There was a definite mood of optimism at the Building Awards last Thursday. Lots of people had a real reason to celebrate, of course, but the mood change was caused by more than champagne
It was the evening after the G20 agreed a $1.1 trillion injection into the economy, and the confident smiles on the faces of Gordon Brown, Barack Obama and their friends had spread to the construction industry.
Nearly a week later, the economists have had time to analyse what it all means – and we have not woken to a glad, confident morning. For one thing, any idea that the economy is going to be brought back to life by a steady rain of dollars has faded, and much of the fiscal stimulus has been announced already. And if that weren’t sobering enough, the Construction Products Association (CPA) and Experian published forecasts that are as bleak as could be. Output is to fall 12% this year, according to the CPA; there will be a further fall in 2010 and no significant growth until 2012. We are, they say, in a U not a V-shaped recession. That said, the gloom is not unrelieved: rail is set to grow by 30% over the next three years on the back of Crossrail and Network Rail’s £35bn spending plan.
And there are indications that the bottom of the housing market is close. Taylor Wimpey, the UK’s largest housebuilder, can breathe again after nine months of negotiations with its bankers ended in a refinancing deal; meanwhile, housebuilders’ shares have outperformed the market by 43% in the first quarter, mortgage lending in February rose 19% month-on-month and the Nationwide even said house prices rose in March. Nobody agreed, but the other surveys did at least find that the rate of decline had slowed. Even Tony Pidgley is pointing to an upturn as the cost of homes reaches the four-times-income mark. The government is set to announce measures to increase housebuilding for private rent and the Homes and Communities Agency is on the verge of coming up with a model to remove social housing’s dependence on section 106 agreements.
There is mounting concern over the future of the public sector. At present, it’s keeping the industry afloat. But public demand will peak in 2011 as work on the Olympics ends and the school programme levels off. If the government then cuts spending to get debt under control before the commercial sector comes back it may even lead to a W-shaped recession. Whatever else we do, we have to avoid that.
Nearly a week after the G20, the economists have had time to analyse what it all means – and we have not woken to a glad, confident morning
A question of protocol
A year after he labelled an award-winning university building designed by Patel Taylor a “dustbin”, the Prince of Wales has once again graced us with his views on architecture. His latest intervention is on Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners’ design for Qatari Diar’s Chelsea Barracks scheme, and it took the form of a letter to the emir of Qatar calling for the job to be given