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General election 2015: the profession reacts


The profession reacts to the Conservatives’ shock election win and a devastating night for Labour and the Liberal Democrats

Angela Brady, RIBA past-president

‘[The Tory majority] means we will all have to work very hard to get social housing provision back on the agenda and address the imbalance we now have.

‘We will have our work cut out to bring the policies we need for a healthier built environment and towards a low carbon economy onto the agenda in a real and meaningful way - for all of our sakes.’

Satwinder Samra, director of future practice at Sheffield School of Architecture 

‘Labour offered a socially aware, socially inclusive agenda. Others felt differently. I’m concerned about housing, a rebranded Right to Buy will only lead to limited supply and greater exclusion.

I’m concerned about housing

‘Fee levels for higher education married to lengthy architectural training means we not only risk losing able students but students not embarking on an architecture course in the first place.

‘This means the  profession risks becoming even more the preserve of the affluent and subsequently  less diverse in its make up.’

Robin Nicholson, senior partner, Cullinan Studio

‘Cameron’s unfunded last minute spending promises will put even greater pressure on the cuts to their welfare state and its buildings - BAD!

‘Osborne’s opposition to climate measures will not only terminate UK’s position as a global leader but could threaten the results of the Paris Climate Conference in December - BAD!

‘All parties agreed on the need for housing but, having abolished regional planning, where will the Tories put them? And more importantly who will champion affordability and fairness? - QUESTION

‘There will be massive regional variations - the Shires, Scotland and London. Manchester and Birmingham should benefit. - OPPORTUNITY

‘For the profession - bankers’ bonuses will continue to support high end residential, country houses, restaurants and leisure clubs but competitive low fees for housing and schools will continue to be a problem.

Who will champion affordability and fairness?

‘Hopes for the new Government: I hope Cameron remembers his claims to be the greenest government ever and the big society. I would like to think that HS2 will change from being a transport project into an urban regeneration project.  

‘First tasks: Preparation for the Paris Climate Conference; the future of the planet is at stake and as Stern said in 2006 the longer we put it off, the more expensive it becomes.’

Earle Arney, chief executive of Arney Fender Katsalidis

‘In terms of the regional programme and overall approach to the built environment, with the exception of residential policy, there has been little to separate the outlook of politicians on either side of the party divide.’

‘Hopefully the urban development ideas generated by Michael Heseltine and Greg Clark will survive independently of political outcome. Big thinking and bold moves at the national scale need to continue.’

Jeremy Till, head of Central Saint Martins

‘What does this election mean to the profession? It means architects will live in a country where fear, vilification and innuendo are asserted over hope, generosity and evidence. Where justice is traded rather than enacted. Where healthcare becomes a privilege and not a right. Where the gifted ‘rights’ of developers will trump the democratic rights of citizens.

‘It means architects will live in a country where the poor are forcibly relocated while their homes are sold to international dealers. Where education becomes an ideological weapon rather than a universal good. Where the words social and housing will never be seen in the same sentence again.

‘And tragically it means that architects will continue to belong to a profession that has already capitulated to these neo-liberal values because, as the opening line of the RIBA Plan of Work states, the first duty of the architect is “to identify the client’s business case”.’

Martyn Evans, creative director of Cathedral Group

‘My manifesto for change for the new government:

  1. Tackle the issue of S106 being the primary mechanism by which we will deliver most of our social housing. Combative and unproductive. 
  2. Look at London’s green belt. Release for development that land that is not remotely green.
  3. Support local authorities in their ambition to develop public land for mixed-use, regen-led development, not encourage it to be sold for one off cash gain.
  4. Reinvest in CABE.
  5. Support the London Festival of Architecture. Financially. Architecture is a leading, job-creating, cash-generating industry in London, the leading home for architecture in the world. It needs government support.’ 

