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Thursday, 5 October 2017

Council housing doesn't work any more

The Parker-Morris standards for Council houses are almost always described as minimum space standards. They are not. They are actually maximum space standards. When the committee was investigating during the 1950s, at the height of what was then called 'slum clearance' in which gorgeous Georgian terraces and the remains of 16th and 17th century urban villages were destroyed along with any houses that had inconveniently survived the Blitz, the government faced a demand problem. If they built houses that were wind and weathertight, with indoor privies, heating and all modern conveniences, good strong roofs and damp courses, better in fact than most privately rented housing stock, how would they curb demand? The answer was to make them small - with every square inch of space calculated; room for the bin, and the pram, for a small 2-person sofa, a table for the wireless, a dining table for two. Making them as small as possible - smaller than the private alternatives - was intended to restrict demand, and in the 1950s, to an extent, it worked. It also allowed economy in construction, housing 25% more people than new private construction for the same cost. 

In 2017, private housebuilding builds to almost exactly the same space standards as the 1961 Parker Morris quota. But with no room for the landrover baby buggy, the fridge freezer, the dish washer or storage for clothes and shoes twenty times the size of the lean post-war wardrobe. The owner of a modern estate home may also rent a self-store space in lieu of a garage and loftspace, or clutter their parents' homes with their overspill of stuff. 

Off-site fabrication, increased quality control that means thinner, leaner structural sections, eliminating wet-trades, de-skilling construction and global procurement* have all combined to deliver new houses at minimum cost and minimum size with barely acceptable economic life; you can expect the roofs to fail economically in twenty years, services to fail economically in fifteen years. However, for those houses built with a slot-in pre-plumbed bathroom wall that just needs connecting to water and bolting in, owners may well need to remove sections of the external brick cladding to replace the plumbing. Yes, we're now building instant slums, with poor soundproofing, shoddy materials and, still, hammer-induced fitting of precise components. 

It's no longer possible to build council houses better than private homes for lesser cost; there is also no longer a 'cheaper' option as private builders have already attained the nadir. There's just new housing, all the same. The only variable is land with planning consent. Unless the government cracks this one, new council housing just won't work any more.

*A consignment of cement-woodwool boards from Thailand on one of my jobs was delayed when HMRC found a few kilos of heroin hidden in the load.


Poisonedchalice said...

I have never been in the construction industry but I do own a number of rental properties and there are differences between them! One of my properties is an ex-council 1950's end terrace, on a corner of a road with a HUMUNGOUS walled garden. The property is deemed to be of "non-conventional" construction in that the interior walls are made of reinforced concrete (you read that correctly) which in 1983 had a brick skin built on the outside with a sandwich of Kingspan insulation. This house is *never* going to fall down; in fact if Kim kicks off, it would be useful as a blast shelter!

On the other hand, my son owns a new-build and the interior walls are all plasterboard. Have you ever tried mounting a large mirror of a modern flat-screen TV on plasterboard? It looks pretty enough on the outside but the quality of everything is, errm, rubbish. Give me a Victorian terrace any day you like.

Oh, and we should mandate that brownfield sites always get used up first because lazy developers prefer greenfield as they don't have to find / repair / re-lay mains, drains and services.

Doug Shoulders said...

The Conservative party leader extolling the virtues of social housing? Thatcher must be spinning in her grave. Expect the BBC to pronounce that the concept was stolen from Corbyn.
Council housing might have worked in the fifties and sixties. Those council schemes areas all over Britain are in ruin now

Sceptical Steve said...

Poisonedchalice makes some very good points, but the overuse of plasterboard in domestic housing is not the biggest scandal. A close friend of mine was working as an electrician on a major new (PFI-financed) hospital project in Wakefield and reported that the majority of the corridor walls were just finished with plasterboard, covered with a decorative veneer. I'm sure it looked brilliant the day the politicians came to cut the ribbons and open the hospital but, as my chum pointed out, imagine the state of those same walls by the time a hospital trolley has scraped the surface...

