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Building Construction (Research)

Volume 961: debated on Wednesday 31 January 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will make a statement on the role of the Building Research Establishment in helping to prevent building failures; and what resources have been allocated for this purpose in the current financial year.

Much of BRE's research on materials, components, structures and fire is concerned with preventing building failures and defects. I cannot give a reliable assessment of the resources involved, since in many cases the work is part of a wider project dealing with other related issues, such as improving performance or giving better value for money.

Is it not unsatisfactory that the vital Doomwatch section of the BRE is minute and short of resources? In view of disasters such as Ronan Point and high alumina cement and the bad state of many new council flats, should not this matter be given the highest priority?

I would not say that the problem over the integrity division to which the hon. Gentleman refers has lasted as long as he suggested, when he refers back to the Ronan Point disaster. I accept that this is an important priority element in BRE work. Our problem has been to overcome shortages of staff and to achieve recruitment up to establishment. It has been difficult to recruit staff. We are continuing our efforts.

Will the Minister confirm that those figures show that local authorities have had to pay over £200 million to meet necessary repairs due to building defects and incompetent builders? Will he undertake to publish that list of local authorities in the Official Report?

I should not like, without checking, to confirm the figure that my hon. Friend has mentioned. There is, undoubtedly, a considerable area of justifiable concern about faults which have developed partly as a result of design and partly as a result of contract management during the industrialised building era. We should not exaggerate the matter and suggest that it applies to everything that went on in the 1950s and the 1960s, but it is certainly a significant element. We shall need to pay close attention to rectifying these matters in the future.