TAITMAIL Development blight on Dankworths’ gift to youth and music

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The priorities of some local authorities leave me baffled. Take Milton Keynes Council, where planning and culture clearly don’t share the same office.

The new town that likes to call itself a city is eager to raise its cultural profile, and one time-honoured way of doing it is to have a festival. MK has one, its fifth version running between July 20 and 29 and called IF: Milton Keynes International Festival.

It is the gift of and administered by The Stables, the arts centre created on the edge of their grounds in the nearby village of Wavendon by Johnny Dankworth and Cleo Laine. It’s on the up, revived from 140 concerts a year in 2003 to 400 now, plus 200 education events. And the way to say thank you is to contemplate giving planning permission to a housing development that could close The Stables and thereby put an end to the festival.

Picture Karen Kodesh, 2017

MK has created a strategic lands allocation area on three sides around the site: first it was on the north and east sides but the latest proposal, by Abbey Developments, is for three-storey residential blocks of flats to the west, 12m from The Stables, overlooking its car park and main entrance.

“We’ve seen many music venues around the country forced to close in recent years when new housing schemes are built too close” a worried Monica Ferguson, CEO of The Stables, says. “Subsequent complaints from residents about noise nuisance arising from the gigs, the traffic, car doors and customers lead to licensing restrictions which make the venues unable to operate. We are appealing to Milton Keynes Council to look to the future and ensure that it protects one of its most valuable cultural assets.”

What makes it doubly unfortunate is that since the Dankworths first set up The Stables in 1970 it has hosted National Youth Music camps when in the summer holidays 350 kids bring their tents and absorb music-making. It worked for the likes of Thom Yorke of Radiohead and Robbie Williams’s songwriter, Guy Chambers. The organisation’s patron, Evelyn Glennie, calls it an absolute travesty: “Let’s not forget that people need and want a quality of life that extends to cultural activities and we must do everything we can to protect the organisations which can deliver that.”

There was a danger that because the plan was a strategic land allocation it wouldn’t need planning permission, but the council’s chief planner has decreed that there must be a green buffer zone around the centre. That has given an opportunity to object and there have been enough objections ensure it goes before a full planning committee. A decision is expected by the autumn, and let’s hope that before then the boys and girls of the culture department and the girls and boys from planning have had a moment together around the coffee machine.




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