Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 340-352)



  340. Is that not one of the problems with the construction industry particularly now as we are down to more and more subcontracting and there is less and less supervision of what goes on because it does seem like there is an awful lot of risk and, however well designed they are in theory, in practice on the ground they may not actually be assembled properly?
  (Mr Miles) Yes, absolutely right and therefore the rational response to that is to recognise it as a problem and to minimise that which is left on-site and to try and supervise that which is left on-site to the best possible extent.

  341. And you will do the supervision as a firm?
  (Mr Blanshard) We would offer the client the total package.
  (Mr Miles) May I just make it clear that Yorkon are here as a producer. I am here as a designer and also as a member of the Housing Forum, so I have more of a pan-industry view than a particular quadrant and my colleagues can answer that question.

Alistair Burt

  342. I am very concerned about what you have described which sounds like a crisis of intermediate skills in the construction industry. Why do you think this has happened?
  (Mr Miles) Because it has not been at all fashionable to become a skilled apprentice over the last 20 years and there has been nothing done that has been of material benefit to right that. It just is not fashionable for kids to leave school and become an apprentice and it has not been for a long time.

  343. May I suggest that it is not the fashion to train the apprentices. There are hundreds of kids in my constituency who would rather like the chance to become an apprentice.
  (Mr Miles) Maybe they would now but I do not think they did 15 years ago when this problem first started because it was becoming very attractive to do other things.

  Chairman: I do not think we want to have too long a discussion.

Mr Betts

  344. Do you see this method of construction actually providing homes in the private sector?
  (Mr Miles) Absolutely. It has to.

  345. Have you done any?
  (Mr Blanshard) We have not, we have only done them for housing associations, but I definitely see that.
  (Mr Miles) I know of several builders who are active in pursuing these systems now.

  346. Actively pursing, but actually using?
  (Mr Miles) Yes, beginning to develop new systems that are what I would call generation two systems specifically designed for housing.

  347. Could you give us some information about that because it seems that these sort of systems end up as social housing because nobody else will actually pay for them.
  (Mr Miles) Let me right that. The industry interest is across the board and, when I spoke of 150,000 houses a year or north of that number in future, it is about 20,000 for social housing and, if you do not deal with the balance of 130,000, then you are not dealing with the issue, so you have to, and we as a nation have to, address that much bigger section which is the private build and these pressures of strangulation, increased standards and customer demand affect the private build sector as much as they do the social build.


  348. Finally, if you are going to build them in the factory, what happens when something goes wrong five years down the line? Is the local plumber going to be flummoxed when he comes to actually try and sort it out and will he say, "I cannot get those parts, I cannot do that"? Is there a scope for you offering a service package whereby you go on servicing the units for the next 20 years?
  (Mr Blanshard) We do have service vehicles around but the idea is that we would have local people being able and trained to do that. Can I just remind you that we are not changing materials. A plumber can still take a radiator off—

  349. You were just speaking of the virtues of a big panel of plasterboard. That makes a lot of difference to the way construction is going to take place, does it not? If you have a big piece of plasterboard, it is going to be very different to having smaller pieces. Are you going to say that, once it gets in the dwelling, it is going to get cut up into little pieces?
  (Mr Blanshard) No, once it gets in the dwelling, it gets fixed to the wall and I do not need a plasterer to plaster it.
  (Mr Miles) From a repair point of view, it is no different to drill a hole in a big piece of plasterboard or a small piece of plasterboard. That is the point. So the repair of systems subsequently does not require any new skills. It is the assembly of the systems in the first place that is addressed by off-site manufacture.

  Mr O'Brien: Mr Blanshard, in your written submission, you list a number of awards that you have achieved, but there is nothing there about energy efficiency. A number of the tenants and people in properties and the Government too are pressing for energy efficiency. Why do you have no awards for energy efficiency?

Mr Mole

  350. And can we add sound.
  (Mr Blanshard) On the question of efficiencies, the way that the modules are made are really insulated individual rooms and we end up with higher insulation levels than the actual building regulations and we were not nervous when the Government were trying to lift the insulation levels because we were already there, it was only the masonry world out there who became suddenly nervous. Coming back to the awards for energy efficiency, what we have done is that instead of an engineer producing a document with us with lots of stat ratings and new values and all this sort of thing which really the man in the street does not understand, what we really need to do is ask, is this thing going to do 50 miles to the gallon or is it going to do 100 miles to the gallon? What we are doing is actually monitoring electricity bills. What people are telling me from the block in Hackney is that it hardly costs anything to run their flat. So, we now have permission to collect their electricity bills and produce some really strong data from two or three winters and summers.


  351. How do they heat water?
  (Mr Blanshard) By electricity.


  352. That has been a very helpful short session for us and I thank you very much for coming to the Committee this morning.
  (Mr Blanshard) Thank you for your interest.

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