This week, our readers take issue with ’champagne-drinking’ architects, plans to cut the cost of skyscrapers and the industry’s approach to labour and skills

The morning after

Methinks the RIBA doth protest too much (“Architects up in arms over Tory dossier ’smears’”). Let’s face it - they made hay while the sun shone and indulged their runaway egos. They will have to wait for another Labour government to start to spend, spend, spend again and for champagne and Belgian chocs for brekkie.

The government now wants practical, with modular buildings that can be rolled out en masse - unsexy, but sensible. What was wrong with this approach from the start? It could have saved the taxpayer a fortune!

B Love, via

Sugar coating

Interesting vision (“Shape of things to come”). These consultants have had whole careers to come up with ideas like this. Why now?

In a recent cost model you showed that City of London cladding accounted for 20% of construction costs, so even if you halved that, costs would only drop by 10%. Which element comes next?

The truth is, there are many cost drivers outside the control of the project team, including the London congestion charge, fuel costs, minimum and union wage agreements, Building Regulations and tenant demands.

I agree that cutting-edge design is probably a major factor driving up costs, but tenants will want to pay rents of £30-40/ft2 if we stick them in bland buildings. That is a position no developer wishes to end up in.

Unfortunately, building iconic architecture in London is akin to an arms race or bankers’ salaries. Nobody wants to spend the money, but developers are competing for tenants and want to build the best buildings to achieve the highest rents.

Alan Sugar on the Apprentice could have used his own head office for the opening credits, but he doesn’t - he uses a shot of the Gherkin. This illustrates my point perfectly.

Patrick Murdock, via

Cutting remarks

The UK Green Building Council’s plan to cut emissions is not another report with recommendations to the government, so whether or not it chooses to “adopt” it is a moot point (“Government to adopt UK-GBC plan to halve emissions”). The plan will be industry-led. We believe it can help frame the industry’s relationship with the government, but this is about the industry defining its own future. It’s about moving from rhetoric to delivery.

UK-GBC members will receive further communications about this and an invitation to get involved later this week.

John Alker, UK-GBC

Good neighbours

I wonder if those involved in developing Paul Morrell’s construction strategy studied reports by Linda Clarke of Westminster University. She observes that the UK construction labour process rests on casual self-employment, output-based pay, rigid trade divisions, low levels of training and a divide between operative and professional/technical skills.

Solutions to skills shortages focus, not on employment regulation and industry-wide training, but on importing labour. Labour is not valued for its knowledge, but its ability to fulfil the task at hand. Training is geared to meeting immediate needs, qualifications are not a prerequisite and labour is rewarded for its product not its potential. In the attempt to control costs through overseeing contract relations, the production process and expertise have become secondary.

Other European countries rely on higher skill levels based on training and on a more stable, collectively-negotiated structure of training provision and employment.

In Germany, for example, cost aspects are incorporated into the production system. The process is built on a high level of expertise. Employment relations, rather than contract relations, dominate and prescribe skills drawn from the labour force’s potential and dependent on broad, vocational education.

This investigation reveals a need for more - and qualitatively different - skills in Britain.

Mark Oliver, H+H UK, via

Past form

I have read with interest the government plans to establish a construction board to be chaired by Paul Morrell. The duties of this board will cover a major area of public sector procurement and could end up as an expensive talking shop. If it is to have teeth, it will need a vast array of civil servants to manage its functions. Such a body, called the Property Services Agency, was in existence from 1972 to 1993. In the end it was considered to be grossly inefficient and was privatised and sold off to Tarmac.

Roger Knowles, independent consultant