The Telegraph / Meet the Y.I.M.B.Y. estate owners building…
The following story was featured on The Telegraph website:
Meet the Y.I.M.B.Y. estate owners building new towns on their land – at their own expense.
By Eleanor Doughty 14 JANUARY 2017.
Earlier this month, the Government announced its support for three new garden towns and 14 villages to boost the country’s housing supply. The majority of these are being built on brownfield sites, such as the former Deenethorpe airfield in Northamptonshire. But a few private landowners have already taken the plunge, at their own expense.
In Scotland, four of the country’s grandest families have set about building new towns on their estates. David Carnegie, fourth Duke of Fife; John Stuart, 21st Earl of Moray; Johnnie Grant, 13th Earl of Dysart; and David Paton, whose family has lived at Grandhome near Aberdeen since 1673, have each donned hard hats and are building settlements on their estates.
On the south side of Aberdeen, two miles from the North Sea, all but “about three fields” of Elsick, the Duke of Fife’s 1,600-acre estate, will form a new town. Forty years from now, Chapelton of Elsick, a community of 8,000 homes, will have been built from scratch. “It is quite extreme,” the Duke admits.
His Chapelton journey began in 2010. Plans had been announced for a long-awaited bypass around the west side of Aberdeen, and “every square inch of land was in the pot” for building new housing, the Duke says. Conscious to retain some control, he decided to spearhead a project himself. “We said to the council, ‘We’ll take all of the problems away from you for 40 years’, and once you’re in for a big development, you’re in for a town.”
Despite the Duke’s academic record – Eton, a law degree from Cambridge, a diploma from the Royal Agricultural University and an MBA from Edinburgh – he had no idea where to start. “One of the first things I asked was, ‘How do you build a town?’ ” he recalls.
Helpfully, his friend and distant cousin Lord Moray already had plans under way for a 12,000-resident town called Tornagrain, just outside Inverness, where residents will begin to move in at the end of February. The Duke promptly hired the brains behind Tornagrain, American town planner Andrés Duany, a co-founder of the urban design movement New Urbanism, to put Chapelton together.
“Andrés is the most experienced town planner in the world,” the Duke says. “He doesn’t experiment with people’s lives, he does what he knows works.” Just five years after the plans were drawn up, following an extensive public consultation process, the first couple moved in on Valentine’s Day 2015.
The new urbanist philosophy employed at Chapelton, Tornagrain, and on the Paton family’s Grandhome project – also planned by Duany – is neighbourhood-based.
“People will get in the car if they are more than five minutes’ walk from their neighbourhood centre, so it’s about trying to remove the car and promote the pedestrian,” Lord Moray says. “You put the primary school in the middle, so when parents walk their children to school it’s less than five minutes, and then there’s a coffee shop, too, where they can meet with other parents.”
This is the philosophy behind a new prospectus from The Prince’s Foundation for Building Community. The Landowner’s Guide to Popular Development was launched this week to promote the idea that building a community, rather than just houses, creates a far more valuable asset.
It comes a few months after the Country Land and Business Association called on Sajid Javid, secretary of state for communities, to consider the opportunities for house building on private landed estates, where the priority is the long term.
“There are a growing number of landowners in the UK starting to take this approach,” says Ben Bolgar, the Foundation’s senior director. “Getting the built fabric right is a way to unlock the natural, social and financial capital of an area. Getting it wrong will produce a negative impact on people’s lives for generations to come.”
It was this belief that turned Mark Thistlethwayte from estate owner to town planner. The local council, ordered to build 80,000 new homes in south Hampshire, identified a patch of land for 10,000 new homes – 80 per cent of which was on the Southwick estate in Hampshire, which has been in Thistlethwayte’s family since 1539. The family objected.
“The scale was completely inappropriate,” Thistlethwayte says. “They just wanted homes. Nobody thought about what a community might have looked like.” The council compromised, and they agreed on a 6,000-house settlement, Welborne, that will cover six per cent of Thistlethwayte’s land. One of the Government’s chosen 14 village developments, it is set for completion in 20 years at a rate of 340 houses a year.
To prepare, Thistlethwayte has already laid a 200-acre solar park that will produce enough energy to power 16,000 homes. But town-building is an expensive business: the four schools will cost up to £80 million to build, and a motorway junction of the M27 another £45 million. While these costs add up, Thistlethwayte will have to make sure that the properties stay within a reasonable price range for first-time buyers.
Homes at Welborne have yet to hit the market. Available properties at Tornagrain start at £111,000 for a one-bedroom flat (zeroc-tornagrain.co.uk) or £162,000 for a two-bedroom house (stephen.co.uk). Chapelton homes include a three-bedroom, semi-detached house with garage and garden for £310,000 (chapeltonofelsick.com).
Whether government-backed or not, building a settlement on this scale is a big statement to make. The Duke of Fife believes that being a large private landowner is beneficial to such a venture. “People don’t trust councils to hold developers to account,” he says. “The family’s involvement is a layer of control that they believe in.”
The long-term outlook helps, too. While Lord Moray cannot predict exactly how much money Tornagrain will make, he says that the “real honeypot” won’t come for another 40 years. “We can’t be accused of short-termism,” he says. “It gives people in the community a greater trust in the scheme because it’s not making an immediate return.”
Despite having decades more work to do at Chapelton for a profit he might never see, the Duke is feeling optimistic. “The whole thing has been much more pleasant and far easier than I imagined,” he says.
It isn’t without its challenges, though. “There’s a wall light halfway up that house,” he says, pointing to a house on the village green. “Trying to get permission for those. Honestly, I cannot tell you how much time, effort and money has gone into trying to put up four wall lights on this square.”