Speaking at the National HomeBuilder Awards last Friday, Peter Wright, editor of the Mail on Sunday, said: 'The good news is that John Prescott has announced that we are going to be building a lot more homes. The bad news is that they are going to be built for a little less than the cost of an after-dinner speech by Cherie Blair.' Funnily enough, he didn't see fit to leaven his witticism with the recommended smallprint: that the figure of £60,000 is intended to cover the construction cost alone; that it does not represent development costs, much less the recommended sale price, and that it is exclusive of land costs and VAT.
And who can blame him? The government has made a decision not to publish a realistic sum, but to bandy about a price tag that captures the attention of the house-hunting electorate.
A glance at the HomeBuilder Design Awards judges' report, enclosed with this issue of the AJ, offers a quick reality check. Using lightweight steel-frame construction, Redrow Homes and architect Tom Freake have managed to provide dwellings - albeit one-bedroom flats - which retail for £54,995. The floorplan, which has helpfully been included, is a cursory reminder of just how little space that actually buys.
Apart from the underground parking spaces in Munkenbeck + Marshall's Gainsborough Studios, which sell for £25,000, none of the other properties can be bought for less than £60,000.
The winner of the Innovative Technology Category, Urban Splash's MoHo in Castlefield, uses the modular construction that is heralded as the key to the mass provision of brave new (affordable) housing. Its one-bedroom flats sell for £139,000. Stripped of the costs of land, administration and profit, this would probably comply with the government's target price.
Try telling that to the Mail on Sunday. For all its many footnotes and provisos, the government has nurtured an expectation that it knows it cannot meet.