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All the signs are that we are on the edge of a downturn - although we do not yet know how severe it will be State of the industry RESEARCH BY GLENIGAN.

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At first sight, the figures for August suggest that we are galloping into recession, but in fact comparison with the figures for August 1997 suggest that the main component is a simple seasonal downturn. The jury is still out, however, on whether we are at the start of a recession. Ominously, the phrase, 'We mustn't talk ourselves into a recession,' is being heard again - last used at the start of the late 1980s downturn which proved that talking had little power one way or the other to affect the catastrophic state of the industry. Nobody is expecting as rough a ride this time, but the omens are not good.

The bets have for a long time been on a peak around now and a 'soft landing' as the millennium bonanza comes to an end. But both global and local factors could change this. The Far East continues to be turbulent, with a major collapse in Japan this week. The eu has been making noises about reducing interest rates across the union to stave off disaster, whereas at home there is a glimmer of good news with the announcement that the Channel Tunnel Rail Link finally looks like a goer.

Although, fortunately, we are long past the days when government deliberately used the construction industry as an economic regulator, the industry still reflects the prevalent economic situation and there is little prospect of it continuing to thrive if the rest of the economy nosedives.

The plans-approved graph demonstrates the volatility of the industry. That commercial is the largest or near-largest sector in each region is not surprising, but the bar for London is an indication of the extremes the industry can achieve. The value of commercial work there not only represents more than nine-tenths of the work for the region, it is also nearly three times as great as the total value of work for the next largest region, the West Midlands. On this reckoning London should once again have a skyline dominated by tower cranes, although financial jitters could put some of these projects on hold.

Another sector which shows enormous variation is residential, at its highest in the North-west at £116.9 million, and lowest in Northern Ireland at £1.1 million. Industrial permissions are also highest in the North- west at £62.0 million, and lowest in Northern Ireland at £1.2 million. London is the leader for hospitals, at £19.9 million, and East Anglia the loser with only £1.4 million. Yorkshire and Humberside has the largest amount of sports-related work, with £43.4 million of permissions, compared to the couch potatoes of Wales with only £2.5 million.

Our rolling total for architects which have received the greatest value of planning permissions should probably come with a government health warning, since the figures do not always accurately represent the amount of income being generated today. Moxley Architects is in the lead, with a single planning permission for its International Exhibition Centre in London Docklands. Although this project is now back on track after considerable vicissitudes, the original planning permission was awarded in 1992.

Similarly, Allies & Morrison, Whitfield Partners, MacCormac Jamieson Prichard, Michael Hopkins and John Simpson have all shot up in the lead table courtesy of the £400 million Paternoster Square project, the total value of which seems to have been allocated to each. These figures push that regular perfomer, Mason Richards Partnership, down into tenth place, with 89 projects making up a total value of £216.78 million.

On this recckoning there are 11 practices with more than £200 million worth of work on their books; the true figure is nearer half that.

The information published on these pages is provided by Glenigan, emap's building information specialist. Queries regarding the lists should be faxed to Robert Davis, publishing and research manager on 01202 421807. For further details of Glenigan's market intelligence services contact Steve Hawke, on 01202 432121, quoting ref aj

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