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Signoff: David Taylor

I'VE NEVER been to Cannes, but I'm told it's the ideal place to talk about property.My colleagues from the news desk say that, from the minute you step off the plane, the urge to discuss land prices, planning law and the redevelopment of crummy parts of the UK is almost overwhelming - it's most strange.

The warm Mediterranean climate drives away winter's malaise; Cannes' own lack of crappy property inspires admiration and the plentiful supply of fine food and wine nourishes the brain and lubricates the tongue.

You simply couldn't achieve the same high level of discussion in Brighton, Bournemouth or Torquay, although with France just 35 km away and the Turner Pebble about to go in, Margate might just be in with a chance.

Am I jealous of my colleagues spending four days in Cannes? Don't be silly. It's the plant boys, off to spend a week talking diggers in Las Vegas who are turning me green.

AMAZINGLY, there are those who are obliged to attend these major industry events but would rather stay at home. I, of course, am one. So is John Prescott and so is Nigel Griffiths.Only Nigel and I actually managed to wriggle out of attending Mipim in Cannes: I by avoiding an invitation in the first place, and Nigel by finding some important parliamentary work to do at home, slagging off the Bath Spa.

John Prescott simply couldn't find a good enough excuse and so there he was, like a bear with a sore head, having to stand up in front of an audience of developers and contractors and tell them once again to start building houses for sale at £60,000.And of course that's not what high-powered property people want to hear at a posh do in the South of France.

Mr Prescott's irritation probably wasn't helped by the fact that The Daily Telegraph had earlier reported that he would be booking in to a £5,000-a-night suite in the Carlton. It must have been humiliating to cancel that and then pretend that you had been planning to stay at the Travelodge all along.

POSH property people in France might want nothing to do with building cheap homes but with no need to waste time smearing my chops with haute cuisine and champagne in Cannes, I spent part of last week tackling the £60,000 house question. It's dead easy.

After a few hours pensively stroking my chinny-chin-chin, I'd come up with not one, but two great designs. First of all I assumed that a suitable brownfield site could be obtained and planning and infrastructure costs all covered for about £20,000.

That left £40,000 for the materials and labour.

I immediately ruled out traditional brick and block construction - too slow, too labour-intensive.

So no houses built of brick - despite scoring an 'excellent' rating on the BRE's Huff/Puff register.

I then considered timber frame.Wood is cheap - so cheap in fact that it really does grow on trees. So a house of sticks looks like a good bet if you want to keep under the £60,000 threshold.The Huff/Puff rating is significantly lower than brick but on the other hand, timber has good thermal properties and it's a renewable resource.

As an alternative to timber, I considered strawbale construction.This is a really great concept and very warm - the best U-values of all the systems I considered. Straw is also renewable and is cheap.The Huff/Puff rating, however, is probably even lower than timber frame and if it gets wet it has a tendency to behave like Weetabix.

Straw bale worked out cheapest, but I would not recommend its use in the Thames Gateway scenario, where flooding is likely to be a problem.Timber frame, though, floats quite well.

The only other caveat I would add is that neither system should be used in areas known to be frequented by hyperventilating wolves.