Maria's Outlook (Panorea_

Saturday, February 19, 2011

In Defense of a Prince; the case of Poundbury

This is the original, unedited, longer version of an article published in The Lady last August

“Where do you come from?” asked a Dorchester waiter as we were settling the bill. “From just up the road, in Poundbury,” “Mmm…posh, eh?” he replied, raising his eyebrows. “Have you met Prince Charles?”

‘Meddling’, ‘Remote from ordinary people’, ‘Backward looking’ are a few of the comments often used to attack Prince Charles and his ideas.

I became interested in Poundbury in the early 1990s. As a regular visitor to Dorset I have been following the Prince’s ideas concerning Poundbury with interest; the never-ending controversy about the project has given me much food for thought. Last November we went ahead and bought a lovely little house in Poundbury, in our beloved Dorset.

It is evident that those who are negative about the project are mostly people unfamiliar with Poundbury. Many have never seen it and only know it from hearsay. Those who live in Poundbury seem to love it and claim they would never live anywhere else. According to most residents I’ve met, Prince Charles has done a wonderful job in providing ordinary people with affordable, tasteful, well-built housing in one of the most beautiful areas of Britain.

As for me, Poundbury has not only changed my life but also my attitude towards Britain. In Poundbury I’ve been cured of my chronic homesickness for Greece. I’m so content here that I’ve almost forgotten my home country. I love modern cities like Sydney and Perth, Australia, but I hate what contemporary architects, civil engineers and developers have inflicted upon the United Kingdom and other countries in the name of modernism or modernity. Many pre- and post-War houses (whether from the ‘30s, the ‘60s or ‘70s) seem dated, worn-out and undesirable, even if they are “of their time”. Some friends who used to live in Council or private housing estates have moved out and headed for the countryside. Others bought period houses, if they could afford them. Cottage prices in Dorset have kept their high values because of their desirability. It’s clear to me that this preference stands in contradiction to the perceptions and plans of many modern developers.

Too many town planners, local authorities and architects seem to have no idea what ‘ordinary people’ want and need. They project their own self-interested ideas, force them on people, claiming that they know best, and we have to live with the consequences for the rest of our lives.

The prince has proved that he knows better, in my view. In spite of his privileged background he has demonstrated, through his work and actions that he has a good knowledge of how ordinary people prefer to live and of what is good for the environment. The attacks on him are not only grossly disrespectful but also unfair.

Simon Conibear, the Duchy of Cornwall Development Manager of Poundbury, is intelligent, capable, easy to talk to, and focused. He’s been with the project for 14 years. “The Prince is aware of the comments and he is sensitive to them. He’s happy with the implementation of his vision, in spite of some compromises. His life has brought him into contact with the best and the worst in the English landscape. He is still involved with the project and he visits four times a year. Poundbury had to be created on the basis of commercial viability. It is required by Act of Parliament that the Duchy acts commercially as an organisation. It has proved, if anything, that better-quality development is viable as well as better in terms of sustainability.”

Based on the principles of New Urbanism (, Poundbury is providing us with a neighbourhood, diverse in population and use.

Poundbury is anything but retro. Its town planning principles have been proven to be appealing to residents. Prince Charles and master-planner Leon Krier realized their vision with flair. Dorchester, the County Town, has been extended in a truly innovative, spectacular, uplifting way. I am certainly not the only one to appreciate the Duchy’s work

Jamie Butcher, a 17-year-old student (he’s studying Outdoor Education), told me “I moved to Poundbury from Dorchester with my parents three years ago. We needed a bigger but affordable house so my parents could foster children and so that we could have space for our two dogs. We love it here. It is stylish, modern, and affordable. I cycle to the college. I have many friends who live in Poundbury. The lovely Dorset beaches are close by, and that’s fun. I like the fact that there are rules. We all know where we stand. I wouldn’t like to live on an ordinary estate. They are dreary, boring and grey, although the houses might have bigger gardens. I prefer it here. I like the layout of Poundbury, its lanes, squares, and courtyards. There are many apartments, such as Synergy Housing, a joint-ownership type of accommodation, and the Duchy is building more. They help young people to have a good start in life. This is also good because young professionals will be able to afford to live here in the future. Poundbury is cool….”

