Builder tar­gets eco vil­lage bonanza

Howard Cook has turned his farm into a utopia, but plan­ners are about to rule on whether he can ex­pand Pon­derosa. Sharon Dale re­ports.

Yorkshire Post - Property - - PROPERTY -

ONE plan led to an­other for Howard Cook, the down-toearth York­shire builder who is now the ruler of a re­mark­able fief­dom.

Pon­derosa, named af­ter the ranch in TV’s Bonanza, be­gan when Howard, 66, bought a 50 acre dairy farm in his home­town of Heck­mond­wike in 1988.

He made the farm­house his home and the out­build­ings the HQ for his suc­cess­ful construction com­pany, be­fore a “Eureka” mo­ment when he de­cided that his land could be used as a re­source for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties.

His par­ents helped es­tab­lish the lo­cal MEN­CAP branch and he was fa­mil­iar with the needs of those with learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties.

So he cre­ated green­houses where they could learn hor­ticul- tu­ral skills and later in­stalled a sewing work­shop.

Pon­derosa Ther­a­peu­tic Cen­tre was born and funded partly with prof­its from his construction com­pany, he ex­panded into a rare breeds an­i­mal area tended by the stu­dents.

Next came Pon­derosa Park, lakes, a vis­i­tor cen­tre and restau­rant where lo­cal fam­i­lies en­joy days out.

He also built a busi­ness cen­tre on a for­mer scrap yard at the edge of his land.

It all adds up to quite an achieve­ment and won Howard an MBE for his ef­forts.

“I’ve got lots of ideas. I was sat watch­ing the fam­i­lies here one day and thought: ‘I bet they’d re­ally like to be at the sea­side’, so we got 200 tons of play sand and made a beach. It’s been a big suc­cess,” says Howard, who has been re­warded with scores of suc­cess sto­ries for his work with dis­abled and disen­fran­chised peo­ple some of whom he now em­ploys full-time.

I’m out work­ing from 7am till 9.30pm and ev­ery­thing I’ve ever made has gone back into Pon­derosa.

But his lat­est vi­sion, a plan to cre­ate the coun­try’s first eco friendly re­tire­ment vil­lage on his land, is at­tract­ing sup­port and op­po­si­tion in equal mea­sure.

The joint ven­ture with Re­tire­ment Vil­lages UK looks im­pres­sive with 180 re­tire­ment homes, a 40 bed care­home for the el­derly and 44 starter homes.

The zero car­bon prop­er­ties, de­signed by Cartwright Pickard, will have green walls and roofs, so­lar pan­els, air source heat pumps and al­lot­ments. En­ergy will be pro­vided by a bio fuel gen­er­a­tor and the wood pel­lets har­vested from wood­land at Pon­derosa, which will be criss- crossed with cy­cle paths and foot­paths.

Howard has also come up with the idea of mak­ing con­trac­tors in­volved in the vil­lage, every­one from ar­chi­tects to builders and mar­ket­ing com­pa­nies, cre­ate ap­pren­tice­ships.

“Cre­at­ing ap­pren­tice­ships would be a con­di­tion of get­ting a con­tract and we think there would be 200 ap­pren­tice­ships out of this scheme,” he says.

“At the mo­ment there is no in­cen­tive for firms to give ap­pren­tice­ships but they would be happy to do so if it meant winning a con­tract. I also think this could work na­tion­ally.”

But crit­ics say the vil­lage en­croaches on green belt and plan­ners are bound to take their con­cerns into ac­count.

“There is some green belt but most of the de­vel­op­ment is on old sewage works and the site of an old quarry,” says Howard, who came up the re­tire­ment vil­lage idea af­ter his aunt went into a nurs­ing home.

“It hit me hard and I started to think about a bet­ter al­ter­na­tive. Re­tire­ment homes that peo­ple can buy and down­size to free­ing up fam­ily sized homes make sense.

“When the own­ers are un­able to cope in their own home, they can move to a care home on the same site.

“It’s a sus­tain­able com­mu­nity and the plans will help re­gener- ate the area and pro­vide em­ploy­ment,” says Howard, who thinks the re­tire­ment houses will cost around £200,000 each.

Plan­ners will de­cide whether his dream can be­come a re­al­ity next month and he’s pre­par­ing to put up a fight.

He has spent over 20 years cre­at­ing Pon­derosa rather than en­joy­ing the trap­pings of wealth and is keen to move on to the next stage.

“I’m out work­ing from 7am till 9.30pm and ev­ery­thing I’ve ever made has gone back into Pon­derosa. I live in the farm­house here and I’ve got a nice car and that’s it. This is my life,” he says.

Af­ter Princess Anne vis­ited the site, a lady-in-wait­ing wrote to him: ”What an amaz­ing place and a credit to your pas­sion, per­se­ver­ance and hard work and prob­a­bly down right dogged­ness.

“Her Royal High­ness feels that it is just the start of your ad­ven­ture judg­ing by your en­thu­si­asm and ideas and she sends her best wishes for your fu­ture projects.”

If he doesn’t get plan­ning per­mis­sion, he still has a host of other ideas in­clud­ing a mil­i­tary mu­seum as a re­source for school chil­dren, and a mini Eden project and more work­shops for his dis­abled clients.

“It’s all about joined up think­ing,” he says.

For more de­tails on plans for Pon­derosa re­tire­ment vil­lage, visit www.pon­deros­apark.co.uk/vil­lage/

AP­PLI­CA­TION: An artist’s im­pres­sion of the eco vil­lage at Pon­derosa in Heck­mond­wike.

ACHIEVE­MENT: Howard Cook.

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