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RIBA president: EU architects are ‘already starting to drift away’

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The RIBA president has warned that EU architects working in the UK are already starting to pack their bags, and has urged the government to form a ‘united voice’ about Brexit

Speaking at a Conservative Party conference event last night (1 October), Ben Derbyshire also said the ‘entire industry must hang our heads in shame’ following the Grenfell Tower fire – and that the government must invest in the ‘rationalisation and simplification’ of building standards.

The new RIBA president was part of a panel event in Manchester, called The Built Environment Reception: Working together to build a better Britain.

He told the audience: ‘The alarming message I have to give you on behalf of the practitioners in architecture is that [EU nationals] are already feeling unsettled and they are already starting to drift away.’

The president went on to say that it was ‘very important’ to understand that a ‘significant proportion’ of the architectural workforce were EU nationals, which he said was 25 per cent UK-wide and 40 per cent in London.

He said his practice HTA Design – along with three of the other biggest housing practices in the capital – had written to housing minister Alok Sharma to say that the delivery of housing in metropolitan areas had to be ‘designed carefully, and contextually relies on the skills and expertise’ of EU workers.

‘The important thing in our point of view in respect of the government’s challenge is to try to come to a united voice about what policy implications Brexit [will have] on the built environment,’ said Derbyshire.

Also present at last night’s event were CIOB vice-president Charles Egbu and RTPI president Stephen Wilson.

Egbu agreed with Derbyshire’s comments, adding: ‘In terms of the importance of skill mobility, a good Brexit for construction is one that allows the adequacy of skills to be mobile.’ He said many construction sites were ‘dominated by workers from Europe. And we need them.’

Later in the talk, Derbyshire said in a ‘note of caution about [building] standards’, that Grenfell Tower was ‘built to – as far as we know until the end of the inquiry – our standards’ and consequently the ‘the entire industry must hang our heads in shame’.

However, he added: ‘Yes, we have rigorous standards, but we have so many bureaucracies of compliance.

‘We have been arguing for a very long time that the government must invest in this –in the rationalisation and simplification of our standards.’

‘It’s not just about constraint and restraint, we need standards of high-quality proactive planning. If we’re going to make great places, we have to have people who can plan them and design them.’


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