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Theresa May becomes PM – the profession reacts

Theresa may 3 jpg
  • 2 Comments

Leading figures in the profession are urging new prime minister Theresa May to give a ’clear and categoric’ commitment to allow EU workers to remain in the UK

May, who replaced David Cameron as the head of the government yesterday (13 July), announced that she believed ‘in a union not just between the nations of the United Kingdom but between all of our citizens – every one of us, whoever we are and wherever we’re from.’

Earlier this week the Cabinet Office, Foreign Office and Home Office had also issued a joint statement insisting that the government ‘fully expect the legal status of EU nationals living in the UK [to] be fully properly protected’.

However Ian Ritchie of Ian Ritchie Architects said May was facing a post-Brexit ’conundrum’ in respect of the free movement of workers which could ‘herald an era of more, not less, uncertainty’.

He told the AJ: ’She is pro all the benefits of the EU market and growth of jobs, but in wanting to enforce immigration rules she opposes one of the fundamental tenets of the EU.’

Jo McCafferty, director at Levitt Bernstein, added: ‘[May] needs to give a clear, firm, categoric commitment to those working in the UK who are from EU countries that they can continue to work here. It should go without saying that to deliver high-quality new buildings and environments of all types in the UK, we need a workforce of highly skilled and talented designers, manufacturers and constructors.’

Architects also called on May to ensure that UK firms can keep working in Europe. Keith Williams of Keith Williams Architects said: ‘She must, as a top priority, preside over an orderly and carefully considered exit from the EU that secures the widest possible open trade for this county.’

Speaking as she arrived at No 10 Downing Street, May promised a government that would not be driven ‘by the interests of the privileged few’, adding that she would ’do everything to help anybody, whatever your background, to go as far as your talents will take you’.

Tony Fretton of Tony Fretton Architects, commented: ‘It is a clever strategy, to distance herself from and repudiate the Cameron/Osborne regime and occupy moderate Labour territory while that party is in disarray, potentially nullifying it for several terms.’

On Monday (11 July) May put house-building front and centre of her economic policy agenda and, although she steered clear of detail, she included a promise of ‘more house-building’ in her agenda for economic reform.

John McRae of Orms, outlining his priorites, said: ’I’d also like to see the government step in and retake the responsibility of delivering our infrastructure, eg schools and housing that is affordable, given that the devolution of this solely to the private sector cannot meet our needs.

’This is a unique period in our history but we must be brave and bold in our next moves; we cannot just assume business as usual.’

Comment

Jo McCafferty, director at Levitt Bernstein

May has already stated key priorities in construction as infrastructure and housing delivery, which can only be positive. However, in terms of housing delivery, we need significant progress in the release of land for development and state funding. Reliance purely on the private sector, especially during times of economic instability, will not resolve either the delivery of all types and tenures of housing in the quantum needed or the affordability issue.

She also needs to give a clear, firm, categoric commitment to those working in the UK who are from EU countries that they can continue to work here. It should go without saying that to deliver high-quality new buildings and environments of all types in the UK, we need a workforce of highly skilled and talented designers, manufacturers and constructors.

The sharing of skills and expertise that the EU has enabled is critical to the way the construction and creative industries work, and entirely necessary to support any possible solutions to the housing crisis.

John McRae of Orms

My initial reaction is one of relief that we appear to have a sensible and level-headed (and stubborn) leader at the helm. But I then very quickly question if May will narrow down the very open and flowing discussion that has occurred post Brexit. There is no doubt that the magnitude of the challenge ahead is significant, however she really needs to understand what is fuelling the disconnect between politicians and the needs of people especially out with London.

I would like to see her challenge our current ‘risk averse’ and ‘don’t rock the economic boat’ view of governance which I would argue has fuelled the London and regions disconnect. I’d also like to see the government step in and retake the responsibility of delivering our infrastructure, eg schools and housing that is affordable, given that the devolution of this solely to the private sector cannot meet our needs. This is a unique period in our history but we must be brave and bold in our next moves; we cannot just assume business as usual.

Rab Bennetts, Bennetts Associates

Like most people I don’t know much about Theresa May but sensed a feeling of stability for the first time in three weeks, although Boris Johnson’s appointment as foreign secretary has made me wonder if this will quickly evaporate!

I’m now much more worried about the Labour Party, not because I have any special allegiance to it, but because we desperately need a strong opposition at a time of momentous change.  Jeremy Corbyn (my local MP) seems more concerned about support from party members rather than support from the country as a whole. Isn’t that the same criticism we levelled at David Cameron for calling the referendum?

