Milton Keynes

This is 'Superhome 2000' - the year 2000 still being futuristic in 1983 - an energy-saving house built in Milton Keynes. The city itself was built in the early 1970s as a way to provide cheap houses to people who needed to commute to London, and was the last gasp of the kind of centralist urban planning that was big news at the time. Energy conservation was a very important topic in the early-1980s - 1983 was seeing the end of a short oil crisis and a recession, caused in part by the Islamic revolution in Iran and the consequent destabilisation in the Middle East, and also the Labour Party being crap in the late-70s.

"Hot water on tap and whole house central heating for mass housing are recent developments"

And indeed they were in 1983. Back then some houses had a working fireplace, one that could be used to heat the boiler in order to create enough hot water for a bath. When I was growing up we had an electric boiler, but we still had to switch it on for a couple of hours in order to have a bath.

'Mass housing' wasn't as bad a phrase as it is nowadays; the crime rate in 1983 was much lower than today, and there was still a section of society that was poor but well-educated and law-abiding. The house above would have been very expensive in 1983, ludicrously so nowadays, and anybody who could afford it would not want to live in 'mass housing'.

[On the energy crisis]
"Catastrophe theory, now a respected branch of futurology, holds in essence that we probably won't see the edge of the cliff before falling off."

Catastrophism is no longer a respected branch of futurology, given that we haven't fallen off the cliff yet. In terms of energy it's generally accepted that, over time, oil will become harder and more expensive to find, alternative energy sources will become cheaper and more economical, and eventually the latter will take over from the former, assuming we haven't just said 'sod it', and gone for nuclear power instead. There's a growing backlash at the catastrophism of the global warming environment-type movement, although it's too early to say which side will win. DDT is still banned, and malaria is still rampant in poorer parts of the world because of it.

The article makes the tentative prediction that, in the seven short years that remained of the 80s, homes might incorporate solar water and space heating, passive solar heating, photovoltaic cells and 'air source heat pumps'. All of these things were possible at the time but none of them happened, possibly because the private sector would rather make a profit that not make a profit, and the government seems to have no interest in building homes. The contradiction between 'mass housing', and all that entails, and the idea that the 'mass householders' would have enough money and space to afford solar heating seems to have passed the writers by.

The article has lots of stuff about keeping homes warm, but almost nothing about keeping homes cool. Presumably 'S J Wozniak BA PhD, Principal Scientific Officer, Building Research Establishment' - perhaps a distant relative of Steve Wozniak, officially-erased co-founder of Apple Computer - came from the North of the country.

(c) Ashley Pomeroy 2001