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Prince of Wales visits Poundbury the 'town that Charles built'

The Prince of Wales chats with Les Elford, 81, at the new independent living housing. Credit: PA

“We’re building about 100 new homes every year.”

And with that, my first myth about Poundbury had been blown apart. I thought the place was finished.

Next, I discover the houses are not all the same - this isn’t a town of homogeneous fake Georgian and neo-classical facades. Myth two, busted.

“We have nearly as many people working here, as living here.” Myth 3 disappears: there is life in Poundbury, and also a living to be made here.

And so it proves why it’s always good to go and see something for yourself, as I did today in the “town that Prince Charles built” on the edge of Dorchester.

Poundbury is just on the edge of Dorchester. Credit: PA

Poundbury has been much talked about, much written about and much ridiculed since the Prince began the project back in the early 1990s.

But today I found a handsome looking place, with an impressive collection - and variety - of houses, and a bustle about the place - and not just because the Prince of Wales was paying one of his regular visits.

School children were running in the playground, a church community had just moved here from Dorchester, an independent living development had just opened for pensioners, and shoppers were darting in and out of the supermarket, the butchers and the garden centre.

In other words, you can find all the building blocks of a community here – which is more than can be said for many other new-build developments.

The prince began Poundbury soon after he made a television series in 1989 called A Vision of Britain.

The Queen, Prince Philip, Charles and Camilla at the Waitrose in Poundsbury, 2016. Credit: PA

It is built on land owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, the estate set up in the 14th century to provide the heir to the throne with an income, independent from the Sovereign.

The Duchy will pass to Prince William when his father becomes King. And William’s been spotted in Poundbury on a private visit not that long ago.

In the 1980s, other bits of Duchy land in Dorset had been sold off for development.

Prince Charles was unimpressed with what the developers had built on it.

So, he put his money where his mouth is and became a developer himself.

Poundbury has grown a bit since the first brick was laid in 1993. At that point there were just two dwellings on the 400-acre site.

Charles and Camilla officially open the Duchess of Cornwall Inn. Credit: PA

It now houses around 3,500 people.

What’s immediately clear, is that someone (the architects and the developers the prince employed) have put some thought into this place.

They wouldn’t build the houses en masse; they would allow it to grow organically.

The housing would have a build-quality that exceeds almost anything else on offer from a new housing development.

The streets and squares would be designed to create communities and connections.

The houses would be replica-Georgian, classical terraces or country-style cottages.

And there would be businesses on site. You’ve probably heard of Dorset Cereals - those expensive-looking boxes of muesli in supermarkets. You might not know the factory is just down the street from the town square and it was one of the first businesses to invest in Poundbury.

The Prince of Wales opening of the Dorchester Community Church in Poundbury on Monday. Credit: PA

I don’t know where all the workers are, but I’m told there are 2,500 of them in and around the village today.

Walk around phase one of Poundbury, and you can feel a place where people have put down roots and where communities have developed.

Walk around phase two and the buildings a little grander and more ambitious, but the community ties are less well established.

And then see phase three, as Prince Charles did with his team today.

There is scaffolding and diggers and half-built homes.

Poundbury is still under construction at a rate dictated by the market but it averages around two houses per week.

Phase four is still a decade or so away.

Houses are 20% more valuable than those of a similar size in the surrounding area. Credit: PA

What all the houses have in common, says the architect, Léon Krier who has worked on this place since day one, is their design: handsome houses, cars at the back, no cul-de-sacs, big homes next to small ones, large windows, accessibility to shops, and space to breathe.

You could mock the whole project as a personal plaything of the prince, where the pub named after his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, sits in the square named after his beloved grandmother, the Queen Mother.

A place where people pop in and out of the local Waitrose or the greengrocers where there isn’t a plastic bag to be had.

And neither is it every architect’s dream, where houses are not pushing the boundaries of innovation but are built in a style reflecting a period from more than 200 years ago.

But people vote with their feet. And if no one liked it here, they wouldn’t be living here and nor would their houses be 20% more valuable than those of a similar size in the surrounding area.

So yes, it’s been mocked many times. But you might say, the residents are having the last laugh.

If I had to choose to live a new town or new estate anywhere in the country, I’d pick this one.