Another reason PQE won’t work

Didn’t know this one but fun all the same:

Britain simply isn’t building enough housing to meet the demand for homes. Part of that is due to a brick shortage that began before the recession,

Has the 0.2 of a Professor thought this one through?

71 thoughts on “Another reason PQE won’t work”

  1. Surely The Peoples Brick Company will solve us of this crisis?

    Not before we’ve shot a few thousand people for hoarding bricks under the pretence of holding up their roofs.

  2. Seems to be a blind spot of the wank-professional classes. Since any mental defective can become a lawyer/accountant/etc/etc, given a modest ability to read & can be fully fledged lawyering/accounting about 10 minutes later, they have the illusion all the proper jobs, make real & necessary shit happen, are as simple.

  3. The planning laws already give us five year plans for how many houses to build. What we need is a five year plan for making bricks. Next problem?

  4. I did the same as Sanjay- pointed out that the shortages of materials and skills precipitated by a preannounced boom in building would push prices up immediately, and that this had been observed numerous times in the past.

    I got told I was seeking a political objection and the topic was closed.

    Funnily, I’ve noticed a slipping of Murphy out of the limelight in recent days: is Corbenstein distancing himself?

  5. they have the illusion all the proper jobs, make real & necessary shit happen, are as simple.

    Quite. I think it was this thread’s Sanjay Mittal who pointed out to Murph that training a load of engineers and builders to spend his “free money” on building infrastructure isn’t going to work because these guys aren’t much use at entry-level, they need several years’ experience and supervision from guys with a lot more. All this PQE will do is drive up the wages of the existing, experienced engineers to footballer levels and pave the way for cowboys.

    Which is why I’m all for it, of course.

  6. “before we’ve shot a few thousand people for hoarding bricks under the pretence of holding up their roofs.”

    Presumably the purge of wreckers will have to wait.

  7. Does he not realise that building rather skilled, which is not the same as a Reinhard Programme-style “let’s put everyone tomorrow into manually shovelling muck to build roads / canals etc” as was the style in the 1930s?

  8. abacab,

    Those programmes never worked even back then. The Soviets tried the “throw hoardes of unskilled bodies at the job” approach, and the results were poor to say the least. Look at the White Sea Canal, for example.

  9. I suppose if you print enough money you can use bricks of plastered twenty quid notes to actually build these utopian developments? I suppose it’s one way to claim an investment multiplier of close to 1.

    I know at one point in Zimbabwe it was cheaper to use million dollar notes as an alternative to buying the equivalent value of capitalist bogroll.

    Progress, eh?

  10. @TimN,

    Indeed. But that seems to be what Ritchie and co have in mind – hordes of unskilled people building bloody houses etc.

  11. As Sanjay Mittal points out – these objections have been put to him and every other advocate of ‘Green’ or ‘People’s’ QE and his response was an ad hominem attack or the accusation that the person commenting was a ‘troll’ or ‘neoliberal’ – details of how they would address the shortages of Labour and material were sadly lacking…..

  12. How can there be a brick shortage lasting 8 years?
    It is quite a mature technology is it really that hard for business to produce more?

  13. “How can there be a brick shortage lasting 8 years?
    It is quite a mature technology is it really that hard for business to produce more?”

    I suspect that, since it’s big, dirty, energy-consuming plant that it’s bloody difficult and expensive to get the required permissions and permits to build a new plant, or to expand an existing one.

  14. Actually we could make houses cheaper overnight
    1) Abolish stamp duty to reduce transaction costs
    2) Give no benefits for more than 6 months to people who live a house costing more than £500k –
    3) Make pro single parents share – 1 million empty homes over night
    4) No one lives in London on benefits for more than 6 months move them somewhere cheaper
    5) Go the council somewhere cheaper the housing benefit we save
    Sadly this would be politically very difficult but other than a cheap alternative to coal very few things could be better for the UK.

  15. @PF – imported bricks are likely to be metric, and thus present maintenance and repair issues (ask St. Catherine’s College, Oxford about that one…). Plus, they’re bulky and heavy, so transport costs will be significant, possibly to the degree that it’s not economic based on current demand.

    I’m sure that if there was a workable import-based solution, people would be doing it.

  16. abacab – “and thus present maintenance and repair issues”

    It’s only a maintenance issue if the supply of imported bricks dries up. Or how do we cope with the maintenance and repair of Volkswagens?

  17. There are two major types of bricks in England – flettons and non-flettons (there are also concrete bricks which are used in certain circumstances). Flettons are made by the London Brick Company from Oxford Clay in Cambridgeshire – no, actually Northamptonshire but the belt of Oxford clay does run into Cambrisgeshire. Flettons are cheaper to make than non-flettons because Oxford clay contains a small proportioon of flammable carbon so they require less fuel and at one time accounted for nearly half of all UK brick production.
    In 2008 London Brick closed its brick-making factory in Bedfordshire, which produced about 20% of UK bricks, because they could not meet the new UK regulations on sulphur emissions (London Brick stated that they *did* meet EU regulations, so for once it isn’t the fault of Brussels).
    So we have a brick shortage created by guess who

  18. @Andrew M – ever tried importing a small number of bricks for a repair job?

    St.Cat’s apparently has, and it is eye-wateringly expensive, and a real PITA.

  19. There is always the story about the guy who bought a Russian sub and had it sailed to Australia. When Customs inspected it, they were shocked and panicked when they found torpedoes in the torpedo bay.

    Once the bomb squad had confirmed they were what are called “space weights” (inert both warhead and fuel), the Customs guys fined the lad for not declaring the bricks the Russians used to represent the warhead weight.

  20. Why do houses have to be made of bricks? There’s any number of alternatives – timber frame and structural insulated panel, for example. Many of them are cheaper and mean houses can be completed in a much shorter time than it takes to complete a brick house. They make self-building much easier.

  21. “Why do houses have to be made of bricks? ”

    They don’t have to be, but basically because of the Great Fire of London. Seriously.

  22. abacab

    OK, I’ll take that as read. Imported bricks would be a little more expensive.

    But is that the reason Britain is not building enough houses to meet the demand (as per the article above)?

    We know, with a system of restricted planning, that “house price” less “building cost” less “profit margin” = “land price” (with planning).

    And hence due to high house prices, the price of “land with planning” is hugely inflated. Ie, lots of profit gets made from “land without planning” to “land with planning”.

    If building costs slightly increase, with no change in house prices (determined by supply and demand), then land price (with planning) slightly falls, and those who have already paid for land banks with planning (and still hold them) will have a slight loss to take.

    If that acts as a drag on building, then the simple solution is to issue more chitties. ie reduce the profit on the land price hike to cover for the higher building costs. Ie, if existing chitties don’t get used, then issue some more.

    It’s interesting that the article manages to cover every leftie housing cliche there is – except a) planning chitties and b) “why” there is all this demand for more housing…

  23. They don’t have to be, but basically because of the Great Fire of London. Seriously.

    Wouldn’t breeze-blocks do? When we had our house extended in the 1980s (old farmhouse in Wales) they used concrete breeze blocks with (bad) render thrown over the top. Any reason why these aren’t used instead of bricks, other than aesthetics? Concrete batch plants are a lot simpler than brick factories.

  24. “Any reason why these aren’t used instead of bricks, other than aesthetics? ‘

    I expect you’ll find planners make it all but impossible to build with anything other than red bricks most of the time.

  25. john77

    “@ Tommo
    Timber-framed houses are mostly brick”

    errr, not it you don’t use bricks. The US & NZ for example.

  26. @ David Moore
    We are talking UK housing shortage and UK timber-framed houses are mostly brick, often but not always with lightweight concrete blocks for the inner skin (but you can use lightweight concrete blocks for the inner skin of “brick” houses so the use of timber frame doesn’t make much difference to the brick shortage. Using timber frames was popular in the ’70s because it speeded up construction.

  27. @ Tim Newman
    The main reason is aesthetics but lightweight concrete blocks have lower load-bearing capacity than bricks.

  28. @Tim Newman – “Wouldn’t breeze-blocks do? ”

    In theory, yes. But lot’s of planning committees don’t like anything other than brick. That’s one reason why you hardly ever see interesting houses in the UK.

  29. John77

    “We are talking UK housing shortage and UK timber-framed houses are mostly brick”

    Aware of that, but it’s not the only way to build a house. Unless your a UK planner of course…..

    If you really wanted to have cheaper & faster houses built you’d factory build them like happens in the US. Very few people actually want cheaper houses though.

  30. @ David Moore
    There were several attempts to produce assembly kits for houses in ’60s and ’70s (Fram Group took the lead, if I remember correctly).
    It wasn’t that people didn’t want cheaper houses – it was the memory – in the some cases the continuiong presence, of post-war prefabs which were cheap and nasty. Maybe in the milder climate of southern England corrugated iron boxes may be tolerable but not in the winter in the North. So factory-built houses just didn’t sell.

  31. But lot’s of planning committees don’t like anything other than brick. That’s one reason why you hardly ever see interesting houses in the UK.

    So the planning committees outlaw alternatives to brick, and there’s a brick shortage. Is this a problem that a length of rope and a sturdy branch couldn’t solve?

  32. @Tim Newman – ” Is this a problem that a length of rope and a sturdy branch couldn’t solve?”

    Is there any problem it won’t solve?

  33. @David Moore – key difference with US housing is cheap and freely available timber; we moved onto stone and brick in the UK once we’d cut down most of the old forests. As I understand it, one of the huge issues with factory building sectional housing in the UK is the amount of time it takes to dry the mortar and plaster that are applied to assemble and finish the house. There’s a limit to how quickly you can do it (and it’s literally tons of water in an average house) so you don’t actually save that much time

    Anyway, the LHTD was on Daily Politics earlier; did anyone see it?

  34. There is a fire risk in the UK from timber houses due to the cramped spaces we have to build on – plots in the USA (and Canada/Australia etc) are much larger, thereby sterilising each house from its neighbours to a greater extent. On a typical cheek by jowl UK housing estate if the houses were all timber construction, one fire and a good wind would reduce the lot to ashes.

    Plus the timber preservation chemicals that actually work are largely no longer allowed (EU rules again) so a 100% timber house would rot pretty quickly in the UK climate, particularly with the internal condensation caused by overuse of central heating nowadays.

  35. The bricks in timber-frame construction are decorative cladding, other materials could be used, so its a matter of what the planners (and the house-buying public) like. Prefabricated system building fell out of favour after Rowan Point.
    The problem is that building quickly and cheaply tends to provide the slums of tomorrow.
    As far as the ‘housing shortage’ is concerned I favour the solution @anon above: stop subsidising unproductive people to live in areas of high demand. And build to higher density, on brownfield city centre sites. I regard the current spate of high rise developments along the banks of the Thames a good thing. They are build to a higher standard than they would be if ‘social housing’, the glut will eventually make some of them less fashionable and therefore affordable (for some value of…).

  36. @john77

    Scandinavia is full of timber houses. The More attractive than most new-build brick houses too.

    Is the British damp a problem for timber houses?

  37. So, British brick manufacture and building trades unions are in the hands of neo-liberals.

    Who knew?

    As to bricks in homes in the U.S.: Bricks are used as a decorative element only in homebuilding. Homebuilders stopped building brick homes in the late ’50s/early ’60s.

    And the damp can’t be the reason… the Pacific Northwest and much of the Southeast can out-damp anything Britain can throw at them.

