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Experiments and exhibitions in Milton Keynes


Visitors at the entrance to the Energy World. Source: Milton Keynes City Discovery Centre.

My dissertation considers early approaches to energy and housing in Milton Keynes.  I first highlight that the efficient use of resources was an objective of the 1970 Plan for Milton Keynes, which became very important following the 1973 oil crisis.  Following this, I outline a series of energy experiments commenced in the 1970s by Milton Keynes Development Corporation (MKDC), the Open University (OU), and others. Expertise in energy was developed in Milton Keynes as a result of these early experiments.


I then set out how, encouraged by initial private sector interest in energy and housing, and the 1981 Homeworld housing exhibition, MKDC in the 1980s decided to approach energy more strategically. In 1986 it organised the Energy World exhibition of energy efficient housing, which formed part of a wider Energy Park in Milton Keynes. This was an attempt to alter the market so that housing design included consideration of energy.  A key innovation was the ‘Milton Keynes Energy Cost Index’ (MKECI), a prototype of the method of energy assessment that is used today to judge energy efficiency in housing.


My understanding of the origins and development of the energy projects in Milton Keynes has benefitted from a series of conversations with individuals who worked for MKDC or the OU in the 1970s and 1980s and were involved in the projects.[1] Bringing together recollections of different individuals has provided fascinating primary source material enabling me to make connections between the projects, understand their contexts and assess their success, impact and lasting influence on current practice in energy.  


Energy World and the wider Energy Park can be seen as the culmination of the work on energy projects that had taken place in the previous years. The year 1986 had been designated Energy Efficiency Year by Peter Walker, the Secretary of State for Energy.  The Energy World exhibition was used as an opening event for the Energy Park and was open to the public from 23 August to 21 September 1986. Fifty houses were exhibited, built by 32 developers from the UK and overseas. The Energy Park was intended to be large enough to change the market approach to energy,[2] and also seen an opportunity to publicise the city.[3] Will Cousins, masterplanner for the site, considers that there was no template for the initiative and it was an innovation based on original thought.[4]  


Exhibitors at Energy World needed to meet particular energy efficiency standards when assessed against the MKECI. This was a flexible microcomputer program commissioned by MKDC in collaboration with the Department of Energy to measure the energy performance of dwellings at the design stage, by calculating the energy running costs for the dwelling.[5]  It is seen as a major achievement of energy projects in Milton Keynes and an initiative with lasting value as it can be traced to later forms of energy assessment, such as the National Home Energy Rating (NHER), the Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP), and Energy Performance Certificates. Tadj Oreszczyn, then a PHD student at the OU, and now Professor of Energy and Environment at UCL’s Energy Institute, considers the MKECI to be one of the most impactful outcomes of the energy projects in Milton Keynes.[6] John Doggart, who in the 1970s was MKDC’s representative in an ‘Energy Consultative Unit’ formed jointly by MKDC and the OU, and was later a Partner at the architectural practice Energy Conscious Design, believes that the 1980s exhibitions and particularly the use of the MKECI at Energy World mark the end of the ‘experimental/proving’ stage in Milton Keynes, and saw energy conservation become normalised.[7]


Following the public exhibition, Energy World held a ‘Business Week’ from 27 September to 1 October 1986. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, having been unable to attend the public opening of Energy World,[8] opened the Business Week and was very complimentary of the exhibition.[9] Commenting on the influence of the Conservative Government elected in 1979, John Walker, Director of Planning and Deputy General Manager, MKDC, and later Chief Executive of the Commission for New Towns, considers that housing exhibitions allowed MKDC to be seen as a ‘facilitator’ of development rather than a builder. This was consistent with Government attitudes as it allowed it to trump the private sector.[10] 


The story of energy and housing design in Milton Keynes is extensive and complex.  It is very likely that the projects would not have occurred in the same way if the oil crisis had not happened, or if MKDC had different powers or stuctures. However the combination of individual interests, an autonomous organisation, the close proximity of MKDC and the OU and external influences enabled energy projects to take place which are particulary relevant to today’s concerns about climate change and our environment.

[1] Giles Charrington, Private Housing Unit, MKDC; Will Cousins, Masterplanner for Energy World and the Energy Park, MKDC; John Doggart OBE, architect at MKDC and then partner at Energy Conscious Design;  Michael Edwards, Plan for MK Consultant Team, now at UCL; Peter Martin, Architect at MKDC and original tenant of Bradville Solar House; Professor Tadj Oreszczyn, PHD student and then researcher at the OU, now at UCL; Tim Skelton, Private Housing Unit and Commercial Commerce Department, MKDC, now Chair of MK Forum; John Walker, Director of Planning and Deputy General Manager, MKDC, and then Chief Executive of the Commission for New Towns.

[2] John Walker, Interview with author, July 9, 2020.

[3] Tim Skelton, Interview with author, July 14, 2020.

[4] Will Cousins, Interview with author, July 10, 2020.

[5] Peter F Chapman, “The Milton Keynes Energy Cost Index”, Energy and Buildings, 14 (1990), 83.

[6] Tadj Oreszczyn, Interview with author, July 17, 2020.

[7] John Doggart, Interview with author, July 13, 2020.

[8] Giles Charrington, Interview with author, July 27, 2020. 

[9] John Walker, Interview with author, July 9, 2020.

[10] John Walker, Interview with author, July 9, 2020.

Copyright of image: © Milton Keynes Development Corporation, Crown Copyright. Issued under the Open Government Licence v.3.0. Image courtesy of Milton Keynes City Discovery Centre

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