Britain needs to build tens of thousands of new homes every year but what form should they take?
The answer may be found in King Charles’s favourite urban project — Poundbury.
The community of 2,300 homes and 240 businesses on the outskirts of Dorchester, Dorset, is best known for being a showcase for the King’s retro taste in architecture.
Yet it is more than that. ‘Around 1989 Prince Charles, as he then was, discovered the work of urban planner Leon Krier and he was the mastermind behind Poundbury,’ says Ben Murphy, Duchy of Cornwall estates director.
‘The idea was to build high-quality Georgian and Victorian-style homes at high density for mixed-income residents, with shops and amenities within walking distance.’
Heart of the community: Queen Mother Square in Poundbury – a new town of 2,300 homes and 240 businesses on the outskirts of Dorchester
Poundbury feels like a period filmset. Walk down one crescent and you could be in Bath then, suddenly, you find a gated garden square, where you half expect to see Mary Poppins feeding the birds.
Tall townhouses like those in Belgravia overlook a cricket field. There are terraced cottages, corner shops and the occasional colonial-style villa.
A focus for it all is Queen Mother Square, headed by the Royal Pavilion with its 20 luxury apartments and Strathmore House, a classical building designed by Quinlan Terry.
Homes are heated by renewable gas from the UK’s first biomethane-to-grid plant and the whole place is pristine, with no gaudy advertising, graffiti, even road markings.
There are no car parks: you just park in any space, as in the 1950s.
All of this was ridiculed by modernist architects when Poundbury was first built, most notably by Stephen Bayley who described it as ‘fake, heartless, authoritarian and grimly cute’.
The locals disagree.
Judy Tate, an artist, moved with her husband Peter, a retired doctor, from a 17th-century house in nearby Corfe Castle six years ago.
‘Poundbury has developed into a really strong community, says Mrs Tate, 67. ‘Covid drew everyone together.
‘Those who could helped get prescriptions and did shopping for more vulnerable residents.’
Sahil Dalvi, who runs the post office and general store, provides the sort of personal service you associate with days gone by.
He delivers papers and milk in the morning and if pensioners phone to say they have run out of something during the day, he gets it to them personally.
‘I really appreciate how friendly people are here,’ says Mr Dalvi, 35, who has two children. ‘I haven’t encountered any racial prejudice in Poundbury and it’s a great place to bring up young families.’
What about Bayley’s accusation about petty rules? ‘We call these the Poundbury myths,’ says Mr Murphy.
‘They say people aren’t allowed washing lines — nonsense, we just ask they don’t hang laundry from balconies. You can’t paint your doors as you wish — untrue, the Duchy just likes to see what you have in mind.
‘It’s something residents buy into. Most appreciate not having noisy firms or Airbnbs nearby.’
Poundbury is pricey but not exclusive and 35 per cent of properties are affordable homes.
According to Rightmove, terraced houses sold for £466,000 on average last year. Detached homes, £667,000.
Savills say Poundbury carries a 25 per cent premium. The town has its faults. Sprinkling the shops around reduces the need for cars but shop owners say they lose passing trade without a high street.
The Duchy forbids replacement uPVC windows as wooden sash styles are more eco-friendly. But they also mean higher heating bills.
The demographic is also weighted towards the 50-plus age group. Would Poundbury work as a model for new communities nationwide?
‘I don’t see why not,’ says Mrs Tate. ‘Provided there is a strong guiding hand to ensure it has enough doctors, schools and amenities.’
A Poundbury-style development of 4,000 homes is being built at Nansledan in Newquay, Cornwall.
In Faversham, Kent, a similar development, on Duchy of Cornwall land, is at the ‘planning stage’. Could it be the King’s critics are wrong? Perhaps much-maligned Poundbury will be a blueprint for future new towns.