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Logistics of relocatable housing don't stack up

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As someone who spent three years in the mid-1970s developing a range of 'relocatable houses' I was most interested to read Liz Bailey's feature about Bluebase's modular accommodation system (AJ 30.1.03).

Our project started as an attempt to provide rapidly buildable housing for oil workers in the north of Scotland.

There were a number of Scottish timber-frame companies developing similar systems, but all were using 'shrink-wrapped' open-sided boxes. These were prone to damage in transit as the polythene tended to get torn off, and the units had to be redecorated on site.

Recognising this, we, too, developed an enclosed-box system, but for low-density use.

Houses comprised two or four boxes, completely finished in the factory and transported to site for erection on a prepared ring foundation - four-box end units providing two, three and fourbedroom two-storey houses to full Scottish building regulation and local authority space standards which could be handed over within 24 hours.

The trouble was, they were too expensive, but we supplied some for use on restored open-cast mining sites where the ground conditions were as yet unable to accept a conventional house, and others to British Rail for lines which were at the time being considered for future closure.

Our prototype was probably the most-travelled house in the UK; we took it to Scotbuild and other shows fully furnished, and it covered more than 1,000 miles before we sold it to a golf club as a staff house.

The Bluebase scheme is a superficially brilliant idea, but 2.4m is too narrow for an ergonomically acceptable house.

Even mobile homes and yachts are wider (ours were 3.2m overall which could be transported on a normal platform lorry without police escort).

The article did not make it clear that each house comprised two boxes on the same 'landing' (as becomes apparent when looking at Bluebase's website).

Placing a bed across the box (to allow access from either side of a double bed) leaves only 400mm at the end of the bed. There is no space for a bath, and a kitchen with even the minimum storage space required by Scottish Building Regulations would take up a lot of space in a unit.

But the main problem as a relocatable unit would be that if an occupier on the fifth floor wished to relocate, for instance, all those below would have to be detached to allow his modules to be removed - and where would one stack eight modules while this was being done?

A lot of space would be needed around the towers to allow for this. The disruption to other occupants would be pretty unacceptable as all services would have to be isolated and they would have to vacate the units while the work was being done. And could one take down all the boxes on one side without the tower tipping like that wellknown one in Pisa?

You would need space each side so that the modules could be taken down from each side in turn - and how does one move the modules on the ground and transfer them from the lifts to trailers without a crane and unless there was hard-standing throughout the developments?

Ian Scott Watson, principal, Classics, Berwickshire

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