Much Maligned Milton Keynes

Kev Neylon
8 min readMay 15, 2024

It is the butt of many a joke. Derided often. Said to be a soulless concrete, glass, and chrome new town (now a city). A planner’s wet dream some would say. Too American is often a moan. More like a university campus than a city (although considering Milton Keynes is home to the Open University, is that a surprise? Plus, look at any university town or city and see the vast array of new build, concrete, glass, and chrome housing their buildings now). Even eighties bands got in on the act. The Style Council’s hit “Come To Milton Keynes” is a tongue in cheek title throwing shade at the town, and that seemed to be a follow on from The Jam’s “The Planner’s Dream Goes Wrong.”

When arriving at the train station it is the glass and concrete that greets you. A huge plaza is surrounded on three sides by long buildings covered in mirrored glass with the bus station outside. A central hub for the city’s transport links, which is useful and a far cry from some of the more organically grown cities of old.

We were in Milton Keynes to watch Crawley Town in the playoffs, and were staying overnight. And so we were walking straight up Midsummer Way from the station to the hotel. Only for us to get to the first road we would need to cross and find that there was no footpath anywhere to be seen. That’s because the path is to the side and goes under the road.

This is the same all the way up to the hotel, at no point do we have to cross a road and deal with traffic. There are wide path readily used by bicycles, scooters, skateboarders, and pedestrians. Not that there were a lot of pedestrians. It was a Saturday, and so a lot of the buildings along the route, which house offices, and UK headquarters of numerous companies, were closed for business. Large areas are set aside for car parking, and were empty. Walking along there at a weekend, you can see why it could be called soulless. For a city centre it seems more like a ghost town, or perhaps a post-apocalyptic landscape, something in the vein of 28 Days Later.

It isn’t all concrete, glass, and chrome, and they have tried to soften the all angular, blocks only centre, with a Mediterranean style building now used as an Asian fusion restaurant.

From the hotel window we look out on the central shopping centre. Much updated now. It still has the market stalls outside it, hidden from our view. I have vague recollections of these stalls from when I was young. Back in the eighties I had relatives who lived in Milton Keynes, an aunt and uncle and two cousins. On one visit I stayed at my cousin’s flat near the market. It still has that seventies vibe around it. Old concrete, metal shutters, graffiti.

It is now a stark contrast from the clean and airy space inside the shopping centre. A Grade II listed building. Full of the usual suspects. Large shiny chain stores. And full of chain eateries as well. An identikit mall. But with the occasional unusual twist. Such as the Ripley’s upside-down house. Stuck inside the enclosed space of the shopping centre, and not in the open next to the beach as the one in Brighton is.

From the shopping centre after some food (at least Milton Keynes still have their Ask), we get a bus out to the football stadium. It is strange to note that there are signs over the walkways across the roads where the bus stops are that say that pedestrians do not have priority, definitely an Americanism, and I wonder how many incidents there were of car meets pedestrian before the signs went up.

The bus goes out of the centre and is on the grid and roundabout matrix that criss-crosses the city. All the roundabouts are numbered, and although the roads have names, they are also suffixed on the road signs with a letter and number (i.e. H8 or V6), where the H and V stand for horizontal and vertical to indicate which direction the road is heading in the grid formation.

On these roads there isn’t much to see. Trees, bushes, and hedges line the roads. The foot paths are kept apart from the traffic apart from brief roadside forays when there are bus stops. Behind the greenery are all the little estates. Some are new and in gird formation. Others are new and twist and turn as if they are the very ticky tacky house the theme to the series Weeds sang about. And others are older and are the original settlements swallowed up by the new town build.

I had mistakenly believed that Milton Keynes was built entirely from scratch in the middle of nowhere, and that it has been named for the two famous economists — JM Keynes and Milton Friedman (something one of my economics teachers had suggested way back when I did my economics A level). Only to find out a lot later that the name was a reuse of one of the original historic villages now in the larger town area. That older village is now generally known as Milton Keynes Village and is a couple of miles out from the centre. It is one of several Keynes settlements in the country, so named from being owned by the de Cahaignes family after the Norman conquest.

It is one of over twenty ancient villages and towns hoovered up by the new town, which included larger towns such as Stony Stratford, Wolverton, Newport Pagnell, and Bletchley. And so hidden away in those tree and bush lined vertical and horizontal roads are older pockets of buildings and medieval settlements and churches.

Wherever we went in the city the paths were wide and well away from the traffic. They are multi-functional. A safer space for pedestrians and cyclists alike. During the whole stay we only came to one junction (on the way back to the station via a different route on the Sunday morning) where we had to cross a road via a pedestrian crossing and not be eased under the road by one of the plethora of wide sweeping (and remarkably clean) underpasses.

And for a new town known for its concrete (such as the famous concrete cows, infamously kidnapped one year by students for rag week) there is a lot of greenery everywhere.

Grass, bushes, and a wide variety of trees. It feels like a safe and pleasant place to walk around, even if it does feel as it disconnected, and you walk further than you think you are doing.

I had to laugh at the diversion sign I saw on the pavement on the way back to the station. It did seem a more important diversion than some I’ve seen previously.

And down the narrow alley (just a new one, and not the old windy ones we find ourselves drawn to wherever we visit), there are some surprising items to see.

I can see what those late sixties town planners were trying to do. It is a shame it didn’t quite hit the mark. The old villages that were incorporated are hidden away from the centre of what is now a city (since the Queen’s Platinum jubilee award of city status in 2022).

There are random sculptures dotted around, trying to add culture, which does help and they, along with various other pieces (plant pots, bus shelters, etc) have QR codes on them to give more information.

I didn’t spot any blue plaques (although the shopping centre have a load of information ones throughout that are both blue and round), and there was this one plaque embedded into the ground to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the creation of the new town.

There are also a lot of high-end eateries, but most are subtlely incorporated into the ground floor level of the blocks in the city centre.

And the centre is the only part of the city with any blocks at all, the rest of the city limits has a three storey maximum for any building.

Milton Keynes is much maligned, but I don’t think it deserves the bad rap it (and many other ‘new’ towns) gets.

For other stories of wandering around this year, check out my list

2024 Travels

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Kev Neylon

Writing fiction, travel, history, sport, & music blogs. Monthly e-zine with all kinds of writing at All pictures used are my own.