The Conservatives may have won the election on a ‘Get Brexit Done’ ticket, but this only raises further questions, says Belsize Architects’ David Green
Barbara Weiss wrote in the AJ a month ago that in Brexit Britain architects’ phones had stopped ringing. Not everyone agreed with her description of the state of affairs, but it represented very accurately the reality for many practices.
Some parts of the property industry have suggested that once a clear decision on Brexit was taken then confidence will return and the phones would ring again. It is true that, over time, a government committed to spending on housing and infrastructure, and to properly implemented reforms to the planning system, should bring some recovery. But this is not related to Brexit.
As many have commented, the withdrawal agreement merely opens the way to the real negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU. This is all to play for. We have an agenda, but no outcomes. The Johnson decision to leave the customs union means there is even more to settle, and the word is that the focus will be on trade in goods and not services.
We have an agenda, but no outcomes
This means that architects have to continue to ensure that all the familiar issues still to be resolved – recognition of professional qualifications, immigration, procurement and so on – remain on the agenda and get satisfactory resolution. The election result changes nothing here; there will be uncertainty for a long, unspecified time to come.
Perhaps more important is what happens to our clients. The chairman of international property group Hammerson wrote in The Times on 21 October that ’Every board – whether in San Francisco, Shanghai or Strasbourg – is very reticent in investing in the UK if it wants to sell to the European market’. The terms for such trade will remain unclear for a long time and so will the prospects for investment.
The new trade arrangements will also affect construction much more directly. A group of architects recently met government officials to discuss Brexit preparations and were told that it was not knowable, just to take one example, how delivery schedules for building materials imported from Europe would be in future because of customs checks.
It is just not knowable how schedules for building materials imported from Europe would be impacted
Such uncertainty about timing (and price) could be highly disruptive to construction and bring to an end reliance on just-in-time deliveries, with knock-on effects for budgets and financing.
So the hope that the election will rapidly dissipate uncertainty in the property world is an illusory one.
David Green is director of Belsize Architects and former head of the European division of the Bank of England