Of course, we are not talking seriously rural here. Just countryside close enough to the M25. In Essex, Hertfordshire and Kent, Countryside Properties has tapped into the market for country living with all the conveniences and none of the inconveniences.
One of the biggest developments is Church Langley, near Harlow, Essex, which now has more than 4,000 homes. Great Notley Garden Village, near Braintree, St Michael's Mead, Bishop's Stortford and Kings Hill, near West Malling, Kent, are all within spitting distance of major road or rail links.
These new villages are based on the traditional components - pond, church, cricket green, pub. But that is probably as far as it goes. The houses are airy and modern. No poky workers' cottages here. And the residents are all incomers, so the village idiot will, of necessity, be an import. People are attracted by things such as business parks, proximity to a large town, good shops, and good schools. Almost as important is the supermarket. How long will it be before Tesco or Sainsbury builds a superstore and then develops a living community around it?
In Great Notley Garden Village the planners have taken things one step further by including a manor house. Is there a lord of the manor? "We have been looking into whether there is a title available, but no luck so far," says Guy Lambert, of Countryside Properties.
Prices in Great Notley range from pounds 65,000 to pounds 200,000, with properties available with a 5 per cent deposit, and there are also some part-exchange deals. The village has, among other things, a 400,000 sq ft business park, day nursery, doctor's surgery and a supermarket.
There are plenty of real villages around the country, with many of these attractions, but they usually also have real-life problems such as run- down council estates, unemployment, a boarded-up village post office and teenagers running riot out of boredom. Then there are the villages steeped in history with middle-class imports living in listed Tudor cottages who petition against everything that smacks of innovation or enterprise, much to the chagrin of the locals.
The Howleys have lived in Great Notley for one year. "What impresses me is the attention to detail that has been put into this development, from a beautifully built brick wall to the large country parks," says Mr Howley. They are retired and enjoy living in an environment where their day-to-day living needs are fully met, but within a mixed community including young families. But don't assume this is an insular existence. The village has the usual visiting attractions: antique fairs, Essex radio roadshows. And in July there is a three-day music festival in the amphitheatre.
These villages will sell because they are untouched by rural problems. The British village is being revamped and sanitised for new middle-class communities., but this isn't just an environment for the unimaginative nuclear family. I have a friend who lives in just such a place. As a music producer working from home, his central London flat was far too small. In his new house he has enough space, the walls have been soundproofed and the windows blacked out so that he can work all through the day or night without distraction.
Space is the issue on this overcrowded island. With technology hastening the end of office life, the demand for a self-contained, pod-like habitat will increase, and we will all have to accept that the march of suburbia is relentless.
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