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Blog: Innovation Cities: Milton Keynes

Through it’s very creation Milton Keynes is innovative. One of a kind in the UK, with its American style grid system, endless amounts of roundabouts and flourishing green spaces, to suggest it is unique is an understatement. Although referring to itself as a city, this is not yet the case. In terms of size and influence there’s an argument that it should be, but recent pushes for city status are still ongoing.

Formed as part of the new towns movement in the 1960s, its expansion has benefited many industries, proving to be a success in terms of what it pays back to the UK economy. The area is the fastest growing in the UK in the last 30 years, produces £10.8 billion of output according to the December 2015 GVA statistics and has a local economy larger than both nearby areas Northampton and Luton, being more comparable to core UK cities like Nottingham and Liverpool.

Where it all began…

Originally, Milton Keynes became what it is today with its formal designation as a new town on January 23rd, 1967. Its purpose was to be a solution to the housing shortage facing London and act as a new commercial centre for Buckinghamshire. Creating the Milton Keynes area involved the areas of Bletchley, Stony Stratford, Newport Pagnell and Wolverton merging under one control, the Milton Keynes Development Council (MKDC) which was separate from Buckinghamshire County Council. Other than the main and established areas previously mentioned, other more rural locations at the time were then incorporated, including Great Linford, Broughton, Bradwell, Willen, Wavendon and many more. All of which had their own stories and origins before becoming part of the Milton Keynes area.

It didn’t take long for innovative new ideas to take over Milton Keynes. The Open University was founded in 1969, enabling part time learners from around the world to receive an education through the innovative and now award-winning distance teaching methods. The Peace Pagoda was then built in 1979 by Buddhist Monks, becoming the first of its kind in the UK. This was followed by the UK’s first multi-screen cinema at Milton Keynes entertainment centre The Point, and then the largest indoor ski slope in Europe at Xscape Milton Keynes.

Nowadays the area benefits commercially due to its preferential location in the South East and close links to industry centres including London, Cambridge and Oxford. Creating the South East corridor for high tech businesses, which has continued to thrive and support business innovation not only in the area but subsequently all over the UK.

Industry Developments

The number of active enterprises in Milton Keynes has increased by more than 30% in the last 5 years (85 per 10,000 population) with the of start-ups is regularly shown to be among the highest in the country. Attracting a large and capable workforce has contributed to this growth, due to the fact that the area is among the top 5 in the UK for average weekly workplace wages.


Its close proximity to the home of motor racing, Silverstone, has given Milton Keynes the foundations to develop a thriving automotive industry. Taking advantage of this close proximity by locating in Milton Keynes is Red Bull Racing. One of the top teams in the Formula 1 World Championship, and who have risen to the top of motor racing in a remarkably short period of time. They took part in their first Constructors’ Championship in their sixth F1 season in 2010, winning a further 3 since then.

This success can be attributed not only to the drivers but the technical team behind the car. With new changes coming into Formula 1 in 2009, allowing the technical designers and engineers to thrive, led by engineering maestro Adrian Newey. Their continuous innovative thinking was clear to see for spectators as they began dominating races for the next few years and staying ahead of their competitors including those from McLaren and Ferrari, who have been Formula 1 icons for the last 40 years.

Milton Keynes hasn’t just become home for motor sport teams though. Automotive industry giants Volkswagen and Mercedes Benz have set up their UK head offices in Milton Keynes leading to an influx of skilled staff looking to work in the industry.

Milton Keynes’ grid system has also proved to be the perfect testing ground for driverless cars in the UK. Led by a division of the RDM Group called Aurrigo, a central control centre has been built in central Milton Keynes and the driverless “pod zeros” have been delivered for use in the next stage of testing and development. These pods can be seen driving on pavements around Milton Keynes. The pods will be able to travel as speeds of up to 15 miles per hour and can cover 60 miles on each charge. UK Autodrive, funded by Innovate UK, is a three-year project which is also trialling the connected vehicles on the streets of Coventry as well as MK.

In Milton Keynes the Intelligent Mobility (IM) Accelerator helps to incubate transport related start-ups to help them develop disruptive technology like autonomous vehicles and intelligent infrastructure. In June 2018 the announcement of sponsorship for the incubator by large bus group Stagecoach came as evidence that MK based transport start-ups are being given the right support to flourish and impress large multinational businesses.


MK is regularly rated among the top areas of the country for data start-ups. This is due to its growing digital infrastructure, developed thanks to the MK: Smart project, and subsequently its MK Data Hub initiative. This key technical infrastructure is dedicated to the acquisition, management and processing of large amounts of data relevant to the city systems.

The Data Hub has over 600 datasets which can be accessed by developers on the Data Hub. These are accessible through the web portal which streams sensor info from a variety of different data sources. This has amassed over 600 datasets from various buildings, places and topics. This information can then be accessed by data developers, in particular data-intensive SMEs and students who will use the data to solve some of the urban challenges being faced in Milton Keynes.

