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Construction and the Conservatives

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Will a Tory government scrap public sector work just when architects need it most? By Christine Murray

What will the impact be on architects if, or indeed when, a Conservative government is elected? The real concern among the profession, as revealed by an AJ news report this week, is that public sector work will disappear just when architects need it most.

Thus far, Conservative policies regarding the built environment are mostly conjecture. The expectation is that the Building Schools for the Future programme will be cut, along with other spending programmes launched by Gordon Brown in an endeavour to build our way out of the recession. And I wouldn’t expect to hear anything concrete from the party anytime soon. As long as the Labour party is self-destructing, Conservative leader David Cameron can expect an easy ride to the election if he simply keeps his mouth shut.

Last month, at the AJ100 awards dinner, there was talk at my table about how practices would cope under the Conservatives. I shared a table with Paul Dueñas, director at Ellis Williams Architects, who admitted the practice has been ‘basically shielded from the full effects of the recession due to our reliance upon the public sectors, particularly education’. The general consensus was that a shift away from public-sector work would be dire, unless another sector perked up first.

Which brings to mind green shoots, and the rash of statistics published this week that suggest the housing market is stabilising in the UK. Both Halifax and Nationwide reported a 2.6 per cent jump in home values in May, the greatest increase since 2002, while the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said estate agents and surveyors are seeing fewer house price falls, suggesting the housing market is approaching the bottom of the curve. In the wake of the news, several feet of optimistic column inches were printed this week claiming the worst of the recession is over, while the reports were linked to a jump in the value of both the euro and the pound. 

If we can be brave enough to be optimistic, a recovery in the housing market, even a measured one, could be the saving grace for the profession in the face of a Conservative win. One thing the recession has proven is that architects are exceedingly adaptable. The profession has the skills to follow the work, in whichever sector it proves to be.


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