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The Great British Housing Disaster


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#1 SarahBell

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Posted 19 March 2012 - 07:28 AM



In the early 1960s, the Conservative and Labour parties engaged in an escalating "numbers game" of promises to build new homes to ease Britain's housing shortage. Harold Wilson's incoming Labour government kickstarted an ambitious plan for industrially manufactured system-built housing.

Local authorities were caught between attractive government subsidies and the increasing power of the large contractors, into jumping on the system-building bandwagon and accept unrefusable offers. Contractors came to fill the roles of designers, constructors and site supervisors, using prefabricated systems that were innovative but difficult to understand or supervise.

In the 1970s and 1980s subsequent investigations found systematic failings to bolt prefabricated panels together, tie inner and outer skins of cavity sections together, and reject out of specification components that would be prone water ingress causing later corrosion and failure. This was compounded by an industry culture to work quickly and not ask questions, together with a toothless watchdog agency.

By the time of the partial collapse of the 23-storey Ronan Point tower block due to a natural gas explosion in 1968, local authorities were waking up to the scale of the deficencies and the cost of making safe the 750,000 flats built during the ten year boom. It then emerged that up to 6 million people were living in poorly constructed or dangerous system-built housing erected in the 1920s, 1930s and 1950s and beyond.

Ironically, many of the proposed expensive remedial systems were found to be similarly untried, untested and unfit for purpose, and in some cases offered by the same construction industry chiefs previously vending the very inadequate building systems that now needed remedying.

Fans of Adam Curtis's work should note that, as an early Curtis production, this solid investigative documentary lacks the narrative thread and unique voice that characterises his later work, but favourite themes are present, such as the collusion of the powerful and opportune, and the inability to learn from past lessons. — Surreal Moviez
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#2 aSecureTenant

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Posted 19 March 2012 - 08:24 AM

Fascinating video. Thanks

"Capitalism has defeated communism. It is now well on its way to defeating democracy" ~ David Korten

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#3 DabHand

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Posted 19 March 2012 - 08:32 AM

The only good l can see is that its clear people have always been total arseholes and its not some modern disintegration of moral fibre. Also that for the first time we may have the tools and information to ensure that these automatic default behaviour for homo arseholicus is much less viable in the future.
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How can Britain compete internationally when the expense of a worker includes the astronomical cost of housing them?

#4 SarahBell

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Posted 19 March 2012 - 09:05 AM

Have the modern buildings been created with the same potential for huge flaws?

Throwing new builds up made from wood is the modern way.
Is there regulation in ensuring that they have enough fixings in at every stage? Are the panels all checked or do they get thrown up if they're not quite right still?
Will in 15 years time there be grand scale demolition of these buildings?
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#5 Georgia O'Keeffe

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Posted 19 March 2012 - 09:10 AM

Have the modern buildings been created with the same potential for huge flaws?

Throwing new builds up made from wood is the modern way.
Is there regulation in ensuring that they have enough fixings in at every stage? Are the panels all checked or do they get thrown up if they're not quite right still?
Will in 15 years time there be grand scale demolition of these buildings?

Replaced with Wattle & Daub as its environmentally progressive

#6 cock-eyed octopus

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Posted 19 March 2012 - 09:37 AM

Have the modern buildings been created with the same potential for huge flaws?

Throwing new builds up made from wood is the modern way.
Is there regulation in ensuring that they have enough fixings in at every stage? Are the panels all checked or do they get thrown up if they're not quite right still?
Will in 15 years time there be grand scale demolition of these buildings?


Buildings made from wood is the old way. Some of them have lasted quite well. The first one I built still looks as it did 40 years ago.

Wood's great (even softwood) so long as you keep it dry.
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#7 Debbie568

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Posted 19 March 2012 - 09:46 AM

Buildings made from wood is the old way. Some of them have lasted quite well. The first one I built still looks as it did 40 years ago.

Wood's great (even softwood) so long as you keep it dry.


Wooden houses are noisy. They groan and creak, night and day. And let in breezes that then take ages to pinpoint and remedy. They have gaps everywhere. Mice love them. Give me a solid stone house any day!

#8 tiremola

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Posted 19 March 2012 - 09:56 AM

In my opinion Ronan Point was even worse than described. I read the newspaper reports and the enquiry results at the time, and the gas explosion account did not make much sense. A woman lit her gas oven; there was indeed an explosion. However, she was thrown backwards, and found herself, completely uninjured, sitting on the floor, a short distance away from the oven, with a sense of it feeling a bit draughty. Behind her, the entire wall panel had gone, taking out a sequence of panels below it.