Milton Keynes Motion Map, which became available to the public in 2017 is another way that the city is using its prolific data capturing capabilities for the good of the area. The map shows real time movements of people and vehicles all across Milton Keynes. It includes embedded timetables, car parking, bus and cycle information and estimated congestion. This map hopes to keep residents more informed about the goings on in Milton Keynes and allow them to make smart decisions about their movements around the city, reducing congestion in area.

Innovation support

Milton Keynes Economic Development Strategy 2017-2027

This plan, created by MKDC was produced with the vision of creating a thriving dynamic European destination city, whilst ensuring fair opportunities for all. The Council set three aims for the plan:

  • Be a city of opportunity
  • Be an affordable city
  • Be a healthy city

The development scheme covers many areas, which are discussed below.

MK Futures 50

In September 2015 the MK Futures 2050 Commission was set up to act as the foundation for discussion on the future of Milton Keynes and focus on long term goals which will help the area to prosper in the upcoming decades. The Commission is made up of nine individuals who are all experts in relevant development fields. The Commission is chaired by Peter Gregson, the Vice Chancellor at nearby Cranfield University and a distinguished fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Following discussions, the Commission has recommended six projects which will be undertaken by the council and its partners. Together they will help propel Milton Keynes into a reassured city status and enable continuous development of the city’s capabilities. We will focus on the first three of their projects, which will all help MK to grow its innovation sector.

Project 1- Growth and strategy

After recognising the many opportunities being created, and potentially even more, from being located in the corridor between Cambridge and Oxford. The Commission looks to improve transport infrastructure and by planning strategic cross-boundary moves it could create more possibilities for not only Milton Keynes, but for the region as a whole. Being in the middle of this corridor will help Milton Keynes to access a wide variety of knowledge-intensive jobs, creating a highly skilled workforce which will be able to sustain and improve planned developments.

The Commission then hopes to be able to capitalise on the opportunities that will open up by working with influential partners and neighbouring authorities. A lot of the opportunities that will be taken advantage of will be detailed in the ongoing strategic plan, Plan: MK. This is a long-term, non-statuary plan that will look holistically at the policies needed for Milton Keynes to be a success up to 2050.

Project 2- MK: U, a new university for Milton Keynes

Although MK has The Open University, a small campus of Bedfordshire University and Cranfield University nearby, it doesn’t currently have a significant student population. Developing a larger university and creating a strong undergraduate population would bring with it numerous benefits, including attracting a creatively skilled workforce to meet the need of local knowledge intensive businesses. It will also bring a new population, bringing with it a brand new and diverse culture to Milton Keynes.

MK: U aims to accommodate 10,000 students, studying a range of subjects around technology, engineering and science focused courses. It will also look to follow suit with other UK universities by implementing a strong culture of industry integration to give undergraduates valuable workplace experience to build upon in their course and prepare them for the world of work.

In developing a plan for MK: U, the commission has been working with Cranfield University to create a business case for the university. The Council is now currently looking at potential institutional partners with whom to move the project forward to the next stage.

Project 3- Leaning 2050
In their report the Commission found there is a strong need for a good quality of education across the area and that there is still much room for improvement in local schooling. They believe a way to improve this is to reduce the number of independent schools to allow the Milton Keynes Council to have more control over what is being taught and how it is being taught.
Milton Keynes’ recent schooling improvements are key evidence that the projects and initiatives being implemented are effective.

At this stage the plan is to continue the current initiatives so as not to disrupt the progress already being achieved.

Invest Milton Keynes

As part of the economic development scheme by Milton Keynes Council, Invest Milton Keynes looks to provide help and support for businesses and business people taking advantage of the area’s growth and success.
They provide the following services:

  • Property and land searches
  • Business relocation and market info
  • Listings of local suppliers
  • Ongoing aftercare support to help guarantee long term success in the area
  • City tours for members of staff

Invest Milton Keynes works closely with many of their partners to bring knowledge and skills to businesses in the area. One of their partners is Cranfield University, a post-graduate university which is world leading in their cutting-edge projects with the aim of translating their research into practical uses.

MPA in Milton Keynes

MPA is proud to be one of over 12,000 businesses located in Milton Keynes. Since our inception 11 years ago we have moved from Olney to Sherington, both within the Milton Keynes borders. Our staff have watched it grow and many of them live in the area, taking great pride in the work that we do to help businesses in Milton Keynes.

One of the businesses we have a successful and prosperous relationship with is Halpenfield Ltd. A software development company who specialises in organising, analysing and visualising data in a way their clients can use, working regularly with large UK companies like M&S, Boots and Thomas Cook.

A large proportion of Halpenfield’s every day activities revolve around innovation. When MPAs Technical Analyst, Nigel Urquhart visited them, he identified that much of their qualifying activity for the R&D Tax Credit scheme occurs through solving the problems of their clients. Halpenfield recognised that HMRC rules on what does and doesn’t qualify for the scheme can be difficult to understand, so they chose to work with MPA.

We know specialist make a difference because we are specialist in our field

Heather Beardmore Director at Halpenfield

If you’re an innovative business from the Milton Keynes area or think you may require the assistance of a specialist with your R&D Tax Credit & Patent Box claims get in touch with us today.