Whatever happens with the EU referendum tomorrow, a decision will finally allow us all to get on with our lives, says Gerard Daws of Plan A Consultants
Working alongside architectural practices of different shapes and sizes has provided us with an opportunity to gauge the impact of potential Brexit and how the profession sees the future post 23 June. It is safe to say that the three key issues unite the majority of architects and designers that we work with.
Firstly, most support Remain. Indeed one partner of a major player thought it inconceivable that an architect could support Brexit – it just doesn’t sit with the reputation of architecture as a creative and inclusive industry. Another international practice working in the UK for the last 10 years was bemused that Britain, with its long history built on trade and commerce, was turning its back on the EU membership.
There is a definite sense of referendum fatigue
Secondly most just want the whole debate to finish. The campaign has been defined by personal attacks and backbiting, and there is a definite sense of referendum fatigue. We all just want to get on with our lives.
Likewise, the vast majority of the architects and designers we have spoken to are nervous of the uncertainty the referendum has caused. What is interesting though is that both the majority wanting in and more surprisingly some of those who also want to break free share the same sense of fear.
So what is this uncertainty, and specifically why still leave if you fear uncertainty is around the corner? Banks and property development are seen as the biggest losers of Brexit. Property specifically relies upon stability and a road relatively free from shocks and interruptions. Architects likewise rely on this stability as a knock-on impact to their own pipelines. One practice mentioned that in the long term the threat of instability caused by diverging sharply from the current status quo was one of the most serious potential impacts on their future workload.
Likewise, London specifically – as well as some of the Northern Powerhouse cities – is reliant on foreign investment for housing, higher education and commercial projects. It was felt that Britain as a net recipient of future investment was at risk from Brexit.
Conspiracy theorists have suggested the referendum has been an excuse to shut down unviable projects
In the short term, did practices feel projects were being mothballed because of the referendum? While one or two conspiracy theorists on our travels have suggested that the referendum has been an excuse to shut down unviable projects, many have experienced projects being put on hold for a euphemistic ‘restart’ in the autumn. This has led to an unfortunate knock-on impact and more than one practice has been in the news recently for redundancies reported as being related to the uncertainty over ‘Brexit’.
What is interesting is that even those we have spoken to making up the minority who support leave on Thursday are still wary of what will come next. One architect who supports Brexit thought that there would be a knock-on effect in the short term. ‘We are working on a major infrastructure project and I cannot see the foreign investor supporting the scheme when the market is in potential turmoil and they crave stability’. Likewise, he thought that the big practices in the UK who were riding on the back of the commercial and residential wave would suffer from a crisis of confidence in the market.
So why vote leave even when these threats exist? ’As a country and as a profession, we have taken our eye off the ball,’ one architect told me.’We need to look at the bigger picture in the long term and think global rather than being constrained by the EU.’
What is clear is that irrespective of which side of the fence you sit, there will be a nervous wait on Friday breakfast time when the vote is announced. Your project could depend on it.