Prince’s foundation was promised role in design competition

The Prince of Wales lobbied ministers over Labour’s eco-towns policy, offering the expertise of his built environment charity, it has emerged.

His overtures were welcomed by Yvette Cooper, then planning minister, who wrote back: “I am strongly of the view that the prince’s foundation should play a significant role in encouraging and advising on the design elements of eco towns, drawing on its well-established expertise and experience.”

The disclosure came in a second batch of 17 letters released by the government yesterday, covering the prince’s correspondence with ministers in four departments between 2006-09.

The disclosure follows last month’s release of 27 so-called “black spider memos” written to ministers by the heir to the throne. The two sets of letters relate to separate Freedom of Information Act requests made by the Guardian newspaper.

In a letter to Cooper dated August 2007, the prince expressed his delight that the Eco Towns Prospectus had pledged to involve the Foundation for the Built Environment in the design competition.

“I appreciate more than I can say that my foundation will have this opportunity to contribute its expertise to this important initiative on the vital matters of design and environmental sustainability,” he wrote, going on to talk at length about the development of affordable rural housing.

He continued the conversation with Cooper’s replacement, Caroline Flint, inviting her to visit Poundbury, his controversial model village in Dorset, and to meet Hank Dittmar, then chief executive of the foundation. She agreed a meeting would be “beneficial”.

Another set of letters, dating from 2004-5, is an exchange with John Reid, the then health secretary, about plans to redevelop the site of Cherry Knowle Hospital in Sunderland.

The Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment took part in an “enquiry by design” in 2003 with local stakeholders which proposed adapting the buildings into a mixed-use scheme which could be a model for redundant NHS sites.

The prince politely expressed frustration at delays caused by the transfer of the site from the Department of Health to English Partnerships via John Prescott’s Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

He wrote: “I think you will know by now – to your cost! – that these are matters about which I care deeply – chiefly because I have witnessed so many failed opportunities to create imaginative, and innovative, heritage-led regeneration initiatives which can maximize the asset value of the historic site and result in genuinely mixed-use, mixed-income communities. In order to create truly sustainable communities and avoid the mistakes of the past, I hope you will agree that we need to take a long-term view, think in innovative ways and take heed of mounting evidence from around the world about the true cost, in both financial and human terms, of bad development.”

He added: “At the risk of being a complete bore about this, I do pray that we could discuss these matters more fully before irrevocable decisions are taken which could sacrifice the long-term value to be gained from the most sympathetic and ‘integrated’ use of the assets. All I can say is that my Foundation for the Built Environment is ready to help in any way it can.”

In a 2008 exchange with Douglas Alexander, the then International Development Secretary, the prince asks about funding for his Turquoise Mountain Foundation which trains artisans to restore historic buildings in old Kabul.

Alexander replies that the government has stopped funding small-scale initiatives but that the project could apply to the Civil Society Challenge Fund.

And in 2009, the prince wrote to congratulate Ben Bradshaw on his promotion to culture secretary, taking the opportunity to promote the work of his Regeneration Trust. He suggests a meeting to discuss various heritage matters, especially the conversion and re-use of major historic sites “many of which are lying derelict and abandoned by unscrupulous owners, but which could so effectively become the catalyst for heritage-led regeneration”.