  38. I only caught the end of the Daily Politics but you could sense the rage coming out of Ritchie: at one point I thought he was about to start screaming. Andrew Neil saw it as well and pulled back from pushing him quite so hard.

    Brillo said a few times “But you are the only person who thinks there is a £120bn tax gap”

    Ritchie said that 10 years ago no-one estimated the tax gap; Brillo responsed with the HMRC figures from 2004. Ritchie looked like he was about to have a stroke.

    Oh, and he was badged
    as “City University” and was very very clear that he has no formal appointment from Corbyn. Don’t want to jeopardise that charity funding live on TV.

  39. GD

    Alex just posted the i-player link over on the “Ritchie visits Parliament” thread.

    Quite excellent, I really thought Richard was going to lose it / explode at one point. Yes, Andrew backed off and gave him one or two easy points.

    Liked this one from RM: “The markets deal in fiction”

  40. @ Quip
    The mountain ash is a fine tree and nothing whatsoever to do with badly-designed tower blocks. Anyhow you’re wrong about when prefabricated building fell out of favour – it was in the late 1940s when people realised what living in a prefab was like so most of them got pulled down in the 1950s and early 1960s (*all* my local ones were, prioritised over clearing Victorian slums in the town centre).
    You are certainly right that we *should* build to higher densities on brownfield city-centre sites. The block to that is the 1948 Planning Act that set limits on housing density that failed to differentiate between houses and flats so labour councils in London built tower blockls surrounded by empty spaces with the wind whistling around the blocks.

  41. we moved onto stone and brick in the UK once we’d cut down most of the old forests.

    Bit of a myth that, in fact a lot of a myth. Stone and brick became fashionable and replaced timber which itself had been fashionable, shortage of wood had little or nothing to do with it. Wooden houses were built out of all sorts of odds and ends, there’s plenty of wood available in Britain for at least timber framing if not full construction. as others have said it’s planning laws and a degree of prejudice that prevent its use.

    Mind you we’d probably be faced with the same sort of supply problems as with bricks and mortar, cost of harvesting, transport and a lack of skills.

  42. @PF:

    Hoo, Lordy, I watched the whole DP interview. What a loon! It’s almost certain he is going to have a meltdown live on air if an interviewer does decide to keep pushing him or he comes across someone actively hostile to him.

    He even does the “Firstly, secondly, thirdly, …” thing when speaking.

    Is he trying to copy David Starkey? Some of his mannerisms were similar.

    I’ve also found another reason to hate him: he pronounces “absurd” as “abzurd”.

    What a puffed-up little ball of fuming self-importance he is.

  43. How much of the problem is that British people don’t want to live in high rise apartments, even nice condo units, but want the house with a garden? I’m like that myself although I live in a nice high rise apartment but it’s not the same as your own house. People in other countries don’t seem to yearn for the house and garden as much as us Brits.

  44. People in other countries don’t seem to yearn for the house and garden as much as us Brits

    Given the way so many houses have paved or decked gardens these days I’m not so sure about that. OK you can still sit and relax on a concrete lawn, when it stops raining, but having a garden to potter about in is something that only a diminishing number of oddballs like me seem interested in.

  45. It’s not the wanting a garden bit – it’s the. It having noisy bastards above, below and around you. Build soundproofed apartments and I’d be delighted to live in one.

  46. It’s not the wanting a garden bit – it’s the. It having noisy bastards above, below and around you. Build soundproofed apartments and I’d be delighted to live in one.

    Rob +1

    That’s exactly the reason I prefer space and put up with the garden!

    GD

    Yes, it was fun. Maybe Andrew backed off a little “to live another day” so to speak (ie, get another crack at him!)…

  47. An apartment I visited in Helsinki had the most remarkably simple and effective solution to sound problems, two doors, one which opened inwards, the other which opened outward in to the hall, and similar on the balcony windows.

  48. I thought “opening outwards” was now deemed to be a potential fire risk (the door could be blocked on the outside)?

    It’s noise through walls, ceilings and floors that can be very hit and miss re neighbours.

  49. @ Dongguan Juan
    In Paris the upper classes live in flats in tower blocks.
    Wilson’s government decided to build tower blocks for council flats and put poor families with young children in them.
    Somewhat later the City of London Corporation built the Barbican Estate, and set the rents for tower block flats at a level that only the highly-paid (or already rich could afford). Each Barbican tower block had three lifts so that the remaining two continued to provide a service if one broke down or while one was receiving its periodic maintenance check-ups. The local authority flats had one, or occasionally two, lifts so the risk of breakdown was significant.
    When I was young kids played in the garden and if they hurt themselves Mum could come out and cope – not so easy if Mum is 14 floors up and the lift is bust or in use.
    I am all in favour of student accommodation being tower blocks, but not housing for families with young children. I spent tweny years working on the fifth floor and eleven of those living on the fifth floor (with two-and-a-half window boxes). Stairs reasonably quick: lift (almost always) slow.
    The British people have been offered an example of how *not* to use tower blocks – it is little wonder that they ask for an alternative.

  50. I am surprised that one of those Henry George bores hasn’t yet chimed about Land Value Tax as the solution.

    Honestly, though, the idea that just printing money will summon bricks and other stuff into existence is one of the mass delusions of our time, much akin to fantasies about witches in centuries past.

    And I am afraid that some of this nonsense can be laid at the feet of some supposedly reputable economists, such as Krugman. And today, in the Daily Telegraph, we had Ambrose Evans Pritchard calling for mass money-printing to save the world. In the DT.

  51. Whatever the cost of imported bricks, PQE would simply print money to pay the price. The Murphaloon would be happy with that. However, if the skills and labour had to be imported too, the claim that PQE would create jobs for British under-employed people would not stand up. And if the skilled labour is sending remittances home, the amount spent in the UK economy by the holders of these PQE-funded jobs would not be as great as Murphy expects.

  52. Dave wins the thread.
    The brick shortage got hyped when there was this press release from the Federation of Master Builders
    Q1 2015

    But the nasty free enterprise system had already been at work reopening closed kilns and adding work to existing ones
    Accrington re-opens

    So now the shortage is over. No mention of brick shortages in the 2015 Q2 survey, but the shortage of skilled workers goes on, with only scaffolders and operatives being in plentiful supply.

  53. @ Andrew Carey
    Accrington Red are premier-quality bricks, only rivalled by Staffordshire Blue and (in some circumstances, concrete bricks).
    However, in volume terms they are only a small fraction of the brick production that London Brick closed in Bedfordshire so while re-opening the Accrington works is very welcome – especially to anyone who wants a prestigious frontage – it does very little to meet the shortage of bricks for cheap houses.

  54. Thanks for the education john.
    It’s good to know that quality is still available. I think the country needs more cracking looking and well-built unaffordable housing! But this isn’t as popular a view as calling for more affordable dwellings.

  55. You are certainly right that we *should* build to higher densities on brownfield city-centre sites.

    But as I’ve ranted on this site many times before, you can’t have that because in Britain, apparently, it is reasonable for a young couple who can barely scrape together the deposit for a house 12x their combined salaries can expect a “garden” 10 minutes walk from a tube station.

  56. It’s not the wanting a garden bit – it’s the. It having noisy bastards above, below and around you. Build soundproofed apartments and I’d be delighted to live in one.

    That’s a good point: I have noticed in France, where apartment living is far more the norm, noise levels are low and people’s behaviour generally considerate towards one another. In the UK, they’re not half as considerate from what I remember (although that might be a reflection on the relative rents I was paying in each case).

  57. No mention of brick shortages in the 2015 Q2 survey, but the shortage of skilled workers goes on, with only scaffolders and operatives being in plentiful supply.

    Scaffolders have been hit by the downturn in the North Sea. You’ll find loads of them looking for work now, and rope access guys.

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