Meet the new Y.I.M.B.Y. lords
Eleanor Doughty visits the Scottish estate owners who are building towns from scratch on their land, creating thousands of homes
Earlier this month, the Government announced its support for three new garden towns and 14 villages to boost the country’s housing supply. The majority of these are being built on brownfield sites, such as the former Deenethorpe airfield in Northamptonshire. But a few private landowners have already taken the plunge, at their own expense.
In Scotland, four of the country’s grandest families have set about building new towns on their estates. David Carnegie, fourth Duke of Fife; John Stuart, 21st Earl of Moray; Johnnie Grant, 13th Earl of Dysart; and David Paton, whose family has lived at Grandhome near Aberdeen since 1673, have each donned hard hats and are building settlements on their estates.
On the south side of Aberdeen, two miles from the North Sea, all but “about three fields” of Elsick, the Duke of Fife’s 1,600-acre estate, will form a new town. Forty years from now, Chapelton of Elsick, a community of 8,000 homes, will have been built from scratch. “It is quite extreme,” the Duke admits.
His Chapelton journey began in 2010. Plans had been announced for a long-awaited bypass around the west side of Aberdeen, and “every square inch of land was in the pot” for building new housing, the Duke says. Conscious to retain some control, he decided to spearhead a project himself. “We said to the council, ‘We’ll take all of the problems away from you for 40 years’, and once you’re in for a big development, you’re in for a town.”
Despite the Duke’s academic record – Eton, a law degree from Cambridge, a diploma from the Royal Agricultural University and an MBA from Edinburgh – he had no idea where to start. “One of the first things I asked was, ‘How do you build a town?’ ” he recalls.
Helpfully, his friend and distant cousin Lord Moray already had plans under way for a 12,000-resident town called Tornagrain, just outside Inverness, where residents will begin to move in at the end of February. The Duke promptly hired the brains behind Tornagrain, American town planner Andrés Duany, a co-founder of the urban design movement New Urbanism, to put Chapelton together.
“Andrés is the most experienced town planner in the world,” the Duke says. “He doesn’t experiment with people’s lives, he does what he knows works.” Just five years after the plans were drawn up, following an extensive public consultation process, the first couple moved in on Valentine’s Day 2015.
The new urbanist philosophy employed at Chapelton, Tornagrain, and on the Paton family’s Grandhome project – also planned by Duany – is neighbourhood-based.
‘One of the first things I asked was, how do you build a town?’
Lord of the manor: The Duke of Fife at home at Elsick House, cover and main; the newly built homes at Chapelton of Elsick, above; Chapelton’s hair and beauty salon, below right; the Earl of Moray at Tornagrain, below