Marie-Chantal Lugg is French and married to an English Chartered Engineer. She has lived in England for over 30 years “We moved to Poundbury from Dorchester in 2001. I had bought the Prince’s book “A Vision of Britain” before Poundbury started. Later, when my family used to visit from France, we all became interested in the Prince’s concept and its development and fell in love with the place. It looked authentically English – in the traditional way. We fell in love with the place and found a lovely house in a nice location. We thought that the houses were, and are, logically priced. It was convenient for the boys to walk to the Thomas Hardye School. Poundbury is clean and orderly. Our house has five bedrooms. It looks like a Dorset cottage from the outside and yet it’s modern inside. I like the use of traditional Dorset materials such as stone, brick and flint. We love living here. Poundbury residents have only come to live here after very careful consideration. Artists, business people, young and old, all make for a very interesting community. There are lots of small independent shops in Poundbury and Dorchester. It’s sad when they attack the Prince. Some think Poundbury has been designed for the privileged, but we know this is not the truth. Its strong point is that we’re all mixed. Others were afraid that Poundbury would override Dorchester. In fact Poundbury has enhanced our County Town financially and socially. The place is more diverse now. In my view, Poundbury has been successful for many reasons. Restaurants and shops have reasonable prices. The houses are manageable. You don’t need a fortune to buy or renovate them. I attended a presentation by Leon Krier where he explained the concept of Italian towns and the importance of variety in town planning. Mews, lanes, squares and courtyards create a series of interesting spaces. Speeding is prevented by irregular roads, so there is no need for humps or traffic lights. There are no traffic signals of any kind in Poundbury, to clutter the place. I have great respect for the Prince and his work. The Prince and Mr. Krier know what they’re talking about. It’s a beautiful concept.”

I couldn’t agree more. I love walking to the store, to the Garden Centre, to the restaurants, and each time I can take a different route. There are so many architectural points of interest, like fountains and squares that encourage social intercourse among us. The lack of front gardens creates an atmosphere of openness.

Poundbury offers employment to 1000 people and this will increase to 2000 by the time of its completion. It has definitely brought employment to Dorchester and it has contributed to the economy by millions of pounds. A report to be issued by the County Council in a few weeks time will demonstrate how large that economic impact has been.

Lynn Ο΄Leary, who has lived in the area for twenty-eight years, and who works in Poundbury, says “All the houses are different and interesting. Poundbury is excellent for walking because of the many paths that interlink. The common spaces encourage residents to get to know each other. There is a very relaxed atmosphere. The Prince’s vision of creating an evolving town has been successful. Poundbury does evolve; he had great foresight. He has provided much employment in the area. The houses are easy to clean, and gardens are easy to keep. The houses open to the street so the front is visible easily. This deters crime.”

Steven Jolly originally came from Manchester. The Guinness Trust granted him a house in Poundbury three years ago. He is disabled, so the house was fitted with a lift. “There are many strict, silly rules about the place,” he told me. “We can’t have an aviary in the garden, or independent satellite TV - and we can’t have a washing line, apart from the rotary type that doesn’t dry the clothes properly. I don’t like the pebbly gravel on the pavements,” he said with a smile. Steven was the first to welcome us when we arrived. He lives exactly opposite. In spite of the rules he’s happy here. “If you had a choice between a ‘Council house’ outside Poundbury and this one, which would you choose?” “This one, of course!” he laughed. “If Prince Charles knocked on your door tomorrow to see how you were getting on, what would you say to him?” With a twinkle in his eye, he replied “I’d say, ‘Your Highness, you certainly put this place together well. Your idea of mixing shops, small businesses, factories, social and private housing makes it a fantastic place to live.” “Would you say you’re grateful to him for the opportunity he’s given you?” “Oh yes, of course we’re grateful. He didn’t have to provide his land to house people like us. He is rich. He doesn’t need any more money. He means well. Poundbury should be used as a model all over the country and Prince Charles should be appointed as an adviser for other towns. He’s not old-fashioned…he’s a man of the future. Haven’t you seen that we have no churches in Poundbury? Religion is divisive; but we’re going to have a Quiet Place pretty soon, where we can sit quietly and think about things. Thank you Prince Charles!”

