’It’s a disgrace to leave industry in the dark’

Architects remain on tenterhooks today after yesterday’s high-stakes deadline for a deal with the EU was extended and negotiations moved into what one commentator called “extra extra time”.

Sunday had been the deadline for a deal, but after a lunchtime phonecall Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced they were extending the talks indefinitely to “go the extra mile” – meaning a deal could still be reached right up until midnight on 31 December.


The continued uncertainty leaves the profession with a nightmare scenario as it struggles blindfolded to plan for the impending divorce from Europe.

Former head of the civil service Bob Kerslake, who is the chair of both Pagabo and Peabody, told Building Design it was imperative that a deal was reached.

“Things like supplies are crucially important at the moment. It creates huge uncertainty which everyone is trying to manage through their contracts,” he said.

“A deal is really important and the uncertainty and potential costs could have a material impact on how fast we are able to get on with major projects. There is a lot hanging on these last-minute negotiations.”

RIBA and Arb have warned architects to prepare for a no-deal outcome.

Architects and contractors are bracing themselves for inevitable delays to materials coming to sites from Europe – even if the UK reaches an 11th-hour trade deal with the EU.

This morning one said: “It’s a disgrace to leave industry in the dark like this with just a few working days of the year left.”

Firms are warning that jobs face getting bogged down from next month as stretched supply chains see stock held up at crowded ports.

Meanwhile others have repeated warnings that a no-deal Brexit will see some materials hit with double-digit import taxes.

Bathroom products are one area particularly at risk from large-scale price hikes, while the shock of no deal is set to delay the spending plans of private clients – already disrupted by the covid-19 pandemic – further into the new year.

Noble Francis, the Construction Products Association’s economics director, said that some areas of the market, such as housing and refurbishment, where activity is above pre-covid levels, have created demand for some imported materials that exceed supply.

He said: “Delays at ports due to covid-19 safety measures are currently exacerbating these issues.

“A no-deal situation would make these delays a major issue in January, but even with a deal with the EU the added bureaucracy due to additional certifications and more admin is likely to extend delays and raise costs for these products that are already in short supply.”

Last week, Turner & Townsend became one of the latest in a string of firms to warn that delays getting materials into the country from the EU will increase once the Brexit transition period comes to an end – with or without a trade deal.

>> Also read: Brexit worries mount as products get stuck in port and small contractors quit UK


Meanwhile some architects have reported another problem: that European building workers are leaving the country for good, causing delays to projects on site while work has to be re-tendered.

Hugh McEwen, director of Office S&M, said: ”Good small contractors are leaving the country. The foreman on one of our jobs went back to Romania so they’re going to dissolve that company and we will have to sign a contract with a new contractor which will delay the job a bit. That kind of thing has happened on a couple of teams we’re working with.”

The UK’s transition period from the EU formally ends on 31 December.