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Court case to fuel asthma claims

A court case in Glasgow is threatening to set a precedent and open the floodgates for insurance claims against architects and builders.

The case focuses on whether damp living conditions triggered a case of asthma in one of the tenants, who is claiming £50,000 compensation from Glasgow City Council and the Glasgow Housing Association.

The UK's growing 'compensation culture' is set to be fuelled by new research - to be published imminently - that will prove a 'link' between modern house-building techniques and designs and the increasing incidence of the illness in the UK.

The AJ has learned that housebuilders have already, under advice from insurers, started using asthma-friendly materials such as paint, natural fibre carpets and floor coverings as a precaution against claims in the future. The insurance firms have warned that an 'asbestos-scale scenario may be just round the corner'.

In the new research, Dr Stirling Howieson, an architect and researcher at Strathclyde University, will point the finger at today's building techniques, materials and designs. He has studied the relationship between asthma and changing construction techniques since the Victorian era.

Howieson claims that the 'progressive elimination' of natural ventilation through chimneys and windows, etc, are the main cause of the latest asthma pandemic.

The research will also warn that materials specified by architects make for ideal breeding grounds for the dust mites that trigger asthma.

'Housing people in small, lightweight timber-frame boxes, swathed in polythene and synthetic carpets, may be cheap and profitable, ' Howieson told the AJ, 'but the downside is the exponential growth in treatment costs currently picked up by the NHS, who have to keep asthmatics breathing.'

The Association of British Insurers claimed that 'this is not an issue we are aware of at the moment', but acknowledged that the compensation culture trend meant it would be 'one to look out for'.

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