Market for architectural services shrinking quite significantly, warns RIBA

Brexit uncertainty is beginning to have a significant impact on demand for architectural services, the latest RIBA research shows.

RIBA 66 Portland Place

Source: Philip Vile

RIBA - 66 Portland Place

The market is "now shrinking quite significantly", said Adrian Dobson, as a survey found actual workloads over the last three months had fallen 6% year on year.

Clients are reluctant to commit to projects and practices are reporting enquiries falling away, said the institute's executive director for members.

At the same time staffing levels in the first quarter of 2019 fell 3% year-on-year. And there are signs that EU architects and students are losing interest in working in the UK, which will concern practices that rely heavily on overseas talent.

Dobson said: “February 2019 seems to be the month when the political uncertainty over Brexit really hit home hard for the architectural profession. Many of our participating practices reported a stall in enquiries and evidence of increasing reluctance from clients to commit to projects.

"Practices also reported a significant drop in job applications and speculative CVs from EU students and architects. The overall tenor of the anecdotal reports was of frustration at the Brexit impasse. Several practices commented that the political and economic context created a difficult environment, leading to slow decision making by prospective clients and renewed pressure on fees.”

According to the survey overall workloads were 6% down over the past three months when compared to the same period last year, showing that the market for architectural services is “now shrinking quite significantly on an annualised basis”, he said.

Despite this the RIBA's latest Future Trends survey shows that practices are more optimistic about the future than they were at the start of the year.

The workload index for February crept up from -3 in January to +4. Practices in the south and north of England were the most optimistic, with balance figures of +18 and +30 respectively.

Practices in the capital were far more pessimistic about future workloads, reporting a balance figure of -10, while those in Wales and the west, with balance figures of -6, and the Midlands and East Anglia, at -3, were also downbeat.

Predictions for work in most sectors remained fairly stable, with the exception of the public sector, which fell from -2 to -8. This indicates participating practices remain sceptical about any significant uplift in public sector commissions in the short to medium term.

The Future Trends staffing index also recovered a little this month, climbing to +2 from zero in January, indicating practices expect to hire staff. Again, this optimism is in contrast to the picture painted by the actual quarterly staffing figures.