Source: David Grandorge

Tony Fretton of Tony Fretton Architects

It is a clever strategy, to distance herself from and repudiate the Cameron/Osborne regime and occupy moderate Labour territory while that party is in disarray, potentially nullifying it for several terms.

Let’s see how liberal and effective she is able to be. A test would be to withdraw the Housing Bill and Osborne’s disastrous proposal to sell housing association property at a discount, and positively facilitate local authorities to develop affordable rental homes.

For practices like ours, certainty that we will be able to continue to work in the EU is essential.

Ian Ritchie of Ian Ritchie Architects

Uncertainty seems to open up underlying reservoirs of panic, but crises and edginess – when viewed with a calm mind – can re-energise and allow reformulation; and they certainly give mediocrity a good kicking. Provided we think through the issues with care, consideration and with real facts, there is some hope that we can come through this period a better people, with a better Europe and better collaboration all round.

The country desperately needs to renew and refurbish its housing stock, and no government in recent memory has managed to overcome the NIMBYs, conservative shire councils, CPRE and some of the press opposition to doing this. To get anywhere with this, May needs to radically redefine the planning system and allow metropolitan open land as well as redundant state-owned land to be brought into the housing land supply.

For May there is a parallel to be made between climate change and housing. May has no ‘green’ credentials and has voted against climate mitigation measures. There is little evidence that she understands either phenomenon, so it is urgent that the new prime minister be educated on these issues before she makes statements that might politically prevent future progress in both or make it necessary for her to backtrack on prior statements.

Of course, for her to find any time for these and other issues while managing the remains of the British political bonfire and a European exodus will be very challenging – if at all possible.

Her greatest struggle will not be with internal politics, but within her own mind: resolving the conundrum of balancing the demands of the Brexiteers to Iimit immigration – which she subscribes to – and the EU’s demand for freedom of movement of Europeans if the UK wants full access and all the benefits of the EU market – which she also subscribes to.

She is pro all the benefits of the EU market and growth of jobs, but in wanting to enforce immigration rules she opposes one of the fundamental tenets of the EU.

The arrival of May at No 10 Downing Street will herald an era of more, not less, uncertainty

I predict the arrival of Theresa May at No 10 Downing Street will herald an era of more, not less, uncertainty. She does not have the full support of her party, and her party is staring down the UKIP shotgun.

Thatcherism will continue as it did under Blair: more deregulation, more privatisation of key national industries including aspects of the NHS, a flexible labour market, further marginalising of trade unions, and removing yet more financial power from local authorities – the last surely one of the root causes of the Brexit vote. Local authorities may be able to keep more of their council taxes and new business rates, but will be pressurised into selling off yet more council housing.

Given her speech on the economy last Tuesday, she appears to have flipped in a matter of days from her voting record on human rights, taxing the common items of everyday life while not taxing bankers’ bonuses, and reducing corporate tax.

She may be a long-serving politician without a grand political vision, and for the moment she is parading in Labour’s clothes in the hope of bringing a divided nation together, however her political career to date has been one of consistent free marketeer having little truck with the idea of national institutions. She appears to have a notion of an English ‘national identity’ while seemingly happy to destroy the national institutions that presumably give us a shared idea of national identity – shared values in work, health and culture.

We shall see what develops.

Keith Williams of Keith Williams Architects

I voted Remain but given where things are, I rather welcome Theresa May as our new PM. Her notion of national social inclusion is compelling and her prioritisation of housing delivery is desperately needed as all other attempts to address the housing crisis have so far failed. She must, as a top priority, preside over an orderly and carefully considered exit from the EU that secures the widest-possible open trade for this country.

For architecture in particular, the rights of British architects to be able to practise across all 27 European nations under (EU Directive 2005/36/EC and Directive 2013/55/EU) must be maintained.

Our ability to practise in this way has delivered significant foreign revenue earnings for the UK and helped cement the position of British architects as among the very best worldwide. This prime minister will be tested more than any other in recent times. Can she deliver? We will see.

Nick Collins, Architectural Partner at Barton Willmore

Representing Maidenhead, our new PM will be well aware from Crossrail of the benefits of infrastructure investment and infrastructure-led planning and design. We’d like to see a commitment to funding and taking forward essential infrastructure projects, as these will be the catalyst for sustainable, successful and effective regeneration. Integrating uses, designing in and around infrastructure, and putting a premium on placemaking and design quality must be the priority.

  • 2 Comments

Readers' comments (2)

  • We should stop the anomaly where new build is zero rated and works to existing buildings attract vat at 20%.

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  • John Kellett

    Not all British 'home grown' architects are fully employed. If all the big practices want is cheap labour (no real increase in architects salaries for a decade) then the profession has a bigger problem than Brexit, that it needs to address immediately. Europe can wait, it is not going anywhere!

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