High praise for Houlton as Rugby's new town held up as shining light

Rugby’s new town has had its detractors but when a Sunday newspaper hails Houlton as more successful than the model community pioneered by King Charles III, perhaps it’s time to see it in a different light.
Houlton - a special place to live. Photo: Urban & Civic.Houlton - a special place to live. Photo: Urban & Civic.
Houlton - a special place to live. Photo: Urban & Civic.

The national Observer ran an article on Sunday, September 18, under the headline ‘Houlton Rugby: a new town that’s sending out all the right signals’ and followed through with an extensive account of why it sets the standard for housebuilding in the country.

That nudge to re-evaluate the area follows straight on under the headline: ‘On the former site of Rugby’s landmark 1920s radio station, the emerging new town of Houlton offers thoughtful planning, nature on the doorstep – and a secondary school with shades of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall’.

Then the paper’s esteemed architecture critic Rowan Moore expands on why he feels Houlton is something to be reckoned with.

He acknowledges that while many people will have heard of Poundbury, the vision of the new King to build to better standards, not so many will have heard of Houlton but says the latter’s backers have been more successful, ‘at getting a desirable new community through the planning system and then building it’.

Those backers are known to us as Urban & Civic and from the outset went about redeveloping the site of Rugby’s famous radio masts – or homing beacons for many travellers as they got close to the town – on a scale we’d not seen before.

The Advertiser was taken of a tour of the site in its very early stages and it was striking how much thought had gone into creating a whole community, including the wildlife.

It’s this attention to detail that with 1,000 out of a potential 6,200 houses built brings such praise from the critic.

He highlights that key elements of infrastructure were in place early – an issue elsewhere in Rugby and many other sites across the country – including careful attention to the outdoor spaces: "You can walk around the town through ‘wildlife corridors’, wide and shaggily planted with native species, sometimes winding around the ponds that help to manage the dispersal of rainwater. There are trees and hedgerows, both pre-existing and newly planted.”

Special praise is reserved for the development of the secondary school embracing the radio station building. The site has a well-known role in the history of communications and the way this has been captured in use of the old building brings that comparison with the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern.

While acknowldeging that the various housebuilders at work to flesh out Urban & Civic’s grand design do not hit such heights, he still regards the homes being built at Houlton as ‘better than average’.

And his conclusion is stark, making clear that right here on our doorsteps in Rugby, Houlton is a shining light: “For years now, headline writers have loved to ask whether one clever idea or another is ‘a solution to the housing crisis?’. The answer is invariably no, it isn’t, as the cost and scarcity of homes in Britain constitute too complicated a problem for a single magic bullet. But the approach at Houlton makes as serious a contribution, in both quality and quantity, as any organisation in the private sector has been able to think up.”