Homes Fit for Hobbits
Cwrt William Jones is a small gated development of mostly two bed houses built by Lovells New Homes within walking distance of the centre of the historic county town of Monmouth, and is part of a mixed tenure development consisting of a modern new
almshouse made up of 24 one-bedroom flats for older people in need as well as new homes for open market sale. The developers have been careful to adhere to the character of the area in both layout and materials used and by and large have succeeded in this respect. Certainly the development appears to have been successful in appealing to its target market and the majority of the homes have already been sold, in the present economic climate an achievement in itself.
The homes for open market sale are referred to as ‘Mews’ by the developers and may be said to be traditional as they basically follow the pattern of cottage style terrace houses over the last century or so. Parking is by individual lot adjacent to each mews cottage with additional space for visitors parking. But this blog is not wholly a review of this particular development but rather a reflection leading to a review of the progress made in house design and layout over the years.
Every year, if I am lucky, I get to spend a week in an old converted fisherman’s cottage adjacent to Weymouth harbour. I think that it’s great and suits us down to the ground. But then I only bring a small suitcase and that’s all that I expect to need for such a short stay. But here is where it becomes interesting for me: as the frontage of this and similar terrace developments is virtually identical to that of the mews cottages at Cwrt-William-Jones. Indeed I spent the first twenty or so years of my life in a similar house, different only in that it had a wide side entrance that in later years would have been sufficient for a small car. Such houses built in the very early 1900s, were fairly common at that time. As such although we had a third bedroom, originally there was no bathroom and inside loo, both became subsequent additions. However, we certainly did not think that we were living in a high spec town dwelling, as the Mews at Monmouth was described to me, by the site foreman when I queried if they were starter-homes. But having looked into it now I would say, there’s no doubt about it, by current standards, he’s right!
So here we have a successful development which meets its target market, apparently, upwardly mobile professional couples or the retired ready to downsize. And downsize it is for sure because although ‘all mod cons’ are reasonably well catered for, just where is the space for the clutter that everyday living brings? There was no TV in the Show-house living room; no doubt a large screen TV would have made quite an impact on the apparent available space. But with furniture carefully selected to be relatively small in scale and large mirrors strategically placed to create the impression of space, it’s just the tricks of the trade so far as a developer is concerned. It’s all about plot ratio, quick turnaround and maximising profit on the investment. Just don’t be a bookish kind of person with the book collection such a person would acquire (that is unless, dedicated reader that you are, you are content to use only the Public Library two minutes walk away), and so far as CDs and DVDs are concerned, well, you can always get downloads I guess!
Although space is at a premium, the use of the available space has been very cleverly handled, and the standard of the fittings too is of a very high quality. I can just see the kitchen-dining space looking the part on one of those reality TV Dining programmes, just as long as the lady guest diners wear size twelve dresses or less! It’s where real people go and what real people may wish to do that truly worries me.
At Cwrt William Jones, Lovell have provided ‘a scheme for ten mews houses with premium sales values to create a better cross subsidy solution for the Almshouses flats’, and in this they have been largely successful. Nevertheless the absence of agreed space standards for housing is bound to create a race to the bottom and the developer will be a victim of such a race just as much as the house owner. Only central Government can set such core design and sustainability standards complete with minimum internal space and storage requirements, such as that recommended by the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA). And until they do, the race to the bottom will continue.
POSTSCRIPT: Since writing this blog the development has now been completed and all of the mews cottages have been sold and the almshouse flats completed. Generally the high standard of kerb appeal has been maintained. There is however one aspect of the development where the comment within the earlier blog text has been proven to be prescient. Only three of the mews cottages have been bought as homes with the remainder being sold as investment, probably holiday let properties. Existing owners have told this blogger that while they are generally satisfied with the development they don’t know who is living there from week to week. One further area of alarm is that astonishingly the whole development including the almshouses is a gated community for both pedestrian and vehicular access and access may only be obtained by calling the individual owner through the intercom at the gate. Tough luck Amazon then!
I suspect that this approach to the marketing of the development was designed to demonstrate exclusivity and increase the market value. But surely Monmouth, particularly that area, isn’t the Hollywood Hills?
If Monmouth Council aren’t disappointed, they should be, because this kind of development, price aside, with such a high level of second home content is not going to help indigenous Monmouth folk to get on the property ladder.
See blog ‘Homes fit for Heroes’