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Optimism dropping says RIBA, as NHBC declares worst ever year for new starts

The RIBA’s Future Trends Survey has seen a return to falling optimism in the industry with fewer practices hopeful for increased workloads

Meanwhile, the National Housebuilding Council (NHBC) has revealed annual figures that show the number of home build starts dropped in 2009 to the lowest levels since it began monitoring the industry in the 1950s.

RIBA’s findings for December show 7 per cent fewer practices expecting their workload to increase,e with just 31 per cent predicting more enquiries, compared with 38 per cent in November.

Workload predictions declined in all sectors covered by the survey, with the steepest drop in private housing. In December, 28 per cent of practices expected increases in the sector compared to 36 per cent a month earlier.

Only 5 per cent of practices in the run up to the New Year expected staff levels to increase despite 10 per cent saying they thought so in November. The number of practices expecting decreased staffing remained constant at 11 per cent.

RIBA Director of Practice Adrian Dobson said: ‘Anecdotal commentary submitted this month continues to illustrate that the situation for individual practices varies greatly, with certain specialist sectors, for example small-scale domestic projects, education, building conservation, performing better than others. 

‘Common themes remain: pressure on fees levels and reductions in profit margins; difficulty for developers in obtaining release of funds from the banks; difficulty for practices in assessing captive fees beyond a six- to eight-week time period; and increasing competition from other providers of architectural services. 

‘The overall theme is one of cautious optimism but with great uncertainty remaining about prospects over the next twelve months.’

As the RIBA revealed its gloomy statistics the NHBC also announced depressing figures. According to the council, 2009 saw a 20 per cent drop in sales and registrations of new houses compared to 2008.

Chief executive of the NHBC Imtiaz Farookhi said: ‘What we’ve seen is the mother of all corrections and a very sharp recession. And while we are seeing some encouraging signs, the industry’s ability to ratchet production back up is limited owing to the skilled labour that has been lost’.

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