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It is heartening to hear developers at the BCO defend the value of good design

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Despite the lousy Spanish weather, it was good to hear green shoots had been sighted in the UK with predictions of growth, writes Christine Murray

It was uplifting to hear the top-flight thinkers at this year’s British Council for Offices (BCO) conference last week as they finally had some good news to share with the 400 British delegates in Madrid.

The annual conference, which changes location every year, attracts a pan-industry audience working in the commercial office sector, from both structural and services engineers, to quantity surveyors, agents, architects and clients.

The BCO’s speakers included major politicians, advisers and industry figures, from former Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont, who coined the phrase ‘green shoots’ in 1991 as a prediction of economic recovery, to Paul Myners, former financial services minister in the Treasury, to Helen Alexander, chair of the Port of London authority (pictured), and Andrew Adonis, former transport minister.

It was my first time at the annual conference and, despite the lousy Spanish weather, it was good to hear green shoots had again been sighted back in the UK with predictions of growth, albeit subdued.

Nearly all the forecasts claimed the British economy had turned a corner, although London alone was seen as the driver. ‘Growth is picking up and will continue to pick up,’ said Myners. ‘I believe the economy will be growing quite strongly by the time we get to the next general election.’ (Although the Labour peer said he didn’t think growth would be strong enough to guarantee a Conservative re-election).

Lamont’s predictions were more measured, but he said he believed the UK was ‘on the road to recovery’ and that ‘we will see modest growth this year.’

According to Alexander, 2013 ‘will see a steadier, but very shallow, and absolutely fragile, upward trend. In the UK, we’re expecting 1 per cent growth’.

But, before we all throw our hats in the air, Alexander noted that ‘growth doesn’t feel like growth until it gets to about 2 per cent’. And she added: ‘We don’t know when it is that the famous confidence will return. When does the confidence of making investment decisions start to come back?’
The general feeling was that Europe as a whole would see no growth at all.

Still, it was hopeful to hear from several developers about how critical good architectural design continues to be in these difficult times, with one client in particular explaining enthusiastically how essential architects are in unlocking the value of difficult sites.

He didn’t wish to be named, but over lunch he talked about how cynically he pays the estate agent and the solicitor’s bills, and how remarkably little the architect is paid for considerably more crucial work.

‘You need to tell architects how much value they bring to the equation,’ he urged. Well said.

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