Move over, Copenhagen: could Milton Keynes become one of the greenest cities in the world?

Monday 4 November 2019

Bumblebee collecting nectar


  • Vision approved for MK to lead on biodiversity and climate change
  • Aspiration to be a National Park City
  • Builds on commitment to become first carbon negative UK city by 2050

On 23 January 1967, an Act of Parliament fired the starting gun for a unique green metropolis positioned perfectly in the heart of England. Milton Keynes was intended by its forward-thinking architects to balance large scale population growth with better, healthier living. That led to 5,000 acres of parkland, lakes and woodland, enough trees to be (technically) classed as a forest, and a system of pedestrian walking and cycleways stretching 300km. In MK, no one is ever more than half a mile from a park.

As Milton Keynes grew, more chances were taken on initiatives to build better cities:  the UK’s first solar powered house in 1972, the first kerbside household recycling in 1992.  All building development was made carbon neutral. Every fourth house built would have to include a habitat for bats or birds. Electric car charging spaces, self-driving pods and delivery robots became a normal part of the landscape. Behind public jokes about concrete cows and roundabouts, Britain’s most successful post-war new town was quietly emerging as a smart city on the international stage.

Earlier this year, Milton Keynes Council committed to becoming the first carbon negative city by 2050. Now, along with charity The Parks Trust, which cares for local green space, lakes and ancient woodlands, the Council has signalled another step change in its approach to tackling climate change. 

Milton Keynes has announced an aspiration to become a National Park City and living showcase for how climate change can be tackled through biodiversity, with an ambitious end goal to become one of the greenest cities in the world. 

The vision is based around:

  • Conserving and protecting existing sites of biodiversity and wildlife.
  • Restoring and managing species and habitats so they can adapt to, and mitigate a changing climate.
  • Creating new green infrastructure that takes account of the way ecosystems work.
  • Inspiring greater engagement between local people and natural environments.

Early ideas include improving the diversity of local habitats, increasing tree stock, connecting woodland and increasing flood resilience, but a full plan of action will be unveiled in spring 2020. 

The plan is being developed collaboratively between Council, Parks Trust and partners.  Workshops on the impact of water, nature and trees will take place from 25 and 26 November, and the Council is inviting professionals and amateur experts to be part of the conversation.

“In Milton Keynes, we have biodiversity and the climate crisis at the heart of our future” explains Cllr Emily Darlington, Cabinet Member for the Public Realm.  “We already have a head start in our ambition to be the greenest city with our outstanding green infrastructure. Corridors linking key strategic reserves were an integral part of the borough’s original design. We’re also a place where collaboration is a very normal part of doing business, which makes conversations like these a lot easier.”

“The health of our biodiversity is a testament to the health of the city. We need to protect the 5B’s; bees, bugs, butterflies, bats and birds. These lovely creatures are some of our most vulnerable and form key parts of the eco system. We are also the home to the endangered Great crested newt and increasingly home to the dormice. I am proud of our record in creating the right environment for these creatures to thrive.”

“This is a crisis on a global scale but local authorities, working with partners are in a unique position with access to land and the control to make sure it’s managed to promote the highest opportunities for biodiversity.  We intend to take some big steps forward and we hope others can learn from our experience.”

Philip Bowsher, Head of Environment and Volunteering at The Parks Trust said, “We support the principles that Milton Keynes Council are adopting for the green environment of Milton Keynes and look forward to working with them, and other partners, towards delivering this vision.”