It’s been 10 days since the UK voted to leave the EU, and I thought it was time to talk about how this might affect us, the architectural profession, and the construction industry as a whole.
As a starting point, I will say that the result didn’t go the way I expected, or would have liked. The result does stand, however, and it is clear there are going to be several effects on the construction industry, both short and long term.
Due to the unprecedented nature of the result, the way things are going to pan out is a huge unknown, with both sides of the debate not having a clear idea either. One thing is clear and that is that in the short term, there will be some financial consequences. The construction industry has already reported that production had slowed down in the months preceding the vote in wariness of what was to happen, and that is likely to continue as the various markets fluctuate. Construction has always been a sector of the economy which is one of the first to be hit when any kind of recession hits, and the signs suggest the same is likely to be the case.
Depending on how people’s investments are affected, and how mortgage lenders practices change, there is a potential to affect people’s wish to move house. For smaller Architects’ practices like Carve Architecture, this may result in more work on extensions and other home improvements as people decide to stay in their current home rather than move. It gives people an opportunity to look again at the house they have and consider whether it could actually be the house of their dreams with some thoughtful modifications.
Larger housing developments are likely to slow down, in the short term at least. If there is a chance that fewer people will want to or be able to purchase a new home, house-builders do not want to end up in a position where they have built more than they can quickly sell. Hopefully this will not lead us back to the situation we were in a few years ago with brick manufacturers mothballing plants, and housing production dropping off a cliff. In the last recession, there was also a move towards ‘safer’ more traditional aesthetics from the larger house-builders. In the last couple of years there have been signs of this relaxing, and developers being prepared to try new approaches. Again, the hope would be that we do not backtrack too far down the ‘safe’ route.
Many construction materials are currently imported from EU countries. It is likely that we will still need to import these materials, but new deals either with the EU countries or from further afield will need to be negotiated at some point. There are potential cost implications which will affect builders, and we will have to see how things go. Importing more from outside Europe doesn’t do much for the attempts to reduce embodied energy of materials, with large transport distances increasing their carbon footprint.
In terms of Planning Policy, this comes at a time when many local authorities have either recently agreed or are still working on their 5 year housing land supply, as required by the NPPF. With output likely to drop, it is not clear where this leaves councils, and whether there will be any challenge to the adopted documents. Various governments have been chasing their tails when it comes to house-building targets for years. The recent developments are unlikely to help matters.
Looking at legislation affecting architecture and the built environment, I think it is unlikely to be hugely affected. Legislation on Energy performance is generally handled by UK law, though any pushes towards zero-carbon in the short term are unlikely to happen with reduced output and a more cautious approach. While much of the current Health and Safety legislation has been driven by the EU, this is generally now covered in UK law, and I don’t foresee the government going back on these aspects. It is worth noting that the recent changes to Health and Safety in the CDM 2015 rules were primarily made to try to comply with an EU directive. The aim of this was to try to reduce the number of serious accidents on smaller construction sites, particularly affecting the type of work that Carve are involved in.
The next issue is one of construction workforce. There are many EU migrants in the construction industry. Their position as things move forward is still to be decided, as is what the future levels of migrant workers in the construction industry can be. Before these latest developments, there has already been talk of a major construction skills shortage in the country, and it does suggest that something will need to be done to try to encourage and develop these skills in the UK if it will be harder to rely on overseas workers.
My final point is regarding fellow Architects. Through my University training, and professional career as an Architect, I have had the pleasure of working with several colleagues who hail from overseas, both EU countries and the rest of the world. Alternative approaches help to bring out new ways of thinking from all involved, making for a more interesting and richer built environment. I would like to hope that regardless of the UK’s exit from the EU, that there will continue to be opportunities for foreign nationals to study and practice Architecture in this country.