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Lukewarm welcome for government's spending plan

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The architecture profession has tentatively welcomed government proposals to spend its way out of the impending recession.

Earlier this week, Chancellor Alistair Darling announced proposals to ‘reprioritise’ public spending towards social housing and school and healthcare buildings.

It is understood that Darling will bring forward money from planned budgets for 2010-11.

But Noble Francis, economics director of the Construction Products Association, claimed the announcement may not be quite what it seems.

‘Apart from social housing, the other areas of government spending in construction are areas that are expected to be buoyant anyway,’ said Francis.

‘Schools benefit from the Building Schools for the Future programme, worth £45 billion. And health has a range of new hospitals and clinics in the pipeline already. Firms on these frameworks will do well anyway, without the “reprioritisation”.’

However, the government’s plan to ‘frontload’ its three-year (2008-11) £8.4 billion budget for social housing has been welcomed by the industry.

A spokesman from Places for People, one of the country’s leading housing associations, said: ‘This should put housing associations in a stronger position to deliver houses and meet the affordable housing demand.

‘There has been a shift in the last 18 months, with housing associations taking on an increasingly development-led role. But there also needs to be greater emphasis on innovative housing tenures. There are 30 different ways to buy a car – it should be the same for houses.’

Ben Derbyshire of HTA Architects claimed Darling’s plan could ‘quickly switch the tap on for social housing’.

Keith Bradley of Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios said: ‘We could see a return to the late 1960s and ’70s, when housing associations were very strong, but I expect housebuilders will be forced to forge stronger relationships with housing associations.

‘Commercial developers will move into the housing market a lot more. They have experience in owning and managing properties and they could link up the private and public renting sectors.’

RIBA president Sunand Prasad added: ‘The most fruitful course to follow would be to bring existing [housing] stock to a certain level of energy efficiency.

‘This would open up better business opportunities for smaller architecture and engineering firms, which tend to feel the effects of a recession far more acutely than larger practices.’

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