Poundbury is an urban extension to the Dorset town of Dorchester, a sort of garden suburb. It is sited to the west of Dorchester. The planned population is 5,000 and it forms a significant extension to the town. Dorchester had a total population of 19,000 in 2011, when Poundbury’s population was about 2500, so when completed it will house over a fifth of the population. It is sited to the west of Dorchester, straddling the Roman Road (sometimes called the Icknield Way now the A35) which runs west straight to Bridport and Exeter. The site, on a hilltop which rises to 110m. In consequence it is exposed and windy: the Romans built their town (Durovaria) in the relatively sheltered valley of the River Frome below and remains of the Roman aqueduct, a channel or leat, mark the northern edge of Poundbury which overlooks the valley of the Frome. Geologically this is chalk country.
The form of development
The developer is the Duchy of Cornwall, a crown body which holds the estates of the Prince of Wales as heir to the throne, and the site was formerly Poundbury Farm, part of the Duchy’s holdings in Dorset. Construction began in 1993. The housing development is said to be dense and is mainly two or three storeys high, and follows traditional pattern of terraced houses in brick or render backing onto service courts. There are town squares and the centre is being constructed around the rather grand Queen Mother Square, which apartments rising to five stores, built as neo-classical terraces. Shops include a Waitrose convenience store, a butchers and cheesemonger, an interior design shops and a couple of cafes. There is a pub, the Poet Laureate, a five cafés. There is also a Farmers’ Market, one Saturday per month. East-west through Poundbury, the line of the Roman road, the Bridport Road has been retained. The A35 by-pass road forms the southern boundary and south east of that is phase 1, the first area to be completed.
Sixty hectares of the total of 162 hectares is open space. If we omit the open space then the density of development of the 102 hectares which are built up divided by 5000 is 49 persons /ha. i.e. 4,900 per sq km: this compares with 5,900 / sq km for London, or 4,200 per sq. km for Edinburgh or 3,200 per sq. km for Amsterdam so it is a surprisingly dense modern development.
The roads are quite wide and generous, perhaps too wide given the ambition to model traditional urban development. And there is generous carparking. Though the development is not dominated by cars the commitment to public or non-car modes transport appears more lip service, and car usage is reported to be higher than general in Dorset. There is an electric powered bus service, no.6, between Queen Mother Square and Dorchester town centre and Dorchester South Station. There is no cycle hire and cycle usage appeared low when your reporter visited.
In 2015, 140 businesses employed 1,660 people at Poundbury, and this excludes the more than 300 construction workers employed at any one time. Two of the largest employers are muesli maker, Dorset Cereals, with its 130 strong workforce, and the chocolate maker, House of Dorchester. Commercial activities are not zoned, but are scattered in amongst the housing. The adjacent Rainborrow Farm houses an anerobic digestion plant which produced biomethane to service most of the houses. However, the vast majority of employers are service industry, accountants, financial advisors and the like.
Damers First School is being built 2015-16 as a Dorset County, four form entry school for about 150 pupils. There are also care homes and the HQ of Dorset Fire Brigade. The impression is one of a population which is predominantly white, and predominantly retired during the day when your reporter visited in August 2015. But that may be unrepresentative given children and families may have been on holiday.
The master-planner is the Luxemburg architect, Leon Krier, who began work in the late 1980s, and the buildings are all designed in traditional, mainly neo-classical and vernacular styles, ranging from early nineteenth century artisans’ houses, to grander town houses, and versions of Regent’s Park terraces. The general impression is of a spruce, suspiciously perfect Wessex market town. Views are marked by corner buildings and some of the squares have meeting halls modelled on West County market halls. When complete there will be four quadrants, for example phase 1 completed in 1996 has the Brownsword Hall, designed by John Simpson. Remarkably 35% of the total housing will be affordable rented accommodation, developed by the likes of the Guinness Trust.
There are now a stable of architects, many of them local. Leigh Brooks, David Oliver, Ben Pentreath, Andy Kunz and Philip Storey have all designed areas and Quinlan and Francis Terry and Woking Design Group have designed the larger buildings around Queen Mother Square, which will be completed in 2016.
The architects work within design guidelines and materials include brick, stone, slate and render. The footpath and streets are characterized by tar spray and chip footpaths, which tend to scatter gravel and Queen Mother Square is shared space, with cars and pedestrian areas informally demarcated with a square pattern of macadam within lines of sets and bands of light brown macadam. Controls on satellite dishes bans them from the front of buildings. The result of this architectural design is a far higher standard of building than usual in nearly all comparable modern English tow expansion schemes. And certainly the place is far more congenial in a slightly too well mannered way than say the medium rise tower blocks of Stratford East or the Greenwich Peninsula in London, which are empty of people during the working day.
Landscape and Townscape
Remarkably there are no landscape architects named in the guidebooks available from the Duchy’s offices. However, Dorchester based landscape architect, Adrian Lisney, won the commission to work with Leon Krier in 1990. 60 hectares of the total of 162 hectares is open space. There are three parks and two sets of allotments. Of the parks, the Great Field has a multi-use playing field, the Children’s Playpark in Woodlands Crescent has play equipment, and the third, Molmead Walk is a place for views. There is also a Recreation Centre, with swimming pool, dance studio and fitness centre. There is a great attention to planting trees within the limitation of constructing roads and streets for adoption by the local authority. A fourth park will be created within the future North East Quadrant. Only some isolated building such as the estate office, the old farmhourse, will be retained in Duchy freehold. The courtyards at the rear of terraced houses are also not adopted. There is a complete SUDS scheme, assisted by drainage directly into the porous chalkland, and are attenuation tanks for one hundred year floods via swales.
There is a strong commitment to street tree planting, and an astonishing £4500 per tree is given by the Duchy as the costs of preparing and protecting tree pits. Silva Cell tree protection is used. Services are laid in corridors, and one major constraint on tree planting is said to be Dorset’s street tree lighting requirements, given the roads are adopted. Most of the trees appeared to be growing well and species included Plane and Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera).
Roads are designed to balance cut and fill, and then are planned for trees, hence the use of service corridors.
Public transport access
There’s a half hourly service from Waterloo Station to Dorchester South which takes 23/4 hours, (and it took us less than that to drive from London) then no.6 bus which is a half hourly frequency and takes ten minutes. From Bristol and Bath there are services to Frome which is then 70 minutes to Dorchester West, which is walkable to Poundbury, along Damers Road.
Celebrating Poundbury Magazine 2015-16 Bright Daisy Publishing Ltd: 2015 ref. www.celebratingpoundbury.co.uk (accessed 23.8.2015)
Duchy of Cornwall Poundbury 20th Anniversary Dorset Echo, 2015
http://poundbury.org.uk/ (accessed 23.8.2015)