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Architects must make their voices heard in Brexit negotiations

Theresa may brexit speech 2 jay allen crown copyright
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Time is running out for architects to influence the government’s approach to pulling out of the EU, says David Green

David Green Belsize Architects crop

Now that the prime minister has announced the UK will abandon the access guaranteed by the European single market and the government rapidly approaches decision point on what its priorities will be in the Brexit negotiations, time is fast running out for architects to make sure their voice is heard on the matter.

Lobbyists for industries that will be affected by the negotiations are honing their arguments and taking steps to make sure their voices are heard. Some of them are well ahead in the game – notably the finance sector.

They have a lot to lose, not least because there are many different trades which come together to make London the global centre for international finance. Get any part wrong and the whole financial ecosystem can start to unravel.

Architects face the same challenges because the UK, and especially London, is one of the global hubs for construction design. Even if the right answer is found for architects, then it will not be of much help if the positions of structural engineers, quantity surveyors, project managers, acoustic consultants and all the rest are jeopardised by a bad Brexit outcome.

Much of what we take for granted in the UK as a centre for global design is based in EU law: access to talent, mutual recognition of professional qualifications, fair procurement arrangements and material standards across the whole range of built environment disciplines, for examples.

A quarter of all UK-registered architects are non-UK EU nationals

The critical area is access to talent from within the EU and the ability to work there. This is not guaranteed and will need to be negotiated. A quarter of all UK-registered architects are non-UK EU nationals. The UK will still need them. If you are designing, say, the Olympic Park in Rio out of London, you may just need access to talent out of Portugal.

The new reciprocal immigration rules which will need to be negotiated as we leave will need to take account of the very precise requirements of the architectural profession, including, critically, recognition of professional qualifications.

A visa filter of, for instance, an annual salary of £40,000, as is talked about in finance, may not do the trick for architectural practices, nor the other interconnected professions and trades, to attract rising talent, even if existing immigrants are granted the right to stay where they are, something not yet guaranteed. So the profession will need to be very clear what its own red lines are for Theresa May to negotiate on their behalf.

And the profession will need to work out what it needs to do to maintain rights in relation to procurement or coherence of material standards once the UK is taken out of the EU legal framework. Many of these standards derive from global arrangements in which the UK has influence, but the legal manner in which they will be implemented will change once we leave and may be influenced by the form of any trade deal. All this nitty-gritty needs a lot of sorting-out and the profession cannot rely on hard-pressed officials to guess what they need.

The RIBA is hard at work, together with the other key professional bodies for the built environment, but they need the profession behind them to make sure they are asking for what the profession needs, to make sure that all the elements which contribute to make London a global construction design hub are taken account of, and to make sure that the voice of architects is heard loud and clear where the decisions are going to be made.

David Green is a director of Belsize Architects and former head of the European division of the Bank of England

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