Royal welcome to first 'Trim Town'

IT IS the town that promises to help you to stay thin.

IT IS the town that promises to help you to stay thin.

Prince Charles is backing a new community in rural Scotland that will be designed to keep the weight off its inhabitants.

The Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment is planning the new town with more than 300 homes, shops, other businesses and leisure facilities on land near Cumnock in Ayrshire.

But it will be the first in the UK to be specifically designed with the health of its future residents in mind.

The Prince is concerned about the rising obesity epidemic in the UK, caused partially by poor diet and lack of exercise. But he also believes that where people live and the transport options available have a big influence on their health.

The new town, which may be called Knockroon after a nearby farm, will incorporate a range of features to discourage residents from using their cars, and lead them to adopting a healthier lifestyle.

Every home in Knockroon will be within five minutes' walk of shops, workplaces and other amenities. Streets will be designed to favour pedestrians over cars and be well lit at night to encourage walking.

The town will have an abundance of cycleways connecting homes, businesses, leisure facilities and perhaps a new school. There will be a wide mix of housing types, including traditional Scottish tenements without lifts to encourage exercise.

Hank Dittmar, chief executive of the foundation, said: "This is how towns were designed for a thousand years to allow people to walk around easily.

"But since the end of the Second World War, when car use became more widespread, we have lost that. They have been designed in a way that encourages car use, and we hope we can start reversing that by providing an example of what can be done."

The new community will be built on land belonging to the Dumfries House Estate, which was sold to a consortium of UK-wide heritage bodies, supported by the Prince, last year to save it and the house contents for the nation.

The 18th-century stately home and its extensive grounds were formerly owned by Johnny Dumfries, the Marquess of Bute, and was put on sale in the open market.

However, the Prince put together a consortium involving Historic Scotland, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Save Britain's Heritage and other heritage bodies, which together committed 25m. The Prince chipped in another 20m from his charitable foundation.

But the heritage consortium needs to raise cash to help fund the purchase and so decided to sell land for building. The foundation was called in to mastermind the ambitious project on a 70-acre site along ecological lines.

This week, the foundation will hold public meetings in the Cumnock area to explain the thinking behind the new community and to listen to local ideas about what shape it should take. Once designs have been drawn up, the foundation will apply for planning permission.

Dittmar said the foundation wanted to assure local residents that the new development was "the very opposite of a soulless housing estate. Rather it will be a living, working, neighbourhood underpinned with shops, workplaces and amenities.

"We want to highlight the need to build for healthier lifestyles," he said. "There will be an emphasis on cycle-ways and on pedestrian walkways in the new town, built to take maximum advantage of the beautiful surrounding views and landscape.

"We will not be banning cars, which is not feasible in a rural area, but we do want people to leave their cars at home more."

Leading Scottish architects welcomed the plan. Neil Baxter, secretary of the Royal Incorporation of Architects Scotland, said: "These are the principles the Dutch have been applying for decades. They all own cars but they leave them at home except for long trips, holidays or heavy shopping trips. Many of them cycle or use public transport because they have the infrastructure around them that allows them to do that.

"There is no question that if you design these features in you will have happier, healthier communities."

The design of many British towns and cities to accommodate cars over the last 30 years are now believed to have contributed to the growing obesity epidemic in the UK.

Last week, Professor Philip James, head of the International Obesity Task Force, a London-based think tank, said a revolution in urban planning was required.

Planners had created an "obesogenic" environment by designing road dominated urban landscapes around motor vehicles, he said.

"Rather than designing places where it is unpleasant or impossible to move around, while pouring billions into continuing to create car-filled town centres and expensive motorway networks, we must now concentrate on improving public transport and curtailing the use of motor cars," James said.

"We must also rethink how we build and provide real alternatives that encourage everyone to walk and incorporate activity into everyday life."