It’s a fallacy that the Prince is always looking back. He certainly never copied nineteen sixties tower blocks, which, it’s been argued, have encouraged crime and a sense of despair. Where were the innovative, thoughtful architects then?

I’ve always believed that the grass is greener elsewhere. I’ve lived in many places around the world. Nowhere did I feel as I feel here. In Poundbury I’ve found a place where everything around me is pleasing, clean, well thought-out and within a reasonable price.

Jo Warren, Associate Director of estate agents Elder and Froy, has been working in the Poundbury office for the last six years. “Prices vary in Poundbury from £145,000 to £595,000. Houses vary in size and are mixed. There are shared equity properties, social housing, private houses, small and big apartments. All intermingle with shops, offices, and small factories. Prices remain stable here. Poundbury hasn’t suffered from the price drop like the rest of the country. June was the best month we’ve ever had. The Prince’s vision was fantastic. He included everything. He set out to create a truly mixed community. The residents come from all social backgrounds, ages and all parts of England. He was keen to create a sustainable environment in which people can live and work, a mixed community of social backgrounds and ages. There are no front gardens. People can’t hide behind hedges, park boats, caravans, or store rubbish in front.”

Simon Conibear tells me that the stipulations were worked out by the Prince’s team in 1988. “It was decided that this was needed. The stipulations make the place harmonious. People on the whole like rules. They know how Poundbury works and that’s why they decide to come and live here. They value the endeavor to create some kind of harmony,”

The Prince’s vision has brought about a kind of aura in the place, which is impossible to define, as there are many contributing factors.

Simon says that the present population of Poundbury is 2000. “By the time the project is complete there ought to be 4000. We are hoping that by 2025 the entire project will be finished.”

Colombian Rosea Gomez is married to an Englishman. They moved to Poundbury from Bogota five years ago. The Thomas Hardye School was the main factor. Their son (17) has done well there. Her husband found out about Poundbury on the internet. He came to the UK first. He liked the school and Poundbury. It was the time of the annual square dance event. He thought it was a lively place. Everybody was out dancing and enjoying themselves. They decided to live here. Their boy could walk to school. Rosie, having lived a cosmopolitan life, thinks it’s a pity that they don’t bring more multicultural activities to the area; foreign artists don’t visit Dorchester much. But the beauty of the area, the uninterrupted vistas, the pretty Dorset villages and the proximity to beaches of outstanding beauty make up for the lack of an international cultural scene. She’s made a lot of friends through various Poundbury societies.

John Butcher works as Site Manager at the Prince of Wales School in Dorchester.
He’s one of the directors of one of the Poundbury Management Companies. “Everybody who buys a house in Poundbury also buys a share in the Company. The system is democratic. I cycle to work. We are concerned about traffic issues and try to find solutions. The use of local material makes houses energy-efficient and warm in winter. Their layout is good. This is modern living within a beautifully designed town”.

Simon Conibear says: “How we live our lives is as important to achieving energy efficiency as how we insulate our properties, what we do with the environment around us; proximity to the shops and work place, are all important. Sustainability is achieved by the use of natural materials, where possible. We’re planning to build an anaerobic digester, which will generate electricity and heating. This will compensate for energy consumed at Poundbury, so making it effectively carbon neutral. ”.

James Foster- Pegg, director of the Poundbury Garden Centre has been working in Poundbury for four and a half years. “It’s true to say that the Garden Centre has become a big part of the community. The place is new and people like to experiment. Poundbury has a positive air about it. The Engine Room (a coffee shop/restaurant) belongs to us. Restaurants are key to any garden business. The food is mostly locally sourced, and reasonably priced. We provide space for functions and cultural events. The Garden Centre is a good meeting place, with its own gallery. We have space for artists from all over the place. The Prince’s efforts are commendable. I have great respect for what he does for others.”

If posh means a clean, civilized, environment with sensible rules for enjoyable, harmonious communal living and a decent existence, then yes, we are posh and proud of it!