Poundbury: A town fit for a prince

It's 15 years since the first stone was laid at Poundbury, Prince Charles' model village in Dorset. As he unveils plans for a second eco-community, Adharanand Finn finds out what the residents think about their royal idyll

'That bloody prince – what was he thinking with all this gravel?" Bill, a retired civil engineer, has only lived in Poundbury, Prince Charles's mock traditional town in Dorset, for six months, but he is already fed up with the loose gravel that covers the pathways throughout the development. Outside his front door he has placed two heavy-duty mats in a vain attempt to stop the stuff entering his house.

"It gets everywhere," he says. "But at least it stops the kids riding their skateboards." It also stops parents pushing their buggies. Samantha, who works in the local café, has two small children and has had to buy an off-road pushchair to cope. "You end up walking in the road," she says. A Spanish lady in the local shop concurs, complaining that you can't wear good shoes in Poundbury or they get ruined by the gravel.

It may seem petty, but the gravel is a hot topic of conversation on the streets of Poundbury. Not everyone hates it, though. As well as its crunch apparently acting as a highly effective burglar deterrent, many agree that it also looks nice. Samantha says one of the local architects told her it was meant to be "easy on the eye. Particularly from the air."

Compared to many new housing developments, Poundbury is certainly easy on the eye. The houses come in various shapes, sizes and styles, and are all modelled on desirable traditional buildings such as country cottages or Georgian town houses. The streets are higgledy-piggledy, and there are few signs to blight the landscape. This does mean, however, that visitors usually get lost on their first outing. In fact, Poundbury's nostalgic vision frequently comes before functionality. While the aesthetics are popular – I didn't meet a single person who thought it was ugly – ask the residents what it is like to live here and the grumbles are quick to surface. Aside from the gravel, within a few hours I've heard complaints about the on-going building works (Poundbury is still expanding), the selection of shops, the lack of signs, the eerily quiet streets, the rowdy neighbours in the social housing and even the absence of dog bins in the park.

Poundbury does have a quirky collection of shops for a so-called traditional village. While there is no post office, there is a state-of-the-art hi-fi shop and at least three wedding stores. Robin and Barbara, a retired couple I meet feeding their pampered dog buttered scones in the café, think the selection of shops may be based on whether they are likely to generate much litter. While they think that is a good thing, they complain that the shops don't sell anything useful. The only shop anyone uses, they tell me, is Budgens, which has to call itself the Poundbury Village Stores on the wall outside, so as not to ruin the old-time effect.

The shop owners have their own complaints, however. The owner of a gift shop admits that he relies on custom from visitors to survive, but with the ban on signs people often fail to find him.

"Lots of shops put up signs illegally a while back," he tells me. "But then Charles came to visit and they had to take them all down."

Prince Charles was granted planning permission to build a new eco-town in south Devon earlier this year and last week agreed to be part of the Government's eco-town scheme, with the crown estate acting as partner in a consortium that intends to build a town of 5,000 houses near Nottingham. I'm in Poundbury because I wanted to see how his last pet project was doing. Sherford, the new town, shares many of the same philosophies as Poundbury, including a strict adherence to building and planning techniques over a century old.

Bill Dunster, the architect behind the groundbreaking BedZed eco-community in the London borough of Sutton, says this is concerning.

"Poundbury is a stage set," he says. "In terms of people and spaces, it's unobjectionable, but as a vision of the future, it terrifies me." If you build a genuine eco-town, he says, it won't look like an old-fashioned village. "If you design houses to maximise solar gain, with passive heat recovery ventilation, rainwater harvesting systems, wind turbines and south-facing roofs covered in solar panels, it's not going to look like Poundbury." Sherford is being based on the traditional Wiltshire market town of Marlborough, complete with Georgian-style town houses lining the high street. The plans for the development paint a picture of a bustling community where everyone walks everywhere, as people did in bygone days.

In Poundbury, however, the interconnected streets and walkways are virtually deserted, even on a Saturday afternoon. The quietness is an attraction for some, particularly the many retirees who have moved here, but it feels slightly dysfunctional for such a large place.

Despite Charles' nostalgia for a time before town planning became enthralled by the motor vehicle, Poundbury is very car-friendly. Most houses have garages bigger than their gardens, and parking is free everywhere. I bump into a couple who have just purchased a new house in Poundbury and I ask them, as they climb into their gold Mercedes, what attracted them to the development. The man smiles at me. "No yellow lines," he says, as if that sums it up.

Poundbury was also supposed to be an experiment in fostering social harmony, with social housing and private dwellings intermingled throughout the development, but here too it hasn't quite worked. Locals from a nearby estate tell me Poundbury has a reputation in the surrounding area for being "a bit stuck-up". Meanwhile, Robin and Barbara, and their dog, are no longer living in Poundbury. They had to move out because of problems with the neighbours.

"They mix up the streets with social housing," they tell me. "Some of the language we heard was appalling, and there were parties that went on all night."

While it's hard not to have some sympathy for Prince Charles when he says he wants to build "places that convey an everlasting human story of meaning and belonging", Poundbury, for all its old-fashioned quaintness, has so far failed to achieve that aspiration.

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Executive

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading and innovative con...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue