Corruption in the Big Apple, lefties in the Labour party and Stansted …

May 1982

Public ownership key to control

Measures that would make the Community Land Act look like child’s play are being considered by the Labour party’s national executive. Widespread nationalisation would take over at least all urban development land but would cover all development land excluding only residential freeholds.

When finalised the plans for land will join other measures and indicate the extent to which the Labour party is moving leftward.

The Labour document, put together by its front bench environment team led by Gerald Kaufman, sets much store by planning, especially the discredited local government variety. There is talk of “redirecting” the planning system, making councils more “positive” through ownership of land. Only public ownership will enable a Labour government to provide the housing, factories and community facilities it is promising, the paper says.

Oh yes you can

Possibly the most heavyweight piece of evidence to be submitted to the Stansted Airport inquiry is a 65-page tome by Sir Colin Buchanan. Sir Colin represents the North West Essex and East Herts Preservation Association, which describes him as “perhaps the most distinguished planning expert in the county”.

Sir Colin concludes his submission with the recommendation that the application to have Stansted developed as London’s third airport should be refused.

He comments: “Corny though it may sound, the message that should go to the British Airports Authority is, ‘You can’t do this kind of thing to England, not any more’.”

The Sopranos: the early years

Corruption is a way of life in the New York construction industry,” says the New York Times in a recent exposé of one of the city’s largest industries, in which 78,000 are carrying out $2.5 billion of work.

White collar crime may account for up to 15% of construction, contracts say industry economists. The difficulties include bid rigging, extortion, collusive practices and petty rip-offs. Organised crime is said to influence if not control 16 out of 31 local building unions. They influence the choice of materials (prefabricated wallboards being favoured over wet plastering), sell bogus work performance bonds, slow deliveries of “uncooperative” suppliers, place members in no-show jobs, steal equipment, encourage “mungo”, which is the petty thievery of new and old scrap material from the job by craftsmen who sell the stuff for their own gain.

Since 1978 four firms have controlled 70% of all concrete used in Manhattan according to crime investigators. During the cartel’s tenure concrete costs rose 105%, double the rate in other cities.

Taylor Woodrow Anglian, the licensees in this country for the Larsen Nielson system, has been operating for seven years and has built 3,000 dwellings without mishap. Larsen Nielson has produced something like 2,000 dwellings a year for the last 15 years for the home market in Denmark.

Certainly there have been critics of the way IB has been introduced into a system of regulation geared to traditional building. The amazing thing is that so little research has been carried out into the safety factors of IB, although the Institution of Civil Engineers has a standing committee on safety, which among other things has been looking at the failure of concrete and steel structures.

Whether or not gas was the culprit at Ronan Point is immaterial in the sense that the use of gas in tall blocks is now under the microscope. The severity of the explosion at flat 90 on the 18th floor also poses the question of whether the loss of life [ four died immediately and 17 were injured] might have been more disastrous in a conventional building.

But had the time of day been different [ the explosion occurred at 5.45am] or had the bedrooms been placed where the living rooms were, the loss of life at Ronan Point could have reached horrific proportions.

In the opinion of one safety expert the explosion would have blown out a lump of wall “and that would have been that”. There is little doubt that designs could be made to withstand these explosions but at enormous cost and possibly at the expense of IB’s trump card - speed of erection.

The future of industrially built tall flats must of course depend upon the official report but any suggestion that the IB programme should be scrapped is obviously premature.

A massive investment is involved and the very real contribution IB has made in easing the housing shortage over the past few years must not be overlooked.