Why Poundbury could be a blueprint for much-needed housing across Britain
Britain needs to build tens of thousands of new homes every year, but what form should it take?
The answer can be found in King Charles’ favorite urban project – Poundbury.
The community of 2,300 homes and 240 businesses on the outskirts of Dorchester, Dorset, is renowned as an example of the Old King’s taste in architecture.
However it is more than that. “In about 1989, Prince Charles, as he was then, discovered the work of urban planner Leon Creer and was the mastermind behind Poundbury,” says Ben Murphy, estate director of the Duchy of Cornwall.
“The idea was to build quality Georgian and Victorian homes at a high density for mixed-income residents, with shops and amenities within walking distance.”
Poundbury looks like an old movie set. Walk one crescent and you could be as far as Bath, and then suddenly find a walled garden square, where you’d expect to see Mary Poppins feeding the birds.
High-rise houses like those in Belgravia overlook a cricket pitch. There are terraced cottages, corner shops and the occasional colonial-style villa.
The centerpiece of it all is Queen Mother Square, headlined by the Royal Pavilion, which houses 20 luxury apartments and Strathmore House, a classical building designed by Quinlan Terry.
The homes are heated by renewable gas from the UK’s first on-grid biomethane plant, and the whole place is clean, with no flashy advertising, graffiti, or even road marks.
No parking: just park anywhere, like 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 sullenly bland”.
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 Ms Tate, 67. “Covid has brought everyone together.”
“Those who can help get prescriptions and shop for the most vulnerable populations.”
Sahil Dalvi, who runs the post office and general store, offers the kind of personal service associated with days gone by.
He delivers papers and milk in the morning, and if retirees call to say they’ve run out of something during the day, he delivers it to them personally.
“I really appreciate how friendly the people are here,” says Mr Dalvi, 35, a father of two. “I haven’t encountered any racial bias in Poundbury, and it’s a great place to raise young families.”
What about accusing Bayley of petty rules? “We call these the Poundbury legends,” says Mr. Murphy.
“They say people aren’t allowed to hang clotheslines – that’s nonsense, we’re just asking them not to hang laundry on the balconies. You can’t paint your doors as you please – that’s not true, the Duchess just likes to see what you have in mind.”
“It’s something residents buy.” Most appreciate that there are no noisy businesses or Airbnbs nearby.
Poundbury is expensive but not exclusive, and 35 per cent of properties are affordable homes.
According to Rightmove, terraced homes sold for an average of £466,000 last year. Detached homes, £667,000.
Savills says Poundbury carries a 25 per cent premium. The city has its drawbacks. Sprinkling shops around it reduces the need for cars, but shop owners say they lose out on passing trade without a main street.
The Duchy prohibits the replacement of uPVC windows because wooden sash styles are more environmentally friendly. But it also means higher heating bills.
Demographics are also weighted towards the 50+ age group. Will Poundbury serve as a model for new communities nationwide?
“I don’t see why not,” says Ms. Tate. “Provided there is a strong guiding hand to ensure there are enough doctors, schools and facilities.”
A 4,000-home Poundbury-style development is being built at Nansledan in Newquay, Cornwall.
In Faversham, Kent, a similar development, on land in the Duchy of Cornwall, is in the “planning stage”. Could the king’s critics be wrong? The much-criticized city of Poundbury may serve as a blueprint for new cities of the future.
(tags for translation) Why