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Prefabrication is simply a public pain

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Barry Holmes, executive director of the THB, responds to Michael Howard's full-page advertisement in the Guardian, 14.1.04, which called for public-sector employees to submit examples of waste within the public sector to the James Report.

In response to your advertisement in the Guardian, I would like to highlight an issue concerning best value within the public sector that has not yet reached the public eye and may yet be preventable.

Prefabricated building methods have been proven by the Barker Review's interim report to be approximately 10 per cent more expensive than modern concrete masonry - that is, brick and block. Plus, MORI polls have consistently shown that over 90 per cent of British people prefer to live in a masonry home. Yet John Prescott's solution to the housing crisis is to prescribe to the generation agencies that quotients of new public-sector housing must be built from lightweight, prefabricated or modular materials.

Why should our key workers be denied their preference of home quality? Furthermore, why should public money be spent on an expensive and unproven technology when there is an existing industry ready to act?

These concerns were echoed by a recent comment from the Association of British Insurers, whose spokesperson expressed concerns about the potential insurance premiums associated with such experimental construction methods: 'It is not apparent to us that anyone has looked into the resilience of (lightweight prefabricated) housesà What we build now has got to be facing the elements in 50 years' time. Crucially, nobody has taken account of this so far.' Is it really a wise course to invest so greatly in buildings that may not stand the test of time?

Concrete masonry has a long proven history, is the public's preference, and is a solution 10 per cent cheaper than that processed by government - a saving that could be ploughed back in to creating greater numbers of better-quality, more spacious homes and more architecturally pleasing homes within identified growth areas.

Embracing and investing in this would, therefore, seem to be the best way of ceasing waste in the public-sector building industry and achieving Mr Howard's aim of providing 'what the public wants'.

Barry Holmes, executive director, Traditional Housing Bureau

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