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Autumn Statement: Osborne's plan ‘too little, too late’

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Architects have criticised attempts to boost house building in the Autumn Statement, describing it as ‘too little, too late’, and have warned of economic contraction

On Tuesday the chancellor George Osborne spelled out the government’s spending plans, including its pre-announced home-building programme (see AJ 24.11.11). Among the proposals set to be rolled out are a new-build mortgage indemnity scheme, plans to ‘reinvigorate’ Right to Buy and a £400 million ‘Get Britain Building’ fund to kickstart schemes already approved for planning.

Osborne also unveiled £600 million to build 100 free schools.

In response, Cartwright Pickard Architects director James Pickard said that while the new investment in housing was ‘much needed’, the announcements ‘would not prevent the construction industry contracting further over the next year’.

He added that the ‘huge undersupply of housing’ was a potential ‘social time-bomb’.

PRP Architects’ chair Andy von Bradsky said the proposals placed too much emphasis on home ownership, and that the housing market needed ‘ready access to finance and an improvement in consumer confidence’.

Meanwhile, the government earmarked 500 projects for construction under the National Infrastructure Plan (NIP) as part of a £30 billion infrastructure investment programme.

Thirty-five new road and rail schemes received the go-ahead, including a rail link between Oxford and Milton Keynes, the Northern Line extension to Battersea and the Lower Thames crossing.

Norman Foster – who earlier this month proposed a £50 billion hub airport in the Thames Estuary – welcomed a ‘very encouraging’ commitment to consider airport capacity as part of the NIP.

Design Engine director Richard Rose-Casemore said infrastructure would have a ‘marked effect on regional connectivity and employment’ but added: ‘The construction industry as a whole will obviously benefit from this, but perhaps more by construction and heavy engineering than architecture.’

The chancellor announced backing for a £20 billion National Loan Guarantee Scheme for small businesses, and a £1 billion Business Finance Partnership for medium-sized companies.

He pledged an extra £1 billion for the Regional Growth Fund, while vowing to remove the ‘lengthy delays and high costs’ of the planning system, and promising that ‘the gold-plating of EU rules on things like habitat [protection] isn’t placing ridiculous costs on British businesses.’

RIBA head of policy and public affairs Anna Scott- Marshall said the scaled-down growth forecasts for GDP in 2011, from 1.1 per cent to 0.9 per cent, mirrored the profession’s ‘continuing lack of confidence’.

However she added: ‘It is hoped that efforts made by the Chancellor today to provide support for small businesses and to focus on new infrastructure delivery will go some way to help the construction industry at this extremely difficult time.’

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