Alan Dunlop, Alan Dunlop Architects

‘Labour’s dominance in Scotland has been obliterated but it would be wrong to think that everyone who voted SNP are nationalist, I certainly am not. This revolution in Scottish voting has been a long time in the making but the tipping point was Labour joining with the Conservatives to promote the Better Together campaign or “Project Fear” as it was more honestly described. Miliband’s declaration that he would rather have Cameron in number 10 than work with a party legitimately and democratically elected by the Scots was an extraordinary misjudgement and regarded by many as a real slap in the face. There is no doubt that Labour has squandered a real opportunity to work with the majority of Scots to change the status quo and their time may not come again.   

Labour has squandered a real opportunity to work with the majority of Scots

‘As for what it means for architects working in Scotland, well not much. The SNP government has established The Scottish Futures Trust as an arms length organisation to procure all public projects. It has “Value for Money” at its core . This has lead to control shifting unequivocally even further towards contractors and developers, with low fee bids and little regard for architectural quality. Architects in Scotland are not in the forefront of most public projects and they are used less and less for strategic planning. They provide those responsible for the “delivery” of schools, hospitals and care homes with drawing and technical support and planning advice. Unless there is a marked sea change in approach this is likely to continue to the detriment of Scotland’s built environment and the architectural profession. 

‘One positive aspect for the SNP landslide is that over 30 per cent of women now represent Scotland at Westminster.’

Melanie Leech, chief executive, British Property Federation

‘We worked successfully with the Conservatives as part of the Coalition and look forward to continuing that relationship to tackle the key issues impacting on our sector. 

‘We would like to see the government prioritise a coherent plan to deliver increased housing supply; to follow through on the commitment to fundamentally review business rates, and take action to put in place the right infrastructure – including real estate – that will allow our country to thrive.

‘The prospect of an EU referendum will inject uncertainty into the equation, and it is important to have clarity about its parameters and timetable as soon as possible. 

‘Our industry has the potential to significantly increase the amount of housing in the UK, regenerate our towns and cities, and contribute significantly to the economy if it is provided with the right legislative framework, and we look forward to working with the next government to achieve this.’

Allan Wilén, economics director, Glenigan

‘Recent months have seen a cooling in construction activity. Indeed the latest Glenigan Index recorded a marked drop in project starts, as private sector developers postponed decisions in the run up to the general election and government-funded projects were caught up in the traditional pre-election hiatus.

‘With the votes now cast and the Conservatives set to form the next government with a small majority, the short term political uncertainties have now eased.

‘However, over the next parliament, the UK faces five years of constitutional change with a promised referendum on the UK’s EU membership by 2017, the prospect of further Scottish devolution and potentially a fresh vote on Scottish independence.

Economic uncertainty posed by EU referendum is a threat to private sector investment

‘The economic uncertainty posed by the European referendum, in particular, is a potential threat to private sector investment over the next two years.

‘Public sector capital expenditure programmes are likely to be squeezed hard as the new government strives to deliver its planned reduction in the budget deficit. While Conservative plans for large scale investment into the strategic road network bode well for construction, the sharpest increase in capital funding is not planned until after the next general election.

‘Moreover, with a wafer thin majority, the Conservative leadership will not be able to push through bills against the will of rebel backbench MPs. It will be vital that the government builds cross-party support to ensure that important long-term decisions, such as HS2 and additional airport capacity in the south east, are not stymied by local Conservative backbenchers.

‘Housing emerged as an important political issue during the election campaign, with need to increase housing supply an area of clear political common ground. Planning reforms made by the coalition government have enabled more housing permissions to be brought forward, while the Help to Buy scheme has provided much needed support for the housing market.

‘However it is essential that the Conservative administration now builds on these reforms. Their stated aim to provide ‘200,000’ Starter Homes by 2020 would ease some strain on first time buyers, but this will need to be part of a wider strategy to solve the severe shortfall in homes.’

Sam Jacob, principal of Sam Jacob Studio and former FAT director

‘That housing has risen on the political agenda - and the public’s agenda - can only be a good thing. The question that all parties have struggled with is though is what and how to do anything about it. There’s a gap between the old post-war welfare provision on the one hand and the apparent failure of the market to deliver on the other.

‘The challenge for both left and right is to escape from the associated ideological attitudes of both positions and develop new kinds of vision for the built environment. 

