It may have many admirers, but Poundbury’s location means that it was always going to struggle to achieve its central aims.
The big 3-0 marks a big moment in anyone’s life. Whether it is a moment of dread or achievement, it is a time of reflection. When construction of Poundbury began on the outskirts of Dorchester in 1993, the central aim was to “challenge town planning trends and policies of the 20th Century” that had “led to isolated housing estates… forcing greater reliance on the car”. Even with its best intentions, this has not been achieved – but the project was never going to succeed in solving these issues due to its mismatch between location and jobs.
Poundbury is due to be completed in 2025, with 5,000 homes. It has captured the nation’s attention over the last three decades, not only because it is the brainchild of King Charles, but because of its quintessential English market town architecture. By achieving high residential development densities while using irregular street layout and local materials, Poundbury been lauded as a way of showing that urban developments can be pleasing to the eye, integrated, and walkable.
The higher population density of Poundbury compared to many developments in the UK means that more amenities are likely to be in walkable distance than average. As Figure 1 shows, from a central point in Poundbury, you can walk to the boundaries of the development within 10 minutes.
Source: HQGIS – HereDeveloper
Note: Walking speed assumed to be 5.4km/h and cycle speed assumed to be 16km/h
However, since Poundbury is so small, the likelihood of a resident needing to go further afield, especially for work, makes it no less car dependent than many other parts of the country, despite its higher density. As shown in Figure 2, for each working age resident (16-64 years old) in Dorset there is 0.88 jobs. The average across the UK is 1.06 and 1.27 in cities.
Source: ONS Population Estimates (2020), BRES (2020)
So it is no surprise that Poundbury residents have a greater reliance on cars compared to Dorchester, its surrounding region, and across cities in England and Wales. Just 17 per cent of households in Poundbury do not have a car, compared to 24 per cent in Dorchester. The average household in Poundbury also has 1.21 cars, which is in line with the average across England and Wales, but higher than the average in Dorchester.
Source: Census (2021)
If we want to solve the issue of car reliance, we must focus on building residential developments close to employment. Accordia in Cambridge is a 378-unit development site situated just to the south of the city centre. Cambridge has 1.37 jobs per working aged resident and as a result residents are much less likely to need to travel out of the city for employment. Consequently, 24 per cent of residents in Accordia do not have a car and even when they do, they have fewer. On average, there are 1.01 cars per household in Accordia – lower than the average household in cities across England and Wales. It shows that ultimately the issue of car reliance can only be solved when housing is close to employment (or otherwise with reliable public transport links to it).
It should be no surprise that with less reliance on cars, we see greater use of public and active transport. Figure 4 shows that 55 per cent of residents in Poundbury use a car or van to get work, compared to 32 per cent in Accordia. If we want to create places that do not rely on cars and easily travelled by active or public transport, homes must follow employment.
Source: Census (2011)
Accordia also reminds us that high density city residential developments don’t have to be ‘ugly’. There might be those who feel that Accordia does not capture the same feelings of the quintessential English market town, but itself was recognised in the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission. Through using gault clay bricks and terraced form, it reflects the Georgian and Victorian homes seen across Cambridge.
Diehard Poundbury fans will always cite the architecture and aesthetic to show its success and they may have a point. But if we want to curb car reliance and solve the issue of isolated housing estates, we need to prioritise high density developments close to jobs. Because of this Cambridge’s Accordia should get more of the acclaim given to Poundbury.
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This is comparing apples and pears. Poundbury is a mixed use urban quarter producing 1 job for each home built. To be fair compare it with a greenfield housing scheme. Handsome as Accordia is, there is no mixed use and relies on locational proximity to central Cambridge. – functionally these are two entirely different propositions. The groundbreaking point at Poundbury is that it is demonstrating new build mixed use in a greenfield situation – which in fact is enabling significant trip reduction against more legitimate comparators. Go and take a look