Dartmouth Marina: Room with a waterfront view

Britain's newest marina bucks convention by combining local looks with high-tech chic. By Graham Norwood
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The Independent Online

The ancient Devon port of Dartmouth is the quintessential historic British coastal town - and it is about to get a powerful injection of 21st-century property.

This town in the heart of the South Hams has only 6,100 permanent residents. In the autumn and winter they have the place to themselves but that figure more than doubles at the height of the tourist season.

Why is it so popular? It is undeniably beautiful, packed with highly rated restaurants and historic hotels. It also has a spectacular history as a TV location - The Onedin Line in the Seventies and Down To Earth in 2004 were filmed here. But above all it is its sailing traditions that win it the most admirers.

For yachtsmen the River Dart, arguably the most beautiful of the south-west of England's many rivers, is navigable upstream as far as Totnes, about 10 miles away. There are also deep-water moorings in Dartmouth, plus three marinas and several boatyards.

For cruising yachtsmen, Dartmouth is a natural stopping off point well placed for Torbay and onwards towards the Solent in the east, to Cornish rivers like the Fal and Helford to the west, and to the Channel Islands and ultimately France to the south.

The town has been a sailing centre since Edwardian times and its annual regatta, held in late August, draws around 10,000 attendees.

But while the town's physical landscape has hitherto been dominated by the Royal Naval College and clusters of older homes - some Regency near the coastline and many Victorian on the surrounding hillsides - there is a new waterside development, Dart Marina, which may just help redefine this port with a distinctly modern image.

This is Britain's newest marina, launched in April with 33 homes that thankfully buck the well-worn trend of mock-New England clapboard houses which is the staple of many modern waterside schemes.

Instead, the exterior of each of the one-, two- and three-bedroom properties is modelled on a distinctive Dartmouth house type, ranging from a Dutch-style classically gabled property (a type reflecting the town's past days as a trading port with the Dutch) to a highly contemporary home boasting glass, chrome and hardwood.

The interiors, too, are highly contemporary and gizmo-laden, far more in keeping with London penthouses than Devon towns, while owners can enjoy the spa and gym facility on site - the first such centre in any scheme in the south-west of England.

"Smart" technology systems within each property allows the owner to remotely control lighting, shutters and blinds via telephone, while there is also wiring for home theatre surround-sound systems if owners wish these to be added. Then there is a multi-zone audio, allowing residents to listen to CDs in the bedroom and radio in the kitchen all from one central source and all controlled by a simple keypad.

Parts of each property enjoy under-floor heating, while many have terraces. There is video-entry control for each home, and CCTV cameras monitor the owners' parking area.

Owners can arrange to have their properties serviced by the adjoining hotel, where there are also restaurants and bars for those not wanting to venture into the rest of the town.

Naturally, every property has an uninterrupted view of the 110-berth marina that sits just in front of the scheme - although ownership of a house or apartment at Dart Marina does not guarantee that you will be able to purchase a mooring.

"It's the ultimate lock-up- and-leave property for those travelling between homes in different locations," says Jane Summers of Knight Frank, the selling agent (01392 423111 or 01803 837119; www.dartmarina property.com).

But the new development is not a sterile modern facility. It will host events contributing to the local Shakespeare Week, Regatta and Food Celebration Festival, all happening in the next four months.

And appropriately enough for a scheme which was itself built on a former shipyard site, there is still a boat repair company based next door. Meanwhile each of the new properties looks over one of two traditional ferries linking Dartmouth with Kingswear, a smaller community across the Dart.

Prices are almost as eye-watering as those views - £850,000 to £1.1m per property, setting new records in the town. What few flats and houses there are like this inland in the Dartmouth area sell for a maximum of 75 per cent of the price of those at this marina.

"This price reflects the standard of design, of interior fittings and the fact that every property has at least one car parking space. This is not only a collection of homes but a new destination in its own right, holding events and drawing in tourists, and is the first in the South Hams in recent memory," says Summers.

"It would have been easy to have built smaller, denser properties which wouldn't have added to the appearance of the town or been a draw to bring income to the economy. These do all of these things," she insists.

Not everyone gives an undiluted welcome to the new price levels promoted by this scheme.

John Burton-Race is the celebrity chef whose Michelin-starred restaurant The New Angel sits just 500 yards from Dart Marina. He welcomes the improvement in facilities in the town symbolised by the development but is wary that the area's house prices may turn Dartmouth into what he calls a sort of "Chelsea-on-Sea".

"Because there is little or no new development in Dartmouth, property values will continue to grow through the roof," he says.

In reality, that price growth is almost certain to happen anyway. The town has strict controls over new building with little land available anyway; many bed and breakfasts and small hotels have disappeared in recent years as properties were converted back to family houses or transformed into apartments; and the second homes market continues to grow - in some villages near Dartmouth, 60 per cent of properties have owners living in the South-east or the Midlands and drawn to the area on weekends because of its waterside location.

"But the hope is that this scheme won't be merely a second home area. There's already interest from people living elsewhere in Dartmouth who want the low maintenance of a new home compared to the expense and trouble of a period property," says Jane Summers.

Whoever buys, one thing is for certain. This is a modern development with an appearance and planning that could hold its own in Central London or any major European centre. For Devon, it is a startling leap into the future.