‘Here are some question that might frame new kinds of debate: 

  • How can technology productively disrupt traditional ideas of cities and institutions? 
  • What visions of society could transcend the economics of growth and exceed the current limits of sustainability? 
  • Can extreme localism really take the place of public planning to resist the power of corporate interests? 
  • Which ancient myths of historical Britain and its colonial heritage could drive visions of contemporary planning?

‘Finally, the question we all have to answer is Ebenezer Howard’s perennial question from 1902: The People: Where Will They Go?’

Lynne Sullivan, partner, sustainableBYdesign

‘I worry that as the key policy area of climate change was under Lib Dem leadership in the coalition, it is now unclear where the leadership will come from in the Conservatives. However, the general move to draw architecture from DCMS into DCLG was a good one and as a profession it should make our lobbying for design at the heart of planning, energy efficiency, regeneration etc easier and more directly targetted. This government’s commitment to BIM and Soft Landings for large public building projects was exemplary and hopefully will remain as an important driver.

‘Hopes for the new government: Most importantly, I hope the new government makes clear their continued commitment to carbon emissions reductions in line with the Climate Change Act. The deregulation act consolidates housing standards and theoretically puts the London Plan at odds with the “Code 4” interpretation of carbon compliance for zero carbon homes. I hope the London Plan, as with their success in promoting leading-edge spatial standards, continues to be allowed to promote enhanced energy standards for ‘zero carbon’. My view is that continued leadership on emissions reduction means clarity for the industry and the ability to promote low-carbon goods and services in world markets. All this is enshrined in the UK Construction Strategy (the industry plan for the next ten years) and I would hope this government will re-commit to that, as well as the Green Construction Board as one of the key forums and enablers.

‘First tasks: Place energy-efficient retrofit of existing buildings as a National Infrastructure priority. This is key to emissions reductions, jobs creation and the upskilling of people and products in the supply chain. This could be a win:win and I hope the Green Deal flop can be re-imagined into an attractive proposition on more comfortable and energy efficient buildings in the UK.’

Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive, UK Green Building Council

‘Now that the long anticipated 2015 general election result is known, it is high time for us to get on with the important work of building a greener economy. Green jobs, skills and businesses are vital components of a strong and prosperous UK. Buildings themselves provide excellent opportunities to improve people’s lives and stimulate growth in the economy, as well as curbing our environmental impact.

‘The Conservative party’s continued support for the Climate Change Act and appetite for a strong global deal in Paris are encouraging. UK-GBC and its members hope to build on the foundations laid in the previous parliament, such as the ground-breaking minimum energy efficiency standards legislation, and raise ambitions around home energy efficiency and zero carbon standards for new buildings.’

Ben Derbyshire, managing partner, HTA Design

‘In his victory speech on the steps of no. 10, David Cameron promised to ‘build homes for people to buy and own’. All well and good, of course, and a testament to the late coming of housing as a political issue so it’s now up there with the economy, devolution and the rest. Prior to the election, all the parties were talking of improving the supply and affordability of homes and we now need to see a plan - not just the string of disparate policies and initiatives to attract voters we saw from all sides in the campaign.

‘At the Housing Forum we believe Cameron needs to get Brandon Lewis, or his successor, a seat at the cabinet table because that is what will be necessary if we are to succeed in first planning, then implementing the delivery of more homes and better homes. A joined up plan must identify where the homes are to be built (the government cannot continue to run scared of this) how they will be funded, by what means we will judge the quality of what’s proposed and adequate resources in local planning authorities to process the applications.

‘The failure of our political leaders to solve the housing supply and affordability crisis is turning frustration to anger amongst citizens and, fuelled by digital media, a vocal few are turning the potential beneficiaries of housing development into opponents of it.  This is a new form of nimbyism - radicalised, aggressive and highly intimidating. It’s not just a matter of fairness, either. Cities are now the engines of national economic prosperity and need the wherewithal in terms of devolved powers for local taxation of property and land that will enable the city regions to accommodate the workers who are increasingly attracted to them - the subject of our CantPayWontStay campaign at The London Society.

