Wednesday, February 08, 2006

From Poundbury to Sherfield Park: another utopian dream bites the dust

Last week I drove up the A33 between Basingstoke and Reading and ran into a nightmare vision of the future. There I was, driving along a country A road, minding my own business and I pitched up at a new roundabout. Could it be a supermarket? Or a science park? No, it was a new housing estate called Sherfield Park and it has to be the most pretentious, most pointless development I have ever seen. Frankly, an enormous Tesco with fake plastic columns would look a lot more authentic than Sherfield Park.

The picture shows the three-storey terraced scheme straddling the spine road into the development. It looks like it should be in London, but it’s not, it’s right in the heart of the Hampshire countryside. Why on earth are they building Georgian townhouse terraces here?

The answer lies with the current planning obsession with density, known by the acronym PPG3, which is seen as the best way of developing new homes without upsetting the natives. It all started with Prince Charles’ Poundbury development in Dorset. Poundbury was reactionary. Reactionary in style; it was a throw back to old vernacular forms of English housebuilding. But also reactionary in its layout, in that it cocked a snook at the car-led, cul-de-sac designs which have, until recently, characterized our new housing estates. Poundbury sought to create much more than a dormitory: it aimed at building a functioning community, with shops, pubs and halls where people could meet and socialise.

There is a little magic about Poundbury. It works. People like it, it looks good, and influential people go and visit it to see what all the fuss is about. Even avowed modernists who loathe Prince Charles’ olde-worlde designs have to admit that Poundbury is a damn good development. It was started in 1993 — it is yet to be finished — and, during the 12 years of its existence, its influence has spread far and wide. It became the model for PPG3, which came into force six years ago. No more cul-de-sacs, no more detached houses surrounded by decent sized gardens, no more wasteful two-storey homes. And only one and a half parking spaces per house.

But just as the New Towns movement turned into a lame excuse to build some really crap towns, so Poundbury and PPG3 have become diktats used to inspire some really shocking new developments. Such is the obsession with density and sustainability that the houses are cramped, the gardens miniscule and there is nowhere to park the car. The theory being that, of course, being communities, not mere housing estates, people will be walking to work or maybe popping off on their bikes. Or catching the bus that comes past once every ten minutes. A likely story.

PPG3 seems to have replaced one sterile form of development with another. What we are now getting is these strange looking urban extensions like Sherfield Park. Except that this one is five miles out of Basingstoke, and is surrounded by green fields. There is nothing remotely urban about this site and making it look like a town looks like some sick architectural joke. Sherfield Park, like dozens of similar examples dotted around the country, is a just a very ordinary housing estate that just happens to look like a dumbed-down version of Poundbury.

I gather from a nearby resident that the place is already famous for its parking disputes: in the absence of the community hall for years to come, at least this is one way of getting the neighbours together!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have just read the comments in a broad sheet of a gentleman named Charles, how he supports the return to victorian terraces and is apposed to the urban cul de sac. I believe this to be a propaganda exercise brought about by developers and government bodies to brain wash us into believing that being squashed together like the terraces in the north of England and the valleys in Wales can only be good for us. It smacks of 'Keep the peasants down' to me. I live in a cul de sac the 2nd in 12 years and yes we are a 2 car family. I know things will have to change soon but I object to giving up my space as well as my car and even more resentful at being preached at by a land-owner who owns several vehicles. It si reported that the cul de sac breed crime what utter nonsense.

Ahhh! I feel a lot better now .

Miranda Lamb

12:38 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let me first say Mark, i own the sixth edition of your book and found it tremendously informative. The time of my life that I'm able to put it into action is a long way off yet, though.

As for Sherfield Park - I pass it every time I go to and fro from visiting my parents in Wiltshire. I must say I thought the architecture looked rather nice and I'm sure the homes are very nice places to live. They're certainly an improvement on the utter garbage that the homebuilding giants have been throwing up (sic) in the last couple of decades. It's a terrible shame that the developers have chosen to erect [i]townhouses[/i] in the situation of a [i]village[/i], however. In an urban regeneration setting they'd be spectacular.

In addition, I must respond to the utter bilge posted by the previous respondent. I wonder whether Miranda Lamb has even [i]seen[/i] either Poundbury or Sherfield Park. The comparison to victorian terraces - one of which is my current, short-term home and very grotty they are too - is about as logical as comparing her beloved suburban living boxes to Charles' own estates. Traditional architectures, like the townhouse designs visible up and down the country, have proven their far greater longevity and standard of living than the nasty suburban semis I've had the dubious pleasure of visiting, many of which fall apart after a mere fifty years, such is their build quality and attention to design details.

You can keep your cul-de-sacs, thanks. I'll be doing my best to see their abolition if I have anything to do with town planning.

1:25 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to say I feel some of the comments made about Sherfield Park are unfair. I think Sherfield Park looks a dam site better than some of the houses that are being built. I have recently had the misfourtune of visiting some of these developments looking for a new home to buy.

I think Shefield Park developers have done extremly well, ok so the gardens could be alittle bigger and maybe a few more car parking spaces but the development is kept clean and tidy, which is more than can be said than some i.e Chineham and Marnel Park, the roads are untidy the doors used look like they belong in a prison and on the hole they look cheap.

So maybe people should visit these before passing comment on Sherfield Park.

12:06 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How dare you.....

Before passing judgement on Sherfield Park, you could at least ask the residents as to their views on living on this development.

I dont know you from Adam, and quite frankly i dont want to, but to have the audacity to insult an award winning development without substance confuses me as I believe you are an author of some kind.

If you care to visit and research, you will find the development more appealing than others in the area, more unique in the house designs, with a real sense of community beginning to build and nothing like Poundbury.

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