Architects hope EU colleagues’ futures will be secured

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The profession has reacted with a mixture of jubilation and trepidation to this morning’s election result.

Architects welcomed the vote to slow the steamroller of austerity and a hard Brexit, but warned that a long period of uncertainty could be bad for the construction sector.

They expressed hope that the doubt hanging over the heads of EU colleagues might be lifted.

And they urged whoever forms the next government to prioritise housing and infrastructure.

Simon Henley, director of Henley Halebrown, called it “a great night for democracy”.

He added: “A minority Conservative government (if indeed that is what transpires) propped up by the DUP in Northern Ireland will force a less xenophobic stance on Europe. This will be good for the cultural practice of architecture.”

But he warned that the energy required to govern in a hung parliament, and the inevitable indecision, may bring few policy initiatives.

“Therefore, the message I took from last night was that architects should posture less, and work on the projects they believe in, for the clients and communities they believe in. It is incumbent on the profession to demonstrate the power of architecture to society.”

But Brendan Kilpatrick, senior partner at PRP, cautioned: “This stunning election result is not good news for the construction sector.

“While housing was at the forefront of both Labour and Tory campaigns, the vacuum created in policy while the ramifications of a hung parliament become clear is a stick in the spokes of the economic cycle.”

And Grimshaw director Mark Middleton said: “This election result is the worst possible outcome. With no clear majority for either party we are entering an epoch-making period in our nation’s history. We are now going to the negotiating table with the weakest possible mandate and that isn’t good for any of us.”

His fellow BD columnist Hank Dittmar said: “Throughout the campaign all the parties promised to do something about housing. The big surprise was the commitment to get local authorities building housing again, and perhaps a hung Parliament increases the likelihood that they will build for social rent, rather than the so-called affordable rent.”

Referring to Gavin Barwell’s loss in Croydon Central, he added: “The voters of Croydon have ensured we’ll get a new housing minister. And perhaps our colleagues from Europe that work here have a slightly better chance of remaining today than yesterday.”

Sally Lewis, director of Stitch, said: “I hope that today’s ‘no winner’ result doesn’t mean that housing is a loser. It is comforting that politicians were united in their campaigns to prioritise the delivery of thousands more homes, but as always it is a worry that housing quality and innovation is left behind. Without clear vision and leadership this is a risk.”

Barbara Weiss of Barbara Weiss Architects and the Skyline Campaign said: “Bleary eyed but very excited are this morning’s pervasive feelings…I greatly welcome a new dawn in UK politics, however complicated it might seem. 

“We need to go back to being a country that cares for the many and not the few, and that considers the future of the next generation as paramount in our decision-making.  

“Here’s hoping that Brexit in all its stupidity will be comprehensively revisited, and that last night’s miracle will give us the unexpected reprieve that we so badly wanted.

“As an architect, I hope that Tory weakening will lead to meaningful investment in our services and housing, and that this will trickle down to sensible and careful building of great and lasting architecture, expanding while also protecting our cities and heritage.”

Alireza Sagarchi, principal of Stanhope Gate Architecture, said: “Architecture nowadays, like other economic activity, is slave to the sentiments of the markets. The early indications are that it will be a mixed reaction. Uncertainty is the main challenge to the profession when clients sit on their hands. Post-Brexit the challenge was offset by the exchange rate where clients were prompted to move with projects that benefited from it. The same seems to be the case now.

“As with other practices the status of our European staff as well as the long-term economic outlook remains a concern. Other than that it’s business as usual.”

Kay Hughes, director of Khaa, said the result challenged a “long-term political path that has taken reductionist economics to their limit”.

She accused the Tories of ignoring the moral effect of economic decisions, and the effect of market-led housing provision, as well as a lack of strategic and infrastructure planning to provide for the next generation.

“If we are lucky a larger Labour party representation will support the delivery of council housing and new towns in a sustainable way, and counter the domination of a private sector one-stop approach, bringing more variety to the market,” she said.

“This will inevitably have a significant rebalancing effect on the UK housing market if councils continue to take more control.

“For a country to succeed in the modern world it needs to invest in technology, creativity and the skills of a younger generation. This is a vote from the next generation who want an international vibrant economy where UK assets are not constantly sold and their long-term income earning potential and future technology development benefits are lost.

“On education, a Labour counter to current educational cuts will hopefully support both universities and their student intake, UK and international, as wells as schools. If we do not invest in our younger generation we are lost. They are our future and it is short sighted to think in any other way. If the education is not better funded we will lose our place as a well-respected place to study and the reputation of younger generations will as be denigrated in a globally competitive world as they fall behind.

“Anyone who has seen the play This House by James Graham, set in the 1970s, will realise that a hung parliament is a difficult thing. For it to be effective there will have to be some collaboration. Let’s hope that the two parties can at least unite around their common pledges for more housing and infrastructure, championing UK design talent in the process.

“On Brexit this softer tone could lead to a better, more moderate outcome and resist what seemed to me a move towards a low-tax environment open for exploitation.”

Ben Davidson, director at London-based Rodić Davidson Architects, said: “Like many practices, we employ many staff from the European Union. Our projects and clients benefit from their talent and creativity. I deplored Theresa May’s refusal to provide post-Brexit clarity on their future and I hope that one of the outcomes of this extraordinary result will be a swing away from a hard, callous Brexit toward a more inclusive and tolerant version. We call on the next government to immediately guarantee existing rights for all EU citizens living in Britain.”

Martin Knight, director of Knight Architects, said: “With the shadow of Brexit cast so prominently over this general election, it is inevitable that the result is viewed primarily from this viewpoint. Speaking as an architect but also as an employer, whose colleagues include German, Spanish, French and Italian as well as UK nationals, I know the huge benefits of diversity and how much richer, successful and more enjoyable our work has become through these international relationships. 

