Birth of a "New City"
In the 1960s, the UK Government decided that a further generation of new towns in the South East of England was needed to relieve housing congestion in London.
Population trend of Borough and Urban Area 1801–2011
Since the 1950s, overspill housing for several London boroughs had been constructed in Bletchley. Further studies in the 1960s identified north Buckinghamshire as a possible site for a large new town, a new city, encompassing the existing towns of Bletchley, Stony Stratford and Wolverton. The New Town (informally and in planning documents, "New City") was to be the biggest yet, with a target population of 250,000, in a "designated area" of 21,850 acres (34.1 sq mi; 88.4 km2). The name "Milton Keynes" was taken from the existing village of Milton Keynes on the site.
On 23 January 1967, when the formal new town designation order was made, the area to be developed was largely farmland and undeveloped villages. The site was deliberately located equidistant from London, Birmingham, Leicester, Oxford and Cambridge with the intention that it would be self-sustaining and eventually become a major regional centre in its own right. Planning control was taken from elected local authorities and delegated to the Milton Keynes Development Corporation (MKDC). Before construction began, every area was subject to detailed archaeological investigation: doing so has exposed a rich history of human settlement since Neolithic times and has provided a unique insight into the history of a large sample of the landscape of North Buckinghamshire.
The Corporation's strongly modernist designs were regularly featured in the magazines Architectural Design and the Architects' Journal. MKDC was determined to learn from the mistakes made in the earlier New Towns and revisit the Garden City ideals. They set in place the characteristic grid roads that run between districts ('grid squares'), as well as the intensive planting, lakes and parkland that are so evident today. While still on the drawing board, planners noticed that the main streets near the proposed city centre would almost frame the rising sun on Midsummer's Day. Greenwich Observatory was consulted to obtain the exact angle required at the latitude of Central Milton Keynes, and they managed to persuade the engineers to shift the grid of roads a few degrees in response. CMK was not intended to be a traditional town centre but a central business and shopping district to supplement Local Centres in most of the grid squares. This non-hierarchical devolved city plan was a departure from the English New Towns tradition and envisaged a wide range of industry and diversity of housing styles and tenures across the city. The largest and almost the last of the British New Towns, Milton Keynes has 'stood the test of time far better than most, and has proved flexible and adaptable'. The radical grid plan was inspired by the work of Californian urban theorist Melvin M. Webber (1921–2006), described by the founding architect of Milton Keynes, Derek Walker (1929–2015), as the "father of the city". Webber thought that telecommunications meant that the old idea of a city as a concentric cluster was out of date and that cities which enabled people to travel around them readily would be the thing of the future achieving "community without propinquity" for residents.
The Government wound up MKDC in 1992, 25 years after the new town was founded, transferring control to the Commission for New Towns (CNT) and then finally to English Partnerships, with the planning function returning to local council control (since 1974 and the Local Government Act 1972, the Borough of Milton Keynes). From 2004-2011 a Government quango, the Milton Keynes Partnership, had development control powers to accelerate the growth of Milton Keynes.
Along with many other towns and boroughs, Milton Keynes competed for formal city status in the 2000, 2002 and 2012 competitions, but was unsuccessful. Nevertheless, the term "city" is generally used by its citizens, local media and bus services to describe itself, perhaps because the term "town" is taken to mean one of the constituent towns. Road signs refer to "Central Milton Keynes" or "Shopping" when directing traffic to its centre.
The area that was to become Milton Keynes encompassed a landscape that has a rich historic legacy. The area to be developed was largely farmland and undeveloped villages, but with evidence of permanent settlement dating back to the Bronze Age. Before construction began, every area was subject to detailed archaeological investigation: doing so has provided a unique insight into the history of a large sample of the landscape of south-central England. There is evidence of Iron Age, Romano-British, Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman, Medieval and Industrial revolution settlements. Collections of oral history covering the 20th century completes a picture that is described in detail in another article.
Bletchley Park, the site of World War II British code-breaking and Colossus, the world's first programmable electronic digital computer, is a major component of MK's modern history. It is now a flourishing heritage attraction, receiving hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.
When the boundary of Milton Keynes was defined in 1967, some 40,000 people lived in three towns and fifteen villages or hamlets in the "designated area" of 21,863 acres (8,848 ha).