RIBA decries lack of Brexit reassurance for architects in Philip Hammond’s economic update

Ben Derbyshire

RIBA president Ben Derbyshire

RIBA has berated chancellor Philip Hammond for failing to use his Spring Statement to address key issues troubling the architecture profession in relation to Brexit.

Yesterday’s official update on the state of the nation’s finances revealed a reduction in government borrowing for the current year against earlier Office for Budget Responsibility projections and allowed Hammond to predict “light at the end of the tunnel”.

But the chancellor did not identify any measures of the kind that RIBA is seeking to reassure individual practitioners and their firms that it will be business as usual after the UK leaves the European Union.

RIBA president Ben Derbyshire said that while Hammond’s positive economic news was to be welcomed, the government urgently needed to address “growing uncertainty” about what Brexit would mean for architects and architecture in the UK.

“Despite much discussion in the right direction, the government has yet again failed to address many of the questions that remain unanswered,” he said.

“Will our immigration system make it easy for the UK to attract and retain skilled architects from around the world? Will our world-class universities remain attractive to international students? Will the UK prioritise developing new mutual recognition arrangements with target markets? Will the UK continue to play a leading role in setting the standards for our industry by maintaining our membership of CEN (the European Committee for Standardisation) and CENELEC (the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation)?

“Businesses need time to plan for the future, and without immediate clarity, we risk causing irreversible harm to the UK’s reputation as a global hub for architecture and a great place to live and work.

“Time is running out, architects and our partners in the construction sector need urgent answers from the government.”

Derbyshire said that ministers also needed to do much more to address the “structural challenges” faced by the nation’s economy.

“We need to continue increasing investment in housing and ensure that this money is well spent,” he said.

“It beggars belief that over £800 million designated for affordable housing was returned to the government unspent.

“There is a huge shortage of affordable, high quality homes and the system is clearly not working if we find ourselves unable to spend even the limited amounts of money that are allocated.”

Derbyshire was referring to a document leaked earlier this month that suggested the recently renamed Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government had failed to spend £817m of an allocation related to affordable housing, and that the sum had been returned to HM Treasury.

The document indicated that although the funding was “no longer required” by MHCLG, it had been agreed with the Treasury that it would be used to offset the government’s Help to Buy programme.

Philip Hammond

Source: Parliament TV

Not much on housing: chancellor Philip Hammond

Hammond’s main reassurance on the UK’s decision to leave the European Union was yesterday limited to telling MPs that “substantial progress” was being made with the government’s efforts in negotiations “to deliver a Brexit that supports British jobs, businesses and prosperity”.

Apart from a £100m grant for remediation work that will underpin the West Midlands Combined Authority’s ambitions to deliver 215,000 new homes over the next 13 years and a doubling in value of a fund that aims to support small builders, there was little news to buoy the housing sector.

However, the chancellor did publish an update on Oliver Letwin’s review into the pace of build-out rates in the housing sector, which suggested radical proposals to break up housebuilders’ control of large sites and changes in the way affordable housing is delivered are being investigated.

Russell Pedley, co-founder and director of Assael Architecture, said Hammond’s Spring Statement lacked the substance on housing that much of the industry would have hoped for.

“We still remain in the depths of a housing crisis, which requires a marked change in housing policy and further government intervention into the market,” he said.

“Some progress has been made such as with the publication of the draft NPPF last week and a further boost for Build to Rent in the Planning Practice Guidance, but the government must follow through on the promises made in both the Housing White Paper and the Industrial Strategy to deliver the homes we desperately need throughout the country. If not, the current situation is only set to worsen.”

Grant Lipton, co-founder of developer Great Marlborough Estates, said it was vital for the government to deliver on the promises made in last year’s housing white paper and industrial strategy.

“Confidence in the future of the UK economy is still strong, despite exogenous shocks, which bodes well for the housing market at this crucial time,” he said.

“Development needs to be encouraged and incentivised at both a national and local level of government in order to get the homes we need built across the capital and beyond.”