So I hope to goodness that the Prime Minister’s victory pledge is more than just another nod to the obsolete notion of the property owning democracy. At a time when most Londoners now rent, rather than own, their homes, and the averagely priced London home is out of reach of 80 per cent of first time buyers we need a radically diverse and vigorous plan for the delivery of a programme the like of which we have not seen since the days of Richard Crossman.

Bill Dunster, principal, ZEDfactory

The recession and the previous government has pushed environmental performance back 20 years

‘The combination of the recession and five years of conservative government has pushed the evironmental performance standard debate back about twenty years. Just as economies of scale came through for workable Code 6 solutions from the supply chain in other countries - the UK government buckles to the climate denying volume housebuilders and pulls the mandatory introduction of the zero carbon standards for 2016. And this was by the much vaunted ’ greenest government ever ‘

‘My suggestion is simple. Land values are affected by construction cost. No environmental innovation can be introduced without upsetting conservative landowners. Its time now for the government to aknowledge the subsidy cost of providing super expensive centralised infrastructure to each construction plot. This actually makes the zero carbon, energy positive, zero energy bills home so much better value than Code 4 plus a nuclear power station.

‘So the thousands of new homes needed in the UK will no longer be a carbon emitting embarassment but provide the economies of scale for a clean, green decentralised national energy strategy based on locally sourced renewable energy. The same kit can also be used for retrofit. With Smart Grids, decentralised electric storage and Elion Musk arriving fast - it could be highly irresponsible not to listen to international market forces and for once show some leadership ? 

‘This strategy will also empower architects providing they work with the supply chain to produce reliable economic development solutions. ZEDfactory now deals directly with the landowner and the subcontractors - and splits the 35 per cent profit required by a volume housebuilder directly with the landowner. Suddenly it becomes possible to deliver a meaningful architectural legacy that is in the long term national interest rather than the House Builders Federation.

‘Oh - and if David Cameron really wants to make up for lost time - I would be pleased to help him with a housing delivery strategy that both creates jobs, safeguards his pals landbank values and makes all new housing with no net annual energy bills. Bet the phone doesn’t ring.’



General election 2015: the profession reacts


Readers' comments (7)

  • Chris Roche

    There are few positives to take from last night's election other than perhaps Nicola Sturgeon's principled stance being rewarded by the electorate. Housing provision and policy should have been given greater priority by all parties, yet it was left to the Greens to lead the way on this important issue.
    Similarly the abolition of VAT on refurbishment should have been a consideration, and could have been championed by the profession - for the benefit of clients; society; and the environment - a missed opportunity. I'm deeply saddened by the outcomes. There was however one positive result which gives me reason for hope - Catherine West was elected to represent the Labour Party in North London having pioneered a 20mph zone in Islington whilst Leader of the Council.

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  • A brilliant and heartening roundup - also confirming what we knew about the relationship between developers and Tories. I should like to see some of the above working with the next (or even the existing) Ken Loach for the next Cathy Come Home.

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  • Local authorities will be encouraged/obliged to look first at densification within what estates they still hold. As is demonstrated in Southwark & Lambeth this leads to them demolishing sound housing stock, socially classing their boroughs & engaging developers to build higher and denser. A third of new homes in London are sold, off plans to foreign investors, many of whom leave the property vacant or use it as a pied de terre. Scotland has outlawed right-to-buy and built as much public housing in the last 5 years as the rest of UK put together.

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  • The provision of social housing is either a political, business or philanthropic issue, Angela; only it's design is Architectural.

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  • Peter Dew: all architecture is politics. History teaches of 'architecture parlante': so the old Newgate Prison was decorated with swags, not of the traditional fruit and flowers, but of chains. Architecture is designed to impress, to flaunt, to intimidate, according to the client and the intent - or else to improve, to enhance, to beautify. Not all the social housing of the last 50 years has managed the last but the intention to improve and enhance was there. Remember Lubetkin: nothing is too good for the working people. Is that still taught in schools?

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  • Gosh. Am I the only architect who is relieved that the Tories got in with a majority?

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  • Looks like it Kevan, and I am interested to know why you think that

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