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Signoff: David Taylor

I SUPPOSE it was only a matter of time before the 'true cost' of John Prescott's much-vaunted £60,000 house was revealed. Actually, I think it's still a matter of time because when I last checked, the 'true cost' was still 'hidden'.

Apparently you must factor in remediation costs, infrastructure and section 106 agreements because the £60,000 cost of designing and building the house is wasted unless you've got a plot of land to dump it on. Makes sense to me.

So with the 'true cost' still hidden, I've had no choice but to try to uncover it using the 'back of a fag packet' calculation technique.

First I had to scrounge a fag packet, having given up the habit myself in 1993. Then, the government health warning leaving precious little space for calculation, I had to scrounge three more packets before I could finish the exercise.

Anyway, this is how the costs add up according to my calculations:

1. £60,000 design and construction.

2. Remediation costs: 64 tonnes of contaminated soil at, say, £20 per tonne landfill tax and haulage. That makes £1,280. Plus 64 tonnes of imported fill at £25 per tonne. That makes £2,880 ? let's say £3,000.

3. Infrastructure costs: including roads, electricity, water, telecoms and gas supplies, landscaping and mains drainage. . . Say £10,000 (and I'm being generous here).

4. Section 106 agreements: now you've lost me. Wossat? Sounds like it involves some delicate negotiation with the local planning department or government agency. We can allow a token £1,000 for 'palm-greasing' here plus a nominal sum for the official cost. I don't know ? how does £500 sound?

That brings the total to something close to £75,000, which doesn't seem very wide of the mark considering my utter lack of knowledge and the lamentable quality of today's fag packets. I'm sure a little careful value engineering would be able to bring the cost down a bit.

And who seriously expects anyone to build something within budget?

AS YOU can see, I'd make a hopeless quantity surveyor. But whatever my shortcomings I hope my performance isn't found as wanting as some of the construction professionals who've recently hit the headlines. Take Kent builder Christopher Mills, who drank a bottle of Scotch and then went joyriding in a 40-tonne articulated dump truck.

Mr Mills had his fun and in the process he demolished a block of garages and crushed a few cars. I myself have driven a 40-tonne ADT stone-cold sober and can confirm that the experience is mildly intoxicating.

It's the raw power, you see. I can't begin to imagine what it feels like after a bottle of the hard stuff.

I could understand it if Mr Mills had done this just for the sheer thrill of it. But he did it because he feared he might lose his job working on a new bypass. Did he think this might make his employer resolve to keep him on?

LESS THICK but more pathet ic is another headline-grabber: Suffolk builder Derek Ward stole building materials from a client following a row over payment (or non-payment, which is the usual situation in such circumstances).

Many small builders include in their conditions a statement that asserts that all materials remain their property until payment is made in full.

This makes perfect sense to any rightminded citizen but it seems to offend the law of the land. You can't just go in and strip out a client's central heating because they're slow to pay; you can't dismantle someone's brick wall when they won't part with the cash.

And it cost Mr Ward a humiliating £195 to prove th is.