The latest season of talks from the Skeptics in the Pub kicks off tonight (21 September) with a fascinating look at town and city planning with internationally-renowned architectural and planning consultant (and Bedfordian), Tony Mackay.
As Assistant Chief Architect at the Milton Keynes Development Corporation, Tony was responsible for the design of commercial, leisure and housing projects from inception to completion for over a decade.
Now in his 80s, but no less enthusiastic, Tony will explain the design and execution of the Milton Keynes masterplan as well as his experiences in shaping the design of the new Chinese city of Songjiang near Shanghai.
Tony has lived in Bedford since 1970 and is also an artist having exhibited in London, Copenhagen, Liverpool and Shanghai and a founder of the Eagle Gallery, Bedford.
Earlier in the year, the Bedford Independent interviewed Tony to find out more about his remarkable career and the (quite mundane) truth about 15-minute-cities.
“Bedford is one of the best riverfront town centres in the world, but there has never been good planning overview by successive councils. The decline of the town centre is nothing new,” said Tony.
“The signs were on the wall a long time ago. I spoke to Bedford County Council in the 70s when I was chief architect in Milton Keynes – we could already see the town centre being sucked dry by the MK development.
“I could see then that the town centre was tired – there was an opportunity to transform it then by bringing in other uses other than shopping and I came up with some proposals.
“But in over 40 years I’ve never once been asked for my opinion about anything.”
Tony says that any intervention has been too late or slightly misjudged and cites the work he’s been doing recently in China to regenerate a town smaller than Bedford.
“It was dusty and dirty and it’s been transformed. The town centre has been completely pedestrianised and we’ve built new shops, a library and a cinema. It took about three years, but the place is now full of life. The people there were prepared to listen and to do something.
“I’d have loved to have had the chance to do something like that in Bedford – an overall masterplan.”
Still working until he was 85, Tony was forced to retire due to family circumstances, but says he’s still very busy “painting and planning”.
The recent furore and politicisation around the concept of 15-minute-cities is somewhat baffling to Tony, who says he’s been designing them since he started in planning.
“We’ve been doing it for decades,” he told the Bedford Independent.
“You design communities so everybody can get to the facilities they need. You try and make it convenient to the lowest common denominator eg: a person with young children in a pram or older people and those without a car.
“Convenience and connection are fundamental to a well-functioning society. There is definitely a certain arrogance among motorists.”
The Skeptics in the Pub talk on Thursday 26 September will take place at the North End Social Club on Roff Avenue and will cover the planning principles of Milton Keynes.
“The logic of the grid squares of the city was designed for convenience and I’ll be talking about the difference between grid planning in MK and radial planning in Bedford.
“I’ll look at the history of how the city plans developed and there will even be some live drawing!”
As well as his life as a city planner, Tony is an accomplished artist and says he’s “always painted all my life”.
He recently held an exhibition at the Eagle Gallery on St Peter’s Street and you can see more of his work at his website here.
He’s looking forward to the rescheduled talk (it was originally due to take place in May) and says he loves living in Bedford. “I still like Bedford town centre – I just don’t get frustrated by it any more.”