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Signoff: David Taylor

JOHN Prescott's fanatical scheme to build thousands of homes in the south-east is attracting a fair bit of criticism. Now even some of the people in charge are joining in.

It's not because we don't need the homes. It's because they're being asked to build such horrible homes.

Ashford in Kent is to get 30,000 houses as part of the Sustainable Communities Plan, but such is the pressure to get on that the boss of the town's Future Delivery Board has complained he's being pushed into a 'dash for trash'.

The worry is that Ashford will end up with a rash of ugly lit tle boxes thrown up on the cheap. I don't think even Mr Prescott wants that. His diff iculty is in deliver ing the plan in good t ime at an affordable pr ice.

It's a tricky juggling act and Mr Prescot t is only being pragmat ic.

The Sustainable Communities Plan is a very idealistic policy and like all big ideas it's extremely difficult to keep it going sustainably.

NOBODY can say construction folk don't know how to party. Next time you see a beer-sodden man in a Next suit belting out 'Simply the Best' in front of a karaoke machine you can be sure he's either a project manager with a major contractor or a regional sales manager for a plant hire firm.

The same talent for unfettered hedonism is evident in the industry's approach to corporate hospitality. For example, Home Count ies cont ractor Osborne recently treated suppliers to a fun day out at Diggerland in Kent. I can only guess at the excitement as the famous Dancing Diggers lumbered into view.

Even the press gets to savour such hospitality. I would never have visited the famous Towel Museum in the Finnish town of Kemi, nor sat behind a f latulent reindeer for an hour on a sleigh, had it not been for a materials supplier's generosity.

Only last week the Construction Confederation held a 'meet the media' day at the Oval. The new stand, built by Taylor Woodrow, is a great advertisement for British construction.

After a few drinkies, everybody headed for the lifts to watch Surrey vs Middlesex from the fourth floor.

At this point, the advertisement for British construction went into meltdown as one of my female colleagues and a few confederation officials got stuck between floors.

But the seasoned construction professional does not panic in such a sticky situation. No, he suggests everybody take off their clothes to 'make themselves more comfortable'.

WE COMPLAIN about the British weather but we get nothing like the weather they've been having in the southern USA the past few weeks.

In the UK, construction programmes get disrupted when the site is waterlogged after a drop of rain.

Tower cranes stop working when the breeze gets a bit brisk.

But in the Gulf of Mexico they get winds so strong they have to give them names. Katrina wouldn't just stop your tower crane working, she'd pick it up and dump it in the next state.

Estimates of the cost vary wildly, but there's no doubt it will run into billions of dollars.

It is an unimaginable mess.

Now even the clean-up work is getting mired ? not in Mississippi mud, but in sleaze and corruption.

Contracts have been simply handed out instead of being bid competitively.

The Army Corps of Engineers has put out work at ridiculously high rates and major contractors have been scooping up the best jobs.

Richard Skinner, inspector general for homeland security, has admitted the clean-up operation is vulnerable to 'fraud, plain waste, abuse and mismanagement'.

Some contractors are going to make a for tune. As they say, it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good.