Bletchley - It Just Kept Growing (5 December 1975)
As becomes a former regular Yeoman of Signals in the Royal Navy, my long-time acquaintance, Ken Fuller, is a forthright sort of chap. So it is not surprising when he bluntly declares in an interview with the Gazette:
“I was with the old Bletchley UDC for six years (1953 to 1959) and Bucks County Council for three years. In all that time I fought against the new city of Milton Keynes.
“Unfortunately, I failed and now we are stuck with it. This used to be a very nice place to live in, but now it is somewhere that you exist in.”
Many people of his age and older you meet in Bletchley now express a similar opinion. Maybe it is because they have become tired of development. Maybe it is because for 30 years they have been exhorted to look to a future that never seems to arrive.
Many would have gladly settled for the 30,000 population target of expansion under the Town Development Act. What, they ask, are we getting from Milton Keynes that we would not have got then – the Leisure Centre and other amenities being Bletchley’s own developments?
And they are apt to answer: only the possible elimination of the Simpson stink. Otherwise, the town, which used to serve its own ends, is now being further disrupted and messed about to serve the ends of Milton Keynes.
Some would even have settled for the 20,000 population which was an earlier permitted target. They are the Ruritanians. But who shall say they are altogether wrong to prefer rural amenity to the urban variety?
It all began in 1945 when the old Bletchley UDC hailed with delight Professor Abercrombie’s government-commissioned “Greater London Plan,” which included a proposal for the resettlement of about 50,000 Londoners in the Bletchley-Wolverton area.
Bletchley was then a town of fewer than 10,000 regular residents. It had few industries, few shops and very few urban amenities. Here was a chance to make it bigger, brighter, better. The council immediately staked its claim for town expansion and the government responded with sympathetic noises for two or three years.
Then in 1948 came a setback. The government’s advisors said the Ouse Valley could not take more than an extra 10,000 people without jeopardising Bedford’s Water supplies – which was later proved to be much in error. However, a disappointed council then settled for a quieter expansion under its own steam to a town of about 20,000.
At that stage I carried out a spot check of opinion in the town. Some people were disappointed, but the main reaction was one of indifference, if not outright relief. Among ten printed opinions of that nature were:
A shopkeeper: “There would have been stronger competition and I would not have had any more trade. If there are people in business who think they would have got on better, I think they would have been in for a shock. All we want is a few more shops in Bletchley Road (Queensway) to make a decent shopping centre.”
A brickworker: “There might have been a better football team, but what difference would it have made to my pay?”
A work’s manager: “It is a personal relief, though I am surprised to hear that we are apparently contaminating the Ouzel. However, I know nearly everybody in Bletchley and hope to continue to do so. Surplus populations should all go together to make completely new towns somewhere and grow up together. All we need is a few more different industries. I think 15,000 population would do us nicely and help us to claim what few amenities we lack.”
A council employee: “There would have been bigger bosses on top of our little bosses and I have enough bosses already. There would have been no promotion for most of us and other men with fancy degrees would have been brought in from outside.”
A housewife: “The Abercrombie Plan? Never heard of it. I think we could do with a hospital though.”
As late as 1951, when the council were still negotiating terms with the government, a printer’s compositor wrote to the Gazette;
“With all the discussion, etc, by the council on the proposed bigger Bletchley continually in the news, the following observations may ease the council’s disappointment should the scheme fail to materialise:
- 90 per cent of the people I have talked to on the subject say they don’t want a bigger Bletchley;
- The remaining 10 per cent are indifferent. “It would be interesting to know how many Bletchley people are in favour of this scheme. Certainly they are not as enthusiastic about it as the council imagine them to be – or are they?”
That question has never been answered. All along, the council plumped for expansion, though always on the understanding that it must not entail any excessive rate burden. And to be fair, there was little sign of any grass roots opposition.
The new city proposals were a different kettle of fish. With the government apparently determined on a new large-scale development in the area, the council’s energies were directed to Bletchley being included rather than being left outside something that would inevitably affect it profoundly.