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How architects can weather the choppy waters of Brexit

Emily Booth
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Hard, soft or medium-boiled: no one yet knows how Brexit will pan out. Let’s be optimistic, says Emily Booth

As August draws to a close, you might be sunning yourself on far-flung shores, touring in European cities, or opening an umbrella on a British beach. Or are you back at your desk? Perhaps with a slightly anxious, calm-before-the-storm feeling: autumn is in the air; there’s (hopefully) a ton of work to do – and yet … there’s an unnerving stillness, a pause before the back-to-school, real-world push. 

Into that quiet space, your thoughts just might turn to Brexit. What now? Might a possible ‘transitional arrangement’ between the UK and the EU customs union be deemed so comfortable it can continue for, well, a nice long time? Or is Patrick Minford right, when he argues that a ‘hard’ Brexit is ‘economically much superior to soft’? Is the silencing of Big Ben a harbinger of doom? This is the silly season, after all. 

But there’s nothing silly about the cooling market. We’ve asked developers, clients and industry insiders to tell us whether what we’re hearing about the subdued development market is just a summer slowdown, or a sign of a bigger issue in UK property. What they tell us is that Brexit is causing jitters: projects being reappraised, increased pressure on consumer spending, market indecision.

Yet there is also optimism, and some unlikely consequences of that uncertainty, at least in the short term. As property consultant Jonathan Manns of Colliers International puts it: ‘People are looking to sweat assets which might have been on their books for a while. They want to be building and selling before we exit the EU.’

Steve Sanham, managing director at HUB, has a similarly no-nonsense approach: ‘Development’s a risky business,’ he says, ‘and there’s an argument that the longer you spend umm-ing and aah-ing, the more risk you expose yourself to, particularly when you’re delivering homes into a market with such clear demand.’

At MIPIM earlier this year, it was the architects who were positive and pro-active who made the strongest impression. They didn’t underestimate the cultural shock of the Brexit vote, but they did try to defy it.

At MIPIM earlier this year, it was the architects who were positive and pro-active who made the strongest impression

Be it hard, soft or medium-boiled; be it headlong, half-baked or halted, no one yet knows how Brexit will pan out. But architects can decide how they are going to navigate the voyage, however unwelcome its beginning: they can be upbeat and entrepreneurial, determined to seek out opportunity and potential; they can refuse to bow to any sense of a cultural ‘closing-in’.

The weather might be changing, but the best architects make their own.

This article appeared in the Brits abroad issue

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