Experian is predicting a slight upturn for 2011 and 2012, but that’s predicated on continued recovery in the private sector and no more than £5bn cuts in public spending. That’s optimistic

A week to go to the Budget and the industry is on tenterhooks. Taxes will rise, departmental spending will be slashed, but despite that economic growth will have to be nurtured. And as we’ve pointed out in our Charter 284 campaign, that means continuing to build things. Experian is predicting a slight upturn for 2011 and 2012, but that’s predicated on continued recovery in the private sector and no more than £5bn cuts in the public spending (pages 12-13). That’s optimistic. Meanwhile an analysis of Office for National Statistics data by the Financial Times reveals the extent of construction’s suffering: unemployment has increased 720% for architects, 655% for QSs, and the figures for planners, construction managers and civil engineers are almost as bad. Then there are rumours that hare-brained schemes, such as renegotiating all government contracts, are being considered.

So as this critical time approaches it’s worth restating what we see as some of the priorities and how this affects the sector.

  • Philip Hammond, the transport secretary, has backed Crossrail, but it’s unlikely to emerge unscathed. If it’s finished in 2020 rather than 2017, that wouldn’t be a bad outcome. But slashing transport spending more than 10% would be a false economy.
  • As Ty Goddard points out on page 28 nearly four out of five of our schools were built more than 30 years ago and are at the end of their design life. Building Schools for the Future and the “transformation” of education are unlikely to survive in their present forms. But the long-term productivity of our economy requires that renewal must be continued by other means.
  • Housing has been the sector most affected by the coalition’s new thinking - but not in a good way. The Conservatives and Lib Dems were at one on the localism agenda so it’s no surprise that they’re rushing through changes - but a blanket ban on garden grabbing is hardly localist, is it? More importantly, scrapping the regional spatial strategies has disorientated councils, and cuts to the Housing and Communities Agency’s budget will have dire consequences for output. On top of that, consumer confidence is draining away (page 17). It’s early days, of course, and the communities team is convinced that it can offer “powerful incentives” to aid planning permission, but as Labour knows all too well, relying on the market to deliver policy outcomes can be like herding cats.

We think these suggestions are pretty much common sense. Let’s hope George Osborne agrees with us.

Never mind the height, feel the quality

Looking for some distraction from the economic gloom? Or perhaps some respite from the World Cup? Then today is the launch of the London Festival of Architecture, a 16-day celebration of design, complete with open offices, city walks, and a model of the Tate Modern made out of sugar cubes. Its a brilliant opportunity for architects to engage with the public and shout about their abilities on the world stage. Building is delighted to be supporting it. Of course the 2010 festival has a different backdrop from the 2008 edition. Then the only constraint on design was gravity. Happily some firms have been through the worst and are recruiting again, but it’s clear that the days of dreaming up 124m-diameter hubcaps, like the one on our front cover, are gone. We can look forward to an era of more humble - and hopefully more green - design. Will it be duller? Maybe - but it will also be more challenging, if we’re to avoid those design-and-build monstrosities that ruled in the pre-Cabe era. Architects are fond of saying good design doesn’t have to cost more; now’s their chance to prove it.

Denise Chevin, editor