It did not take much of an explosion to do that, or she would have been worse off. I can't see the video, but did they mention that the joints had been packed in places with wet newspaper, and there was no proper fixing of the panels to the floor? The slabs were just resting on edge on a very small area, only inches wide.

#9 Ungeared

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Posted 19 March 2012 - 10:30 AM

A great insight into what was a culture of greed at every level, so glad things have moved on :unsure:
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#10 porca misèria

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Posted 19 March 2012 - 10:48 AM

Wooden houses are noisy. They groan and creak, night and day. And let in breezes that then take ages to pinpoint and remedy. They have gaps everywhere. Mice love them. Give me a solid stone house any day!

Sounds like you've encountered badly-built wooden houses.

Wood is normal in Scandinavia, and I lived a fair chunk of my childhood in wooden houses that were far better-built than the UK norm (and stand up to real winters with lower gas bills than Brits pay while remaining warmer). I don't recognise your description, not of my grandparents house built in the 19th century, nor of my uncle and aunt's house they built themselves when I was about ten, nor of anyhting between those older and newer houses.

#11 Debbie568

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Posted 19 March 2012 - 11:23 AM

Pretty sobering video. Thanks for posting it. In spite of the current drought, some of the land the government is currently considering releasing for development is on the flood plain. In the wake of Carlisle, Cockermouth, Tewkesbury and the like, some of the commercial insurers are saying they won't insure buildings built on the soon to be released land. So the would be builders are asking for "assurances" from the government, because if buyers can't get buildings insurances, the banks won't lend and the buyers probably wouldn't want to take a risk and buy anyway. Ultimately the government are funded by the taxpayer. Should taxpayers be in the buildings insurance business, particularly for housing built on flood plains?

#12 Debbie568

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Posted 19 March 2012 - 11:31 AM

Sounds like you've encountered badly-built wooden houses.

Wood is normal in Scandinavia, and I lived a fair chunk of my childhood in wooden houses that were far better-built than the UK norm (and stand up to real winters with lower gas bills than Brits pay while remaining warmer). I don't recognise your description, not of my grandparents house built in the 19th century, nor of my uncle and aunt's house they built themselves when I was about ten, nor of anyhting between those older and newer houses.


Ah yes, but Scandanavian houses are built to withstand extreme winters, so would probably be well built whatever the building materials. I was thinking of wooden houses in Malaysia and New Zealand. Quite sturdy structures in their way, but too "alive" for my tastes. They certainly weren't the kind of houses that did "silence" very well.

Attached File  house in New Zealand.jpg   8.8KB   26 downloads

#13 Self Employed Youth

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Posted 10 June 2012 - 04:45 PM

Very interesting video.
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#14 Nuggets Mahoney

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Posted 10 June 2012 - 05:07 PM

Ah yes, but Scandanavian houses are built to withstand extreme winters, so would probably be well built whatever the building materials. I was thinking of wooden houses in Malaysia and New Zealand. Quite sturdy structures in their way, but too "alive" for my tastes. They certainly weren't the kind of houses that did "silence" very well.

Attached File  house in New Zealand.jpg   8.8KB   26 downloads


and, yes, drafty as ****, which was fine when no-one minded you chopping down the occasional forest for your wood-burner. Not so fine now.

Leaky as **** as well

Leaky homes crisis

The leaky homes crisis is an ongoing construction and legal crisis in New Zealand, in which many thousands of newly constructed houses and apartment buildings built in the 1990s and early 2000s suffered from severe weathertightness problems. Due to the very wet climate of most parts of the country, this has led to many houses becoming unhealthy to live in, or in extreme cases, beginning to decay at dangerous rates. The repairs and replacement cost that could have been avoided were estimated in 2009 to be approximately $11.3 billion.


Handy in case of earthquakes though...

Edited by Nuggets Mahoney, 10 June 2012 - 05:12 PM.

edit: typo

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#15 bland unsight

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Posted 10 June 2012 - 10:14 PM

The only good l can see is that its clear people have always been total arseholes and its not some modern disintegration of moral fibre. Also that for the first time we may have the tools and information to ensure that these automatic default behaviour for homo arseholicus is much less viable in the future.


+1, (and Amen to that).

DabHand - you are my God now.

99% for the sentiment and 1% for the trick to make the profanity checker ignore an ****. If only it were so easy in real life.

Weirdly, the word hole and use of **** as a prefix only is enough to defeat it, to wit - "arsehole"

Reading and going batshit mental for Graeber's Debt: The First 5,000 Years. Pretty sure that this Mr Holicus you mention has been with us for a while.

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