Elby the Beserk said...

We have a 1929 built ex council house in a village in rural Somerset. Large rooms, large windows, indeed, large door frames so that a big bloke like me isn't continually smashing his elbow into them. 100' x 30' back garden, and a front garden bigger than many peoples' back gardens. Well built. Just the ticket!

Dave_G said...

Google 'Irish Vernacular House' - prices shown as per 2010 but a perfectly suitable accommodation with a material cost of 25,000 Euros. And that was INCLUSIVE of plumbing, electrical, windows etc.....

God alone knows where today's pricing comes from and the amount of legislation and regulation that deters people from self-building is a clear reason why house prices have gone stupid.

Some will argue that those rules/regulations are there for a purpose but it still doesn't stop the resulting buildings becoming the next generations slums.

Would it be an incorrect assumption to think that the building trade is akin to the Teamsters of America?

Anonymous said...

My House was built in 1827 and started life as a potato shed.

13" stone walls FTW!

Raedwald said...

Dave_G - not wrong

In recent years a new BS for stone paving came out specifying bedding mortar strength and performance for various grades of vehicle and other traffic - including a statutory 20kN/m2 for garden patios. The weirdest thing was that the standard specified a bedding mortar with a slump of 150mm. That means it's pretty much the consistency of thick pea soup. Only two proprietary products met the standard - one from a Swiss firm, the other from a firm called Steintec. Both many times more costly than sharp sand and Portland Cement, which didn't comply any longer.

It was only recently that I discovered that amongst the expert BS panel members who wrote the new standard was .... an employee of Steintec.

That's pretty much how the industry works now.

Anonymous said...

Supply and demand. An average house (3-bed semi) is shy of equilibrium by a factor of 65 to 1 in England. Political immigration targets for a minority white multi-racial/faith population means nothing can be done now to close that gap. Those who comment here will not live to see the full horror of an England subsumed by globalist ideology. However your children and grandchildren will see how a Balkanized country takes shape.

Listen to May's homage to post-democratic Third Way politics in Manchester yesterday and you'd be forgiven for thinking it was written for Anthony Charles Lynton Blair. Conservatism drew its last breath this week and will now be laid to rest next to Robert Peel.


Domo said...

Land with pp even in down areas can be £500,000 to £1,000,000 per acre

Even at 20houses per acre, thats a lot of cash per house, more than your material cost.

The cost of the DNO hooking up electric, transco gas, water board water & sewage, open reach for phone & broadband, roads, planning, environmental assessments, s106, the inevitable complaints and consultations and spurious damages claims, building control inspections, on and on and on.

Cascadian said...

"A land fit for heroes"-Lloyd George 1918. Still waiting.

Then review Theresa May's speech to the conmen party, there is a rock solid belief that only government or more government can improve your lives.

Nothing has been learned, the managed decline proceeds apace.

RAC said...

@ Cascadian 15:36 "managed decline" The word managed may give the impression that our death spiral is under control, whereas we are going down like an aircraft with one wing shot away. May I respectfully suggest "willful inevitable destruction" as an alternative phrase.

Anonymous said...


Theresa May’s meltdown was a metaphor for the demise of her pseudo-conservative party


Cascadian said...

RAC- ascribing any sense of management acumen to government is of course ridiculous, but I accept it as a well-established, if ironic term.

Your phrase is more applicable.

The problem lies not only with Maybe, the supposedly professional conservative party machine is a disastrous shambles, that have no policies, cannot fight elections and now seemingly cannot arrange a meeting. Everything, including Brexit negotiations is done on-the-fly, using Westminster bureaucracy as sub-contractors and relying on PR to drone incessant platitudes. The cabinet possesses no obvious PM successors beyond Jacob Rees-Mogg, but in modern yUK he recognizes he is probably unelectable-only the bland need apply)

Meanwhile, liebour continues its own downward spiral. Any half-way competent party could surely counter the nonsense they espouse, and appeal to their once rock-solid constituents in the heartland that have abandoned the loonies.