In­side the model town cre­ated by Prince Charles

Pound­bury was mocked as clas­si­cal pas­tiche, but 25 years on it is thriv­ing.

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page - Harry Mount is au­thor of How Eng­land Made the English By Harry Mount

Twenty-five years ago, in Oc­to­ber 1993, con­struc­tion started on Pound­bury, the Prince of Wales’s de­vel­op­ment on the out­skirts of Dorch­ester in Dorset. For years, the Prince had been ridiculed for his sup­pos­edly fo­gey­ish views on ar­chi­tec­ture. Only four years be­fore Pound­bury was be­gun, he made his at­tack on a pro­posed modernist ex­ten­sion to the Na­tional Gallery, call­ing it “a mon­strous car­bun­cle on the face of a much loved and el­e­gant friend”. He ap­proved of its clas­si­cal re­place­ment scheme, by the Amer­i­can ar­chi­tect Robert Ven­turi. But when it opened in 1991, it was at­tacked by crit­ics as “pic­turesque, medi­ocre slime” and a “vul­gar, Amer­i­can piece of post-mod­ern, man­ner­ist pas­tiche”.

And yet, by the time of Ven­turi’s death last month, the Na­tional Gallery ex­ten­sion had been Grade I listed, and is adored by the pub­lic.

And so it has been with Pound­bury. What had been thought of as sec­on­drate clas­si­cal pas­tiche has been im­mensely pop­u­lar with res­i­dents, with hous­ing sell­ing at a 29 per cent pre­mium to other new-build schemes in Dorset. Thanks to good de­sign, Pound­bury has been over­sub­scribed, and is now full of life.

“The Prince is amazed there haven’t been any im­i­ta­tors of Pound­bury,” says a friend of mine, who is close to Prince Charles. “Not least in gov­ern­ment, which has de­clared that it wants to build lots of new towns.”

Many mod­ern ar­chi­tects may not like clas­si­cal ar­chi­tec­ture, but house­buy­ers do. But it wasn’t just the clas­si­cal façades of Pound­bury that won buy­ers over. It was what was go­ing on be­hind them, around them and un­der them.

From the be­gin­ning, Pound­bury’s over­see­ing ar­chi­tect, Léon Krier, who is still in charge of the project aged 72, saw that so­phis­ti­cated util­i­ties, em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties and mixed hous­ing were cru­cial. The Lux­em­bour­gish ar­chi­tect is a cham­pion of the New Clas­si­cal Ar­chi­tec­ture move­ment and also New Ur­ban­ism, which pro­motes build­ing a wide range of hous­ing, en­cour­ag­ing res­i­dents to walk around town, stay­ing within it dur­ing the work­ing day. Ever since the idea for Pound­bury was formed, “walk­a­bil­ity” has been in­te­gral to some of the best de­vel­op­ments.

“Walk­a­ble neigh­bour­hoods are eco­nomic driv­ers of growth, at­tract­ing ta­lented peo­ple, cre­at­ing highly pro­duc­tive real es­tate and sus­tain­ing a thriv­ing ur­ban econ­omy,” says Peter Free­man of Ar­gent, the de­vel­oper that has com­pletely re-en­er­gised the now thor­oughly walk­a­ble King’s Cross over the past 18 years.

The fear that Pound­bury would be­come a dor­mi­tory town for com­muters – as hap­pened to the first gar­den cities, Letch­worth and Wel­wyn Gar­den City – didn’t ma­te­ri­alise. And, un­like the first gar­den sub­urb, Hamp­stead Gar­den Sub­urb, Pound­bury didn’t be­come over­priced, be­cause of the in­clu­sion of af­ford­able homes. “A vi­tal as­pect of Pound­bury was that it was ‘ ten­ure blind’,” says Pa­trick James of the Land­scape Agency. He is the de­signer be­hind Lang­with, a pro­posed new gar­den vil­lage to the south-east of York, with 5,000 new homes, shops, com­mu­nity cen­tres, med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties and schools. “That means you can’t tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween the af­ford­able hous­ing and or­di­nary hous­ing.” As a re­sult, there was no ‘ them and us’ feel to the de­vel­op­ment.

The in­ten­tion of pro­vid­ing one job in the town per home has also been achieved. Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est fig­ures this year, the de­vel­op­ment has cre­ated a place for 187 busi­nesses, with 2,300 jobs, among 1,500 homes. The job-per-home idea is cru­cial for town plan­ners who wish to en­cour­age walk­ing and cy­cling.

“The util­i­ties strat­egy at Pound­bury is also in­no­va­tive,” adds James. “The gas, elec­tric and phone are routed through the rear court­yards and mews, so that you never have to dig up the foot­ways on the streets.”

When you walk or drive around Pound­bury, not only are there other peo­ple walk­ing around, but also other cars drive at a mod­er­ate speed. This isn’t be­cause of speed ta­bles, humps or signs, which can so clut­ter an ur­ban land­scape, but be­cause of the build­ings and the lay­out of the streets. Look at the street plan of Pound­bury and you’ll see a se­ries of curves, bends and culde-sacs; all of these mean driv­ers nat­u­rally slow down and re­main cau­tious be­cause they don’t know what’s around the cor­ner.

The other magic trick that Pound­bury pulled off is to in­crease build­ing den­sity. “In­stead of the usual 11 or 12 build­ings per acre, Pound­bury has over 17,” says James. “It is clever about the size of the build­ings. There is of­fice and stu­dio space across the site, but at a size that doesn’t in­cur busi­ness rates. This has re­sulted in a large num­ber of new small busi­nesses.”

The proof of the pud­ding is in the eat­ing – or the walk­ing. Stroll around Pound­bury to­day and it doesn’t feel like a fake toy­town. In­stead it is some­where real, and some­where you’d re­ally like to live.

‘Prince Charles is amazed there haven’t been any im­i­ta­tors’

IN DE­MAND The Royal Pavil­ion, be­low, where Sav­ills is sell­ing a flat, left, for £1.595m; Prince Charles in Pound­bury, top

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