Receiver called in to teleworkers' dream village

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The Independent Online

A seductive 21st-century vision of replacing office politics and commuting with modems, country views and roses around the door was dealt a severe blow yesterday by the news that Britain's first "televillage" had gone into receivership.

A seductive 21st-century vision of replacing office politics and commuting with modems, country views and roses around the door was dealt a severe blow yesterday by the news that Britain's first "televillage" had gone into receivership.

Nearly one-third of homes remain unsold at the £7m development near the Welsh market town of Crickhowell in the Brecon Beacons National Park, where urban dwellers were enticed by the prospect of hooking up to a fibre-optic network together in a converted, listed farmhouse.

The Acorn Televillages project has now run up debts of around £1m, leading bankers to call in the accountant Grant Thornton.

The village won a Royal Town Planning Institute award for innovative, sustainable housing last year and its properties, which combine local timber and slate with Venetian-style pastel blue and pink decor, have been the subject of an expensive national advertising campaign. But London-style prices of up to £369,000, have been beyond many pockets and 12 out of 39 houses are empty.

The telecentre with fibre-optic links which was to have been the hub of the community has not been installed, causing those already there to abandon teleworking for more conventional sources of income such as hand-painting Christmas cards or yoga and music tuition.

David Diprose, who bought a home in the community three years ago, said some of £300,000-plus properties in the second phase of development were too expensive.

"£250,000 around here gives you a nice choice at local estate agents," said Mr Diprose who, like others, is disgruntled by the absence of the fibre-optic network which was to have helped them access job opportunities. "It would also have removed the cost of setting up our own modem links," he said. "I cannot afford to be on-line 24 hours a day as I would like."

The development's banker, Triodos, which specialises in ethical investment, said the first phase of cheaper homes had overrun on costs and that with nine in the second phase unsold and work to ensure "adequate access" to information technology facilities incomplete it was forced to call in the receiver.

The company's failure reawakens the debate about whether the growth of telecottaging, predicted since the Eighties, has been exaggerated. The estimated number of teleworkers varies from 1.5 million to 4 million. But several studies have shown the lifestyle to create suburban isolation rather than a rural paradise.

The Institute of Employment Studies, which last year said one-fifth of Britain's working population was working from home, warned that teleworkers often felt lonely and preferred a mix of home and office work. This confirmed Europe-wide research by University College Dublin which showed that rural teleworkers complained they were passed over for promotion, missed the chance to trade ideas at the photocopier and felt "out of the loop" of office gossip.

At Crickhowell's second-phase launch last year the managing director of Acorn Televillages, Ashley Dobbs, said the development was "not just about making money" but "changing the world by example [by] creating a sense of community". He seemed to have chosen the perfect place. There is even a fable of a hole in the sky that protects the town from rain.

Mr Dobbs, who helped to import the concept from Scandinavia in the Eighties, yesterday insisted the company would be able to continue. "It came as a surprise that the company had been put into receivership, but we have met with the receivers and we are trying to sort the matter out. I've jumped many hurdles in getting the project off the ground and this is one more," he said.

The receivers have indicated that there is a buyer interested in acquiring the site and completing the development at "close to the original specification" but residents fear the aspirations they bought into may be lost. "This is not just a housing development and it is important that whoever takes it over understands the fundamental commitments to a way of life," Mr Diprose said.

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