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Architects have woken up to the result they dreaded

Will Hurst
  • 2 Comments

We have every reason to be scared by Brexit – now is the time for the RIBA to display clear leadership

Speaking to AJ colleagues yesterday about today’s likely referendum result I predicted that the Remain side – which I, like most Londoners, backed - would win because of the inherent conservatism of the British voter.

Given the polls were neck and neck and perhaps 10 per cent of voters said they were still undecided, I reckoned that – when push came to shove – this group was more likely to vote for the status quo, particularly given the virtual consensus among experts about the economic damage of leaving.

Well, shows how much I know! This morning it’s been confirmed that the Brexit side has won by 52 per cent to 48 per cent on a turnout of just over 70 per cent. Although the big cities including London, Liverpool, Bristol and Manchester – and every local authority area in Scotland – voted to remain in the European Union, those in the English regions and in Wales backed Brexit in large numbers.

The contrast between the urban and the rural vote could not be clearer and architects – a group of largely city-dwelling professionals if there ever was one – have woken up to the result they dreaded. Of course there are exceptions to this rule but Ian Ritchie will speak for many by voicing his ‘disgust’ at the outcome. Meanwhile artist Grayson Perry – who collaborated with FAT on A House for Essex – compared the result to ‘Turkeys voting for Christmas’ in a tweet this morning.

Economically speaking it appears that he’s correct, in the short term at least. The pound is at a 31-year low, the FTSE 100 is expected to go into freefall and many experts are now predicting a full-blown recession.

There will be serious questions about why the RIBA was virtually silent

Architects – always among the first to suffer from economic uncertainty because they work at the front end of the development cycle – have every reason to be scared, especially since London practices including Farrells and Stanton Williams have already been making redundancies due to pre-referendum Brexit jitters.

There will also be serious questions asked about why the RIBA was virtually silent on a landmark vote of crucial importance to its members.

It’s true that the Charity Commission instructed all charities to avoid making its preferences known – something that incidentally didn’t stop Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth commenting – but that does not explain why the institute has not made efforts to at least set out the arguments on either side, shed light on the facts and make proper efforts to encourage top-level debate.

Sadly that’s now in the past and architects – like everyone else reliant on a healthy economy – are now part of a great experiment.

  • 2 Comments

Readers' comments (2)

  • Ben Derbyshire

    Now the uncertainty, which most of us in the profession feared, begins. Who will govern, and will there be any continuity of policy, who will invest during the interregnum, how will we manage while government replaces EU regulation through years of tortuous negotiation?

    Beyond that, I have an overwhelming sense of sadness and regret at the damage we have done to European politcal, economic and cultural unity. We must hope for the best, but if my sense of profound uncertainty, bordering dread, is in any way reflected by the worlds influential decision-makers, I fear we are in for a very difficult time. The Eurosceptics have the job of re-assuring us now. But this Brexit-sceptic is going to find it very hard to believe that much good will come of what feels like a terrible self-inflicted wound.

    As a rider, I feel dismayed that the RIBA, 85% of whose members would have been only too glad to explain why leaving is a bad idea, could and should have played more of a part in the debate. The RIBA really must find a way of allowing its members to speak for the profession. Now it's too late.
    Ben Derbyshire.

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  • I wonder if a 'group of largely city dwelling professionals', making a living from the city economy - overwhelmingly in London - might just possibly be largely unaware of how very disillusioned many people (predominantly out in the provinces) have become at the impact of George Osborne's exhortations for stringent public belt-tightening?

    They've seen the same government remarkably inept (or reluctant?) in reining-in and holding to account the massive financial services sector responsible for the country's financial woes in the first place.

    The same government that's perceived to have spectacularly failed to get to grips with all the big fat corporate tax avoiders.

    The same government that people in the Northeast and South Wales have watched preside, spectacularly ineffectually, over the disembowelling of the steel industry.

    And, if they're observant, the same government that at the same time has been throwing money at London vanity projects like the Garden Bridge and - sad to say - the Tate Modern extension, in company with some rather murky private sponsors.

    Perceptions of a distant and complacent administration looking after its pals at the expense of the people, and the pity of it is that - in the protest vote against Cameron and Osborne - the door has been opened to politicians of the calibre of Boris Johnson and Andrea Leadsom - and only time will tell how the country fares in their hands.

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