the community.
The scheme will reinstate Radcliffe Street, restoring the historic connection between Church Street and the Square. A wider grid of streets, including two car-free ‘little streets’, connects with existing paths and knits the site back into the urban fabric of the town whilst providing a safe environment for children’s play and neighbourly living.
This grid defines six small blocks, labelled A to F, which between them comprise 115 homes, eight new shop units and a community space. Each block fronts and overlooks the streets around it. Ground floor retail uses occupy the most important corners, activating the streets and reinforcing the town’s existing retail loop; several have spill out space planned-in for outdoor dining and displays.
The residential mix ranges from one-bed flats to four-bed houses, with a mix of types and sizes in each block, making for many front doors to the street and a wide mix of households within each block. A central block, Block C, is a courtyard block of 29 one, two and three-bed apartments in a development for Still Green, an over-50s cohousing community based in Milton Keynes. The other blocks will be of rental tenure, including market rent and a local policy-compliant 31% affordable housing.
Every dwelling has a private balcony, terrace or patio and four blocks have shared semi-private courtyard gardens which will feature space for food-growing, nature-play and socialising – meaning residents effectively ‘pool’ their garden space for a larger and more convivial shared amenity.
The architecture respects and celebrates Victorian Wolverton, combining contemporary forms with locally resonant brick tones, proportions and porch and window details.
The impact of Love Wolverton will be felt both locally as a new piece of Wolverton’s urban fabric and from afar as an benchmark 21st century development. The scheme adopts a holistic view of sustainability through the efficient use of land, proper community engagement, promoting low-carbon transport and creating efficient buildings – all of which enable new and existing residents to live more sustainable lifestyles.
Love Wolverton has an overall operational target is to reduce CO2 emissions to 80% below current Building Regulations Part L. This is achieved through high fabric energy efficiency; efficient servicing through MVHR’s and air source heat pumps to generate and conserve energy and an on-site community-ran microgrid using photovoltaic panels and an on-site battery to manage power loads. Other contributions to sustainability include SuDS and a biodiversity net gain including swift boxes and bee bricks, new bike-hire schemes and an electric car club forming part of a mobility hub.
Love Wolverton prioritises people over cars, with deliberate design choices including a diversity of outdoor amenity spaces further supports inclusivity amongst residents and encourages active community uses with spaces for play, food growing, and neighbourly interaction. The reduction in car use is also key in promoting active transport and supports active lifestyles.
Inclusivity is at the heart of Love Wolverton, and this achieved through housing provision, community design and shared facilities. The scheme affords a variety of housing types and tenures appealing to a wide demographic, including a high proportion of affordable dwellings. Love Wolverton evolved through an extensive community design process which has positively influenced the masterplan and led to the inclusion of a youth-led community space on the High Street.
Eight commercial unit will create 70 FTE direct and supply chain jobs for local residents, and over 700 direct and indirect construction jobs.
The site has long been earmarked for redevelopment, with the Council and local community in Wolverton setting guidance and policy in the form of a site-specific SPD and the Wolverton neighbourhood plan, which have both informed the masterplan. Members of the TOWN team formed part of the original Princes Trust team who assisted the community in making their Neighbourhood Plan, and therefore have a long-held interest in the site.
The quality of the development will be protected through the full planning application, and subsequently approved drawings on any planning permission. The application is currently being determined, and is due at committee on 5th August although has received very positive comments from the Council’s urban design officer.
Further, Milton Keynes Council has recently decided to directly invest in the scheme to secure delivery with the delegated decision specifically referencing the design quality of the scheme and the importance of urban design principles and layout in their decision. As part of that decision, TOWN will be retained as development manager, providing continuity through delivery and ensuring design quality to completion.
Post-planning, the professional team will develop the design to a full RIBA Stage 4 pack which will form the basis of a tender for a main contractor in Spring 2022. Tendering on this basis limits the scope for post-contract design changes to dilute the scheme. The architecture team will then be split into either client monitoring roles or being novated to the contractor. This continuation of the team is another method for protecting design quality.
The project has undergone an extensive and multi-faceted consultation process with feedback positively influencing and improving the design of the scheme. The process also helped local residents and stakeholders understand the sensitivities and pressures of delivering a high-quality yet viable scheme within the town centre. It comprised:
- A workshop using wooden blocks to represent a viable development quantum with over 60 key stakeholders in the town centre with a report of the session was posted on the project website.
- A three-day Public Review in the town centre attended by over 300 people with nearly 200 written feedback forms. The proposals were available to review and the project team responded to queries.
- A meanwhile programme called Agora A-Go-Go to help engage the local community through public art and community events.
- A series of workshops with social enterprise Blockbuilders and around 90 students from two local primary schools using Minecraft to explore ideas for regenerating the Agora.
- A series of meetings with the Agora Regeneration Working Group to discuss the scheme’s design development whilst providing an opportunity to discuss any matters arising.
- A dedicated website (www.lovewolverton.co.uk) was created in order to provide updates on the scheme and any relevant events, and enabled people to get in contact with the project team.
- Continuous engagement with stakeholders to discuss how the town could benefit from the scheme, specifically community energy, community uses and long-term community stewardship.
- Engagement with Statutory Consultees including Historic England, Department of Culture, Media & Sport as well as Wolverton and Greenleys Town Council; and
- Formal pre-application meetings with Council officers and a presentation at MKC Development Review Forum to seek feedback on an emerging design approach.
The approach resulted in a deeper understanding of the challenges and widespread, public support.
Mikhail Riches Architects
Area: 1.3 hectares
Timescale: 3 years to design and plan
Construction: 2 years
Homes: 115 new dwellings
Retail: 8 new units
Employment: 70 full time equivalent
Energy / Climate: CO₂ emissions to 80% below current Building Regulations Part L
- Mix of one to four-bed apartments and houses for market and (31%) affordable rent, plus an over-50s cohousing community, and small-scale independent retail
- Dwellings at or above space standards, dual or triple-aspect
- Every dwelling has a private balcony, terrace or patio
- Compact courtyard blocks defining five new streets including two car-free ‘little streets’