THE GREAT POUNDBURY DEBACLE
'Another fine mess, ' Prince Charles must be thinking. 'Just when the public seems to be accepting Camilla, just when the press seems to be leaving poor old Harry alone, it all goes belly-up again.' Surely the last place HRH would have imagined becoming the latest hotbed of regal controversy was Poundbury.
After all, there can be few places in Britain with a stronger support base for the curious opinions that often emanate from Clarence House.
But there it is. Even the residents of the Dorchester satellite have it in themselves to drag the constantly embattled monarch-to-be through the mud yet again. But why?
The answer represents one of the most bizarre ironies to have emerged in the 'great planning debate' for many a decade. Just when the Prince appeared to be making significant headway promoting his ever-so-slightly controversial urban design principles to Prescott and his ODPM mandarins, he received an attack from his own camp.
The residents of Poundbury, the Leon Krier-masterplanned 'model village' in Dorset, have spent the past year kicking up a storm about what seems to most to be a fairly inoffensive addition to the community - a Duchy of Cornwall-backed proposal for a medium-density apartment block by local architect Lionel Gregory.
This five-storey scheme would have gone a long way to proving that it was possible to adopt the Prince's cherished planning principles while also achieving the density levels demanded by the government.
But no - locals did not like it. They persuaded the local planners at West Dorset District Council - once last year and then again earlier this year - that the scheme was out of character, was of too high a density and would block light from neighbouring properties.
It seems winning the architectural-style debate is not enough, you also have to stick with the long British tradition of low-rise in Poundbury, even if a proposal has the backing of the Duchy of Cornwall itself.
All this helps to explain why the whole debate was dragged through the wringer that is a public planning appeal last week in Dorchester (see AJ+). A thoroughly unpleasant experience for all involved.
It all seemed to be going rather predictably when the lawyer representing the locals dropped a bombshell, one that flew towards the heart of everything the Prince stands for architecturally. 'In the view of the residents, the only real community consultation for this whole scheme occurred in 1998 over a masterplan that held little more detail than a series of Roman numerals, ' the locals' lawyer told the appeal.
'Since then there have been numerous masterplans relied on by the appellants [Woodpecker], none of which have been the subject of public consultation.' If anything sums up the Prince's architectural pronouncements as much as Neo-Classical fetishism, it is a constant call for public consultation. One wonders if the lawyer understood the significance of his comments, but there are many architects out there who will remember the so-called 'community architecture' movement with a wry smile when they read them.
At best these proposals have been handled badly.
At worst they could do serious damage to the Prince's initiative in government. There will be a few architects out there who have been on the end of a royal tongue-lashing who will no doubt be hoping for the latter.