The prince and the housing boom

DOES Trimley New Town sound good to you? Or do you fear for the future of the Felixstowe peninsula? And how far would you trust Prince Charles to protect your rural environment?

DOES Trimley New Town sound good to you? Or do you fear for the future of the Felixstowe peninsula?

Trinity College, Cambridge, which owns most of the land, has grandiose plans for 3,000 homes and businesses.

But if the good folk of Trimley think they can enlist Trinity old-boy Prince Charles to the cause of fending off development, they had better think again.

The prince is as well known for his batty views on architecture as he is for his cuddly approach to all things green.

Nobody else would have got planning permission to put a new suburb on a windswept Dorset hilltop. But the prince did. Well, you don't refuse a royal planning permission, do you?

So there grows the "village" of Poundbury, on land owned by Charles, a social experiment in the time-honoured tradition of royal playthings.

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Its mixed building styles are traditional in the way Charles loves. They bear the same relationship to real tradition as Disneyland does to the real world.

Poundbury, intended to house a social mix of people, is predictably filling up with retired couples. It is good news for Tesco, a couple of miles round the Dorchester bypass, but bad news for old Dorchester, which is still dying.

Meanwhile the prince is planning similar carbuncles in the Cornish countryside outside Newquay and St Austell.

Cornwall's bleak, lovely wildness has for decades been under threat from too many tourists. Now, it seems, it's under threat from Prince Charles too.

Suffolk doesn't really do bleak or wild. The countryside is too tamed, too farmed, its villages – pretty as so many are – simply too numerous for that. But it still does historic, rustic charm in a way few parts of England can match. For now.

Change is upon us.

In less than a decade Ipswich has gone from feeling pleasantly shabby and forgotten to a happening place full of hope and building-sites.

Woodbridge is divided over a scheme to fill in rolling open land at Notcutts garden centre with new housing.

Not so long ago the former Bentwaters airbase was an embarassment no one knew what to do with. Now new homes are springing up there like mushrooms in autumn woods.

Headlines this week have told of developers eyeing up Needham Market and Walsham-le-Willows. And that's just this week. Next week it will be somewhere else.

Late in the 20th century it was still possible to speak of Suffolk as a lovely secret we didn't want the rest of the world to know about.

Early in the 21st it is in imminent danger of going the same way as the Home Counties, its once green and pleasant land submerged in a sea of brick and tarmac.

Britain, they say, is on the brink of its biggest housebuilding drive since the post-war boom of the early 1950s. A drive promoted, let us note, by Prince Charles.

Half a century ago it was the replacement of homes destroyed by war, and the sweeping away of urban slums to create a suburban land fit for heroes.

But what is going on now? The government says 200,000 new homes will be needed in the South East in the next 20 years. Some say that's a gross under-estimate.

Suffolk may not be exactly in the South East, but we're already feeling the bow-wave of the tidal growth from London.

This is an overcrowded little island. From the early 1960s to the early 1990s expansion was a problem for the rest of the world, not for us.

Little by little, though, improving social conditions and health care have increased life expectancy. Brits are being born faster than we're dying off.

In 21 years England's population has risen by 5.8 per cent – small change by comparison with many parts of the world, but enough to put pressure on our green fields.

One group of eminent academics believes Britain should aim to halve its population in the next 100 years.

Perhaps, less drastically, we should simply abandon the idea of small family units, each with a house of their own.

Twenty years ago, I lived with my wife in a poky, two-up, two-down terraced house. A relative visiting from Moscow was amazed that we had so much living-space to ourselves. Maybe he had a point.

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