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Prescott's challenge is not impossible

AGENDA

THE DEPUTY prime minister's commitment to building better communities and regenerating run-down areas in our towns and cities cannot be doubted.

In a recent speech to the industry's top 100 contractors he proved to be a passionate advocate of sustainable communities with a desire to get things done.

In this vein John Prescott's radical plan to give 10,000 people a foothold on the property ladder is an ingenious attempt to bridge an affordability gap that leaves teachers and nurses struggling to get a foot on the first rung.

His novel version of public private partnership will see firsttime buyers paying for the cost of building but not the cost of the land, which the Government would own.

Rightly, Mr Prescott is keen to keep costs down. But lambasting the industry about building cost inflation is not the way to do it.

It is greeted with the retort that original cost estimates seem to be set with an eye to winning Treasury approval rather than being a realistic estimate.

In the end nobody seems to win the argument.

So the industry can be forgiven for dismissing the cost target of £85 per sq ft as Mr Prescott shooting from the hip during party conference season.

But what if planning gain is taken out of the equation and grants are available to supply essential utilities? Who knows what can be achieved if the raft of regulations builders need to comply with were relaxed in a sensible way.

In the end it may be possible to build the quality of home the deputy prime minister wants for £60,000.

The way to do it is to get the industry on board to work through proposals and not to adopt the stance of a bullying client.