This week, readers discuss the funding problems with affordable housing, our inability to deliver projects on time and on budget without PFI, and the place of academia in our industry

Training day

In response to Michael Levack’s letter on “Action for apprentices” (12 August, page 27), the construction sector does provide quality training frameworks for young people. However, in order to remain competitive the industry needs to address the training needs of its workforce at all stages of their careers.

Academia is often seen as too discipline-orientated to be of use to businesses. This perception is misplaced as many educational institutions such as the Department of Real Estate and Construction at Oxford Brookes University are working with the industry to develop courses that not only meet the skills required, but have a flexibility tailored to fit working practices.
Exploring different approaches to training has become an important priority. But it is only through collaboration that the industry and academia can deliver the relevant, vocational courses needed to create the talent pool for industry’s future.

Dr Mark Austin, Oxford Brookes University

Affordable no longer

The government has set a target of creating 170,000 affordable homes by 2015. But recent figures show there has been a 4% fall in the number of homes built in the past 12 months, while demand is increasing.

I’ve just had to abandon a scheme that would have provided over 750 homes, 25% of which would have been affordable in an area of Essex that sorely needs them, as the amount of money the social landlords were able to pay for more than 180 homes was cut. The irony is that communities secretary Eric Pickles gave the scheme consent, due to the shortage of such housing. But by cutting funding that enables social landlords to pay for homes developers are willing to build, the government has prevented the scheme it approved from going ahead.

This is the type of scenario being repeated all over, as cuts kick in and developers are expected to shoulder the costs.

If the government is serious about increasing housing, there are three flaws in the system that need to be tackled as a matter of urgency.

First, we need to ensure the limited funding is targeted at those who need it most.

Second, we need to get rid of the costly initiatives that divert funding away, such as the Discount Market Sale, which doesn’t have a salary threshold. You can earn £100,000 a year and qualify for up to 30% off a property.

Last, while I hope the Localism Bill will cut some of the red tape, the taxes and levies that stifle builders must be reduced.

Bob Weston, chief executive, Weston Homes

The future’s PFI

Regarding your story “MPs attack ‘poor value’ PFI” (19 August,, those who criticise PFI have short memories. While it is not without faults, it delivers (in the main) on-time, on-budget projects, on a scale that the public sector could never do. Furthermore, when handed back to the client, buildings will be in a condition that will serve them for years, given how they have been maintained. Do we really want to return to the old days where our schools and hospitals were in such a state of disrepair?

Steven Taylor, via