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Signoff: David Taylor

IT DOES seem a bit 'off' that the Americans should be the f ront runners in bids to widen the road that completely encircles our capital city. But when you think about it, this makes perfect sense.

The accepted position is that the M25 widening is such a massive project that no British contractor has the resources to take it on. But that's just nonsense; we build big stuff ? just look at the CTRL and T5. And unless I'm quite mistaken, we built the M25 in the first place and I don't suppose widening the road is going to be much more complicated than building it f rom scratch.

My personal theory is that Bechtel and Fluor are simply displaying the same gung-ho enthusiasm of any US tourist visiting London. They're only here for a short while and they're keen to take in as much of the capital as possible.

The Brits, meanwhile, are displaying the innate reticence of all right-thinking British motorists and instinctively steering clear of the M25 at all costs.

YOU MAY have noticed that the debate over the growing use of timber frame for new housing is heating up nicely. The 'traditional' building lobby, which favours bricks and concrete blocks, has now seized on the idea that wood burns to cast aspersions at the whole offsite timber frame industry.

It's a compelling argument: wood is the most basic of combustible fuels and you wouldn't build a house out of coal, would you? But it's a bit of a red herring. After all, for every timber frame house that burns to the ground, there are thousands that don't.

Also, it's my understanding that Part B of the Building Regulations applies to all domestic dwellings equally, whatever they're made of. So they should all be as safe as each other.

But it's interesting to speculate on how different building methods are likely to stand up to a fire. Lightweight steel frame might not be as good as you first think because it goes all bendy at high temperatures; straw bales burn steadily, but not when they're covered with lime render; aerated concrete blocks are probably better but a mixture of rubble and mud is probably best because even if it does all burn down, you can probably just pile it all up again.

It's beginning to look as if the best dwelling for those who are really worried about fire is a cave ? you can even build a fire right in the front door to keep the bears out without worrying about Part B. But surely this can't be progress, can it?

BESIDES lightweight offsite manufacturing, the other happening trend in residential development is of course high-density urban living.

This is a favourite concept of deputy PM John Prescott, who wants to see more people crammed into funky new developments built on scraps of waste ground in our cities.

Don't get me wrong ? I'm all for it too. What I'm not sure about is an idea from architects McCormac Jamieson Prichard about extending the concept into suburbia. The reason ? I've just realised ? is that the sort of person who lives in a funky highdensity urban development is an under-35 in a colourful short-sleeved open-neck shirt, tiny specs, a Smart car and listening to Coldplay all the time. Whereas the type who lives in suburbia is me. And I don't like Coldplay.

However, if (as the MJP report Redefining Suburbia also suggests) the idea might involve extending the highdensity urban concept out east into the Thames Gateway development, then I applaud the architect's sagacity.

I live some distance to the west of the capital.