“As much of world politics appears to retreat behind national boundaries I believe architects should reach beyond them, to protect and grow our cultural riches and encourage the transfer of knowledge and skills. First and foremost, I hope that the new government will quickly and clearly confirm the security of EU citizens in the UK and embrace this opportunity to start a new, positive and humane discourse with the EU. I believe the RIBA should be the leading industry voice in this respect,” added Knight who is standing for election to the RIBA Council.

Alexandra Steed, founder of Alexandra Steed Urban, said: “Whatever the result, it looks like we will have a softer Brexit. Cross-fertilisation is at the heart of UK design innovation, and minimising loss of creative minds from the EU is paramount.”

Stephen Miles, studio director of ADP Edinburgh, said: “With a significant shift in the political landscape in Scotland, we now need to encourage significant investment in both public and private sectors to create employment and drive the economy.  To be honest, I see more political uncertainty on the horizon which will continue to impact on business confidence. A period of stability to allow for growth is key, and architects will have to remain optimistic and strive to take a proactive role within the industry to help make things happen. We are confident that our Edinburgh studio remains well placed to service our clients and we have a very positive outlook as we move forward.”

Simon Child, director at architectural practice, Child Graddon Lewis, said: “Perhaps the clearest sign from this election is dissatisfaction with the last government on a range of issues, the sign of a weak government with a small majority. Everyone who works in the built environment is aware of the rapid improvements needed to develop our communities and economy, whether urban or rural. Two of the many themes all parties agreed on were the desperate need for more housing and preventative health measures. The best outcome of this hung parliament must be some form of coalition to push forward a rapid, diverse and collaborative housebuilding programme, as well as better transport infrastructure to connect communities and improve air quality.”

BD columnist and architect Ben Flatman said: “The real ‘coalition of chaos’ increasingly appears to be that which exists within the Conservative Party. The disastrous outcome of the Brexit referendum, which was held purely to address internal Tory divisions, has now been compounded by a reckless snap election which leaves the country adrift and rudderless. Crisis may be an exaggeration, but if this is strong and stable government, we’re in urgent need of an alternative.”

John Assael, chairman of Assael Architecture, said: “Today’s result of a hung parliament was not expected and will not be welcomed by any in our sector. With Brexit negotiations looming, this general election was supposed to provide clarity and foresight on the most burning issues of our time, not extend the current period of uncertainty. Whatever form the government eventually takes, the priorities remain the same: affordable housing, a robust construction industry and greener, denser and more sustainable cities. Despite Brexit, the new government must not let the built environment slip down the agenda.”

Ian Slover, project director at retail architects Sybarite, said: “With the uncertainty of a hung parliament today, the outlook for the industry is now even more unclear ahead of Brexit negotiations. Sybarite is supporting the export of British design around the world and our aim is to continue nurturing the best of national expertise as well as attract the top international talent.”

Mark Farmer, chief executive of Cast and author of the Farmer Review, commissioned last year by the DCLG and BEIS, said: “The result of a hung parliament casts further uncertainty over the UK and could not have happened at a worst time.

“From a housing and construction perspective, the loss of housing minister, Gavin Barwell is disappointing as he appeared to have a good grasp of what is a very complex brief. What the next few weeks means generally for UK politics remains to be seen. The status of Brexit negotiations, commitments made in the Housing White Paper, the Industrial Strategy Green Paper and general approach to the construction industry as an instrument of policy are now all completely linked to the evolution of Tory party leadership and perhaps yet another General Election to overcome the impasse of a hung parliament. Whichever parties eventually form the government, there needs to be a comprehensive industrial strategy and housing policy focused on both addressing skills shortages and increasing the UK’s structural capacity to deliver homes and infrastructure.”

Client Dean Clifford, co-founder of Great Marlborough Estates, said: “With the pound plunging off the back of renewed uncertainty, the hung parliament may pose a good buying opportunity for overseas buyers but looking at home this is the last thing we need. The clock is ticking on Brexit negotiations, and without a good deal with the EU, London will lose a clear part of its attractiveness as a place to live, and all of Britain will be poorer for it.”

Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, said the result would leave business feeling nervous. “The construction sector is particularly vulnerable to dips in consumer confidence brought about by political uncertainty and therefore it’s crucial that this uncertainty is minimised,” he said.

“In the longer term, there could be a potential silver lining for the business community as the prospect of a hard Brexit now seems less likely. Theresa May stood on a hard Brexit platform and she has clearly not been given a mandate to approach the negotiations in this way. Brexit is inevitable but the election result will surely have a significant impact on the shape of the Brexit deal we end up with. This could be a positive for business leaders who are concerned about a broad range of issues – for the construction sector, our greatest concern is that the flow of migrant workers might be reduced too quickly and before we are able to put in place a framework for training sufficient UK workers to replace them.”

Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive of the UK-Green Building Council, said: “Over the coming weeks and months, Parliament must not let power struggles and partisan wranglings obstruct the immediate need for leadership and action on urgent policy imperatives such as housing, clean air, energy prices and the delayed Emissions Reduction Plan. The election campaign has highlighted the importance of these issues to voters alongside Brexit policy.

“The green economy represents one of the best opportunities for long term growth, and this was clearly demonstrated in the recent wave of support for the Paris Agreement. But in these times of political turmoil, businesses need clarity and certainty to invest in a low carbon, internationally competitive economy. Steadfast commitment to tackling climate change is one rare area of agreement between the two main parties, so this political common ground must now be extended to decisive action on domestic carbon emissions reductions.”