The beginning of the dip?
Almost all the indicators are moving down this summer, confirming the general jitters prevalent in the construction industry. In terms of main contracts awarded, the public non-housing sector is levelling out, and all other sectors dropped sharply in June. The volatility of the market has been such, particularly in the private non-housing sector, that making forward predictions is difficult, but the planning picture is not promising. Plans approved, at less than £1000 million, are lower than they have been for the past year, and the detailed planning figure is also back to minimum levels that it has touched several times in the course of the year.
Our regional breakdown at plans-approved stage shows that only the South- east reached the £200 million level in June, whereas in April (AJ 11.6.98), five regions met or surpassed this level (London, North-west, South-east, South-west and Scotland), with London, the healthiest region, well above £300 million pounds. No region performed better in June than in April. Wales was particularly hard hit, with the collapse of its commercial sector, which dominated in April, to below the levels for housing and industrial in June.
In the rolling total of architects with projects at the plans approved staged in the year to 30 June, Foster & Partners has raced to the top with projects worth a total of £371.44 million. There are seven practices with approvals valued at more than £200 million, ranging from Mason Richards & Partners with its total of £238.25 million made up from 99 projects, to Terry Farrell & Partners, where a mere three projects bring it to a total of £226.5 million. One scheme alone accounts for £200,000 worth of this, the revitalisation of its scheme for Stanhope at South Kensington Underground station in West London. This includes the rebuilding of the underground station and the provision of car parking as well as retail and commercial uses and a large residential component in the form of 87 flats, maisonettes and houses.
Predicting the future is as always difficult, but the very best to expect is that the level of activity will not fall. More likely is some drop, hopefully not too severe. The government is already talking about recession in the autumn, and, despite the recent generous awards to the Victoria & Albert and to Merseyside museums by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the heritage and arts lottery bonanza is over. Any compensating effect from the government's spending review is not likely to outweigh these factors for architects.