A Speech by HRH The Prince of Wales to the British Home Builders Federation

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A speech by HRH The Prince of Wales to mark a joint initiative between The Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment and the Home Builders Federation, Shoreditch, London

1st February 2007
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am so glad that you could join me today.

The schemes on show represent a starting point for future improvements right across the industry, recognising the importance of regional distinctiveness and the value of rigorous, finely-scaled planning that makes a town work.

We continue to explore the lessons tradition teaches us about how better neighbourhood design can improve the lives of those who live in them – values of hierarchy, legibility and proportion; a mix of shops and services within walking distance; building parks and squares that act as a focus for community life; and integrating private and high quality social and affordable housing - all the things that have been rather ignored throughout the 20th Century…

We are seeing real benefits from this approach at Poundbury, where 1,350 people now live and 750 people actually work; where private properties are said to be selling at a premium of 5 per cent and a third of the homes are classed as affordable. So this, I think, proves that it is possible to successfully apply such design principles under the same market conditions faced by those of you assembled here.

It is clear that market distinctiveness holds a genuine attraction for business. It is now making commercial sense to build unique homes that respond to local climate, culture, materials and building traditions. All the things that help to define us as people and individuals within a community.

These principles also provide a platform to meet our present day sustainability challenges; building for the long term but with greater attention to environmental impact. We need to revisit the design of towns and cities themselves to find a mass, low carbon lifestyle we can all manage to adopt.

One of the biggest problems is that for over fifty years we have embraced Le Corbusier’s abstract theory that urban living is a series of physical activities, separated in time and space. Consequently towns and cities have been divided into separate zones for sleeping, eating and shopping, working and taking recreation – and you know as well as I do that the car has been at the centre of the design process for quite a long time. Now we need to put the pedestrian at the centre of the process again.

Research by the Congress for New Urbanism in the US has shown that people will only stop using their cars if they can get what they need within a five minute walk. Hence the concept of a five minute “walkable neighbourhood” with everyday necessities readily available at the centre of a residential quarter. This underpins The Foundation’s entire design philosophy which was pretty revolutionary a few years ago and has perhaps become slightly less revolutionary now. The net result is a place with “location efficiency” that will flourish over time, be safe and will cause minimum damage to the environment.

The density of the development is also key. Popular wisdom is that cities produce more emissions than their “greener” suburbs. But in a recent US study, households living in the centre of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago only produced about a quarter of the carbon emissions of the suburban neighbours. This was because people chose to walk or use public transport to meet their needs. There is a direct relationship between density and public transport use. It would appear that at seven units per acre, people will begin to use public transport whilst the optimum efficiency lies between twenty-five and sixty households per acre. And density is not a bad thing in itself – some of the most sought after properties in London for instance, or Bath or Edinburgh are in the densest neighbourhoods –sometimes it is just worth remembering that…

So ladies and gentlemen, the drive for eco-excellence is, or should be, a key feature for new home-building. One might assume this will mean more modern design. But the Evening Standard recently pointed out that most people prefer traditional designs for the homes, so an overtly hi-tech style will only have limited marketability or “kerb appeal”. And I think it makes greater commercial sense to design an eco-excellent house of vernacular appearance and tells some local story, as pioneered by The Prince’s Foundation at Upton in Northamptonshire and again at Poundbury.

I understand that the members of the Home Builders Federation are responsible for eighty per cent of all new development in this country. I hope that each major homebuilder will be encouraged to practise better urban design with a drive for eco-excellence and to step up to this challenge on all sites for the sake of the future of the economy, its landscape, townscape, wider environment and the health and well-being of its inhabitants. So thank you for joining me in this worthwhile venture. Hopefully those coming after us might appreciate it.

Information on initiative at: http://www.princes-foundation.org/index.php?id=127

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