With their 24-hour security and liveried guards, gated communities have long appealed to safety-conscious urbanites with big wallets. Now it seems the allure of expensive housing protected by fencing and a manned gatehouse has spread to a less edgy corner of Britain – the rural Cotswolds.
With the sort of stylish discretion to be expected of a development at which properties start at £800,000 and boast a choice of interiors designed by Jade Jagger or Philippe Starck, the Lakes By Yoo has quietly opened for business in 650 acres of prime Gloucestershire countryside. The honey-coloured stone cottages, manicured villages and convenience of a 90-minute drive from deepest Notting Hill have already attracted the likes of Kate Winslet, Liz Hurley and Kate Moss. But the latest building project represents a new front in what some complain is the creeping colonisation of the picturesque area by monied second-homers.
The scheme, built around six lakes on a former farm and quarry close to the town of Fairford, is the brainchild of property mogul Anton Bilton and his business partner John Hitchcox, once described as "the Prada of the property industry", and features 30 ultra-modern timber-and-glass lodges built as holiday or weekend boltholes with price tags ranging from £800,000 to £3m. Recent visitors include the actor Kevin Spacey and DJ Pete Tong.
Planners have granted permission for up to 160 houses on the site, described as "a gated community with 24-hour security and the highest level of concierge service". Add to this a tantalising thread of innocence in a carefully conserved rural idyll and the developers believe they have hit on an intoxicating formula. Complete with a stretch of river stocked with fish and a teepee village, the development is marketed as a place for children to live "the Swallows and Amazons adventure" and for clients, from stockbrokers to celebrities, to "enjoy Saturday night barbecues of freshly caught crayfish at the fishing hut".
In an interview this month, Mr Bilton, who is married to the American-born actress Lisa B and is the grandson of Percy Bilton, founder of one of Britain's largest construction and property empires, said: "The idea was to create a wonderful environment where kids can be outside playing with sticks or swimming, but where there's no fear of crime; where it's relaxed and very, very nature driven."
While the developers have been at pains to reach out beyond their gatehouse to the surrounding community, employing about 60 people, the path to success has not been entirely smooth. In January, residents and councillors raised objections to the number of solariums being added to the lodges. Teresa Griffin, from Kempsford Parish Council, said: "They look more at home in an urban environment rather than the rural Cotswolds."
The arrival of additional holiday homes has also fuelled the debate about a shortage of affordable housing in the area. Paul Hodgkinson, leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Cotswold District Council, failed last year to obtain a moratorium on the granting of consents for new second homes. He said: "What has been allowed to happen in this area in recent years is a tragedy for young people who want to remain close to where they were born and is storing up a major demographic crisis for the Cotswolds. The housing market locally is now hopelessly out of balance."
Perhaps aware of the perils of being perceived as a ghetto for a privileged few, Lakes For Yoo has donated £10,000 awarded to it in a planning dispute back to the local community and sponsored events including a new music festival.
Mr Hitchcox said: "We believe passionately in supporting the local community, whether it be through using local businesses and services or supporting the arts."