Despite the chaos caused by the Brexit vote there are still opportunities in housing, retrofit, outside the M25 and overseas, says Alastair Roberts of Hawkins\Brown
‘What a nightmare,’ was Roger Hawkins’ pithy verdict in the press on the morning of 24 June. The events of the subsequent seven days have only deepened our sense of foreboding at the potential impact of Brexit on the UK and its thriving and internationally respected architectural sector.
Right now we are concerned for the members of Hawkins\Brown who come from 16 other EU states and who are the embodiment of our open and diverse approach. We urge the government to commit now to ensuring that all EU nationals living and working here continue to feel welcome in – and part of – the UK.
We also hope the government will move quickly to protect our world-class architecture schools and our universities. We’ve worked with 58 universities across the UK whose world-class status is due in no small part to their ready access to EU funding, EU academic talent and EU students. Surely the government must move quickly to protect this vital engine of our future economic and cultural prosperity.
It has been hard in recent days to be positive about the prospect of Brexit. But at Hawkins\Brown we are nothing if not optimists, and we are doing our best to accentuate the positive by focusing on the following:
- We still see exciting opportunities to address the UK’s housing crisis in positive and inventive ways. Brexit alone will do nothing to improve the UK’s acute housing shortage or address the dynamics of the country’s growing but ageing population. Estate regeneration, affordable housing, build-to-rent, student accommodation and later-living will come even more to the fore in the coming months, and we are looking forward to working with our clients to design innovative solutions in all these sectors.
- If anything truly positive is to come from Brexit, we hope it will be in the shape of more substantial, long-term investment well beyond the M25 to reduce the inequalities in our society so starkly highlighted by the referendum. Our studio in Manchester is already working on a number of projects across the north of England. As part of a broader programme of socially engaged investment across the UK we hope to see plans for the Northern Powerhouse move more quickly from the rhetorical to the actual.
- We expect there will more opportunities to breathe new life into old buildings and imaginatively adapt existing buildings as a creative response to any reduction in investment levels or business confidence.
- Far from retreating into a ‘Little England’ mindset, the prospect of Brexit is provoking us to develop an even more international approach. We have been actively exploring opportunities in North America and Europe for some time, and post-Brexit we are even more committed to building a more diverse and internationally engaged practice and working with like-minded clients and collaborators across the EU and beyond
We are trying to be positive; at least we’re having a better time of it than Dave, Jeremy and Boris, and if we can make the most of the four themes above, perhaps the Brexit-shaped cloud may yet have a silver lining.
Alastair Roberts, chief operating officer at Hawkins\Brown