Royalty, housebuilders, and the need for a little imagination

An unlikely alliance between Prince Charles and a disgruntled housebuilder is highlighting the need for better-quality homes.

Prince Charles © Kirsty O'Connor - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Prince Charles: scourge of the dodgy housebuilder
(Image credit: Prince Charles © Kirsty O'Connor - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

One of the joys of reading all the papers every week is that you pick up the little stories created by the big stories. My favourite this week is that of Guy Warren of Evergreen Homes. He is irritated. Very. Why? The (biggish) story about the super-keen Remainers who apparently recorded a row between Boris Johnson and his girlfriend through the wall of her flat offends him. Not because he is anti-nosy parkering, or even because he disapproves of the making of the private public (the neighbours gave the recording to the papers). It is because he worked on the flat in question and knows "that the level of insulation and the quality of materials we use would have made recording of this alleged argument impossible." To suggest otherwise suggests the quality of his workmanship is not what he wants it to be.

I have no idea how true this is. But it's still something of a relief to find that the UK has any builders even the tiniest bit interested in the quality of the houses they build, as opposed to the super profits they can make from flogging substandard rubbish to desperate buyers. The only other person in the papers who seems to feel the same is Prince Charles. He has just launched a report aimed at improving the "stain on the landscape" style of housebuilding the UK is subjected to. The report's 14 action points mostly sound sensible. Prince Charles wants better build quality; walkability built in to developments; more housebuilders; and more terraced housing (rather than detached houses or tower blocks).

It is hard to disagree with any of this. A lot of those who have bought hugely overpriced luxury flats in the "energy guzzling glass box" towers that Prince Charles particularly hates over the last few years the prices of which are falling fast will surely be wishing they had bought a nice terraced cottage in Poundbury (where prices seem to only rise) instead. But the devil will be in the details. What, we wonder, will Prince Charles have in mind for his list of quality must-haves for new builds? He could perhaps start it with "soundproofing so good you can't hear politicians shouting." Those houses would sell like hot cakes.

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For more on how the property market could do with a little more imagination, turn to Matthew Lynn's City View column. And for more on the housing market in general, Sarah Moore looks at the ban on selling new-build houses as leaseholds, a sign perhaps that even before royalty started to get on its case, the government was beginning to take a firmer line with the big housebuilders. Finally.

Away from property, anyone not yet invested in Vietnam might look to this week's cover story. GDP growth is good; exports are thriving; the middle class is fast growing; Vietnam could be the "biggest winner of the US-China war;" and there are excellent stocks to be found at reasonable valuations. And if you want to know how the Neil Woodford saga is unfolding, John Stepek has been wondering whether it is time to buy the Woodford-run Patient Capital Trust. One day the discount on the shares will be big enough to make the answer to this "maybe". But in the meantime John has a better idea for you.

Finally, exciting news tickets for this year's MoneyWeek event are now on sale. We'd love to see you on 22 November go to to book your seat now.

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.