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Practices welcome ‘green shoots’

RIBA Future Trends Survey shows improved expectations of workload

Architects have given a cautious welcome to reports that the profession, and the UK economy at large, are showing the first signs of returning confidence.

Figures released as part of the RIBA’s Future Trends Survey (AJ 15.05.09) show that only 34 per cent of practices were expecting a decrease in workload, compared to 44 per cent in March. The number of practices predicting an increase in workload rose from 13 per cent in March to 18 per cent in April.

With the pound rising to its highest level against the dollar in almost six months, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development saying the UK economy is ‘bottoming out’, architects are voicing cautious optimism that the corner has been turned.

Michael Manser of The Manser Practice said: ‘It’s not too soon to say there are green shoots. Unlike the last recession, the whole world is affected this time and everyone is trying to stop it getting worse.’

A source at a major London firm was also positive. He said: ‘The situation seems to be improving. There is unquestionably a need for development, a need for housing and a need for regeneration throughout the UK, and now is the perfect time for it.’

Alistair Sunderland, a partner at Austin-Smith:Lord, said: ‘While work has slowed down since the credit crunch, we are continuing to win commissions. We are being approached to evaluate potential new acquisitions and re-evaluate previous proposals. We believe these are serious enquiries in response to continuing demand in the accommodation sector.’

But one of the country’s biggest practices urged caution. ‘I think a green shoots story might be a bit premature,’ said Peter Drummond, chief executive of BDP.  ‘I think it is unlikely any firm will be thinking about recovery yet. The commercial and residential sectors still suffer from a lack of liquidity and everybody will wait to see what happens to public expenditure in 2010.’

Phil Veitch, a director of Waller & Partners, believes that, when the recovery does begin, the market will be an easier one for those still practising. He said: ‘It’s an unfortunate situation, but the survivors will find less competition when the market takes an upturn.’

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