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Coronavirus: Record drop in architects’ confidence as projects stop

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The RIBA has recorded the steepest fall ever in architects’ confidence as new AJ data reveals an increasing number of projects being put on hold

According to the RIBA Future Trends survey results for March 2020, the damaging impact of the coronavirus crisis on the profession is ‘starkly illustrated’ by an ‘unprecedented’ 33 point fall in its workload index to a worrying -11.

The monthly poll, which began in January 2009, compares the number of practices expecting an increase in work with those predicting a drop in their income pipeline.

On the back of a ‘sudden loss of revenue’ and with ‘new work becoming sparse’, large practices returned a balance figure of -20, down from +60 in February. Medium practices were at -8 down from +67 while small practices fell 28 points, to -10.

This sharp drop in confidence was recorded in much of the UK, though architects in London and the Midlands & East Anglia were the most pessimistic. The biggest reversal in fortunes, however, was in Wales and the West which recorded the largest fall from +43 to -9.

The RIBA’s research also showed that those working in the private housing sector were the most affected by the lockdown.

The findings are backed up by data from the AJ’s second coronavirus survey, which show that the number of projects reported to have been put on hold has doubled in the last three weeks.

In March, only a third of respondents (33 per cent) said that schemes were on ice as a result of the pandemic. That figure has now risen to 69 per cent with a further 7 per cent saying they had seen projects completely cancelled.

One respondent said: ‘Projects have been both put on hold and cancelled – even projects that were at design stage, which we thought were safe and where design work could continue unaffected, have been delayed.

‘Some of these have been suspended indefinitely; others until September at least. Around half of our projected turnover for the next six months has simply disappeared.’

Coronavirus survey2 work comparisons

Coronavirus survey2 work comparisons

Another added: ‘All the projects pre-construction are still progressing as normal, but it is made more difficult due to inaccessible consultants, clients and manufacturers. [However] we’re nervous about our workstream in three months’ time.’

Speaking about the collapse in confidence, Adrian Dobson, executive director of professional services at the RIBA said: ‘While concerns about the potential impacts of the coronavirus crisis had been building for many weeks, March was an obvious turning point.

‘Many practices reported a sudden loss of revenue as the UK went into lockdown, construction sites began to close and new enquiries dropped off. New work was becoming sparse, advice to business from government was sporadic and uncertainty grew. The profession is clearly bracing itself for the coming weeks and months.

‘As well as preparing for a potentially rough ride in the short term, architects need to plan for the future and be ready to respond when business picks up.’

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