At the end of a year dogged by allegations of personal scandal the last thing Prince Charles wanted was to begin 2004 with another PR disaster on his hands.
But his plans to build a village on the fringes of Britain's surfing capital has whipped up a storm of protest leading to accusations that he is trying to create "Kensington-on-Sea".
Residents of Newquay, Cornwall, fear that the new settlement, already being called "Surfbury" after the prince's first model village of Poundbury in Dorset, will quickly become an exclusive holiday resort for rich Londoners.
Now, to counter this criticism, the prince is to mount a local charm offensive.
The Duchy of Cornwall, the Prince of Wales's private estate which owns part of the land for the Newquay development, intends to head off accusations of elitism by asking local people for their views about what the new village should look like.
A spokeswoman for Prince Charles said yesterday that there would be a "wide consultation" with "plenty of time for people's views to be taken into account".
She added that one reason for the consultation exercise was to dispel criticism that Prince Charles's architectural experiment would end up as a holiday village for the middle classes.
"The whole idea is that local people will be able to have a say about its form and shape."
Poundbury, Prince Charles's first architectural experiment begun in 1993, was intended to inspire a revival of rural architecture. The prince's plan for Cornwall is intended as a template for the massive programme of urban housebuilding being unleashed by the Government.
The spokeswoman added: "We are wanting to use local products like granite and slate, which we are likely to find in the area."
The development of more than 1,000 homes has already been given outline planning permission and will be built using similar methods to Poundbury.
But Poundbury's house prices continue to outperform the regional property market, making it difficult for more local people to purchase homes there.
Paul Tyler, the Liberal Democrat MP for North Cornwall, has said that he is concerned that Surfbury will be a "village that is inaccessible to local people so that it becomes another Kensington-on-Sea".
Outline planning permission has already been granted for more than 1,000 homes, a Catholic primary school and a railway station on the 250-acre site.
The development will be two miles from Fistral beach, a mecca for surfing enthusiasts. Rick Stein, the celebrity chef, plans to open a hotel in the town and Jamie Oliver is said to be considering opening a restaurant.
Phil Randall, strategic development officer at Restormel Borough Council, said a further planning application would follow the public consultation.
"We will be insisting on a very high proportion of affordable housing for the people of Newquay and their children so the houses are not just bought by wealthy people from other parts of the country," he said.
Through the Duchy of Cornwall, Prince Charles is leading a consortium of local farmers and developers who own the site and lawyers intend to draw up tight building controls.
But environmental groups threaten to mount stiff opposition to the plans unless it provides only social housing.
Valerie Tomlinson, of Friends of the Earth in Cornwall, said: "There will be plenty of people rubbing their hands at the prospect of this and looking to make money while local people continue to be priced out of the market. These houses need to be under the control of housing associations or be for first-time buyers from the area. We would hope Prince Charles makes sure that happens."
Last year Prince Charles endured allegations about his personal life, culminating in his private secretary issuing a flat denial that the heir to the throne had been involved in any improper sexual relationship with any of his servants.Reuse content