MK @ the centre of everything...

Not quite Stephen Hawking’s ‘The Theory of Everything’ but a statement of fact about how Milton Keynes is now perceived by others. Fifty years on from the birth of Milton Keynes as a new town for the future, the platform is well set for the next stage of its evolution. So, what is evolution?

Ian Leather - Director at Bray Fox Smith
Ian Leather - Director at Bray Fox Smith

Evolution is change in the heritable characteristics of biological populations over successive generations. These characteristics are the expressions of genes that are passed on from parent to offspring during reproduction.

The question we must ask ourselves as advocates and promoters of Milton Keynes is do we continue to do more of the same, and always get the same results (Einstein’s definition of insanity) or do we evolve the founding forefathers vision and accept that the evolution of Milton Keynes must deliver placemaking which embraces the generation gap and engages with the new millennial population and workforce, whilst also delivering an enhanced place to work and live for all?

The growing shift to make office development a focal driver for improved urban space reflects modern expectations of how we live, work and spend our free time. The strict divisions between work and leisure are blurring. We work flexibly and, on the move, and there are dominant, influential social trends and preferences, notably collaboration, sharing and wellbeing.

The fortress-style monolithic corporate blocks of previous decades along with soulless business parks, invariably hemmed in and unconnected to their immediate environment, are out of step with present‑day ideals of working lifestyles.

How we want to work, where we want to work, and business‑cost pressures are all strongly influencing UK employers’ location decisions and office design. The most important are:

- Attracting and retaining talent – great offices in a stunning setting, with quality retail and leisure outlets, and easy access by foot, bicycle or public transport often tips the deal and tempts the best employees.

- Office spaces and business parks evolving as open, creative collaboration hubs, rather than conventional developments with limited spaces for networking.

- Pressures to use leased space more effectively and efficiently, with hot‑desking, flexible working and more freelance staff increasing office density, plus saving on space by taking advantage of nearby cafés or hotels for meetings.

- Growing importance placed on staff health, wellbeing and work–life balance.

- Blurred distinctions between work and leisure time.

- Satisfying the varied needs of an increasingly diverse workforce with a broad age span within one office setting – not just one office building.

- Office space and surroundings that help project a company’s brand personality and lifestyle values.

These trends are compelling developers to consider not only what comprises a good offer in internal office space and design, but also the quality and assets of the surrounding urban realm and overall offer which elevates a city centre office development, or a business park scheme to become a more attractive proposition.

The AW James scheme at 100 Avebury Boulevard is a great example of how a new office development is embracing the need to provide the office users with more than just office space; incorporating significant break out space and garden terracing to provide the tenants with more than the actual space they are renting out.

Aberdeen Standard, the Landlord of The Pinnacle which is only 10 years old but is a landmark office building in CMK, are also looking at how they evolve their offer to adapt to the changing needs of occupiers, by creating a Business Lounge for break out and touchdown informal meetings, with the provision of an independent high-quality coffee shop operator. This space will be operated by the Landlords and will simply be a function of the building and an extension to the occupiers’ own space.

It’s a similar story with M&G Investments who own Wavendon Business Park. The park which comprises 160,000 sq ft of office accommodation across 5 buildings was built bespoke for HP Enterprises over 10 years ago but as their business has changed and their presence on the park has reduced, the Landlord has had to provide amenities such as on-site cafeteria and a trim trail as well as introducing various Tenant events. This has resulted in the letting of the first floor at the re-branded Enigma building (formerly Keen House) to Unisys who have taken 20,000 sq ft.

This investment in building design and evolution will ultimately pay dividends in attracting key occupiers and improving the overall built environment across Milton Keynes.

With a total office stock of 7.9million sq ft Milton Keynes is one of the largest office markets in the South East and as we know sits at the heart of the UK Growth Corridor with ambitions to grow in population to 500,000 – larger than Edinburgh, Cardiff and Liverpool.

In commercial property value terms, Milton Keynes provides a discount to many key regional office markets, but it is the quality of the legacy built stock that is one of the factors acting as a handbrake on the growth prospects; that needs to evolve so that we can create a platform for the continued growth, inward investment and prosperity of the city.

Simply delivering new office buildings and schemes, or recycling and regenerating older stock that doesn’t address the needs of an evolving workforce and play a significant role in the placemaking agenda would be a recipe for disaster. Milton Keynes is going through a period of evolution, but there is still plenty to do to maintain the momentum and to deliver the planned growth.

It is great to see so many new projects coming out of the ground, providing new employment space, new housing and leisure space but we need to make sure that the it delivers well connected schemes that create collaborative spaces and placemaking and that the initial vision of Milton Keynes doesn’t become a blocker to the positive evolution. Future generations won’t thank us!

For more information contact Ian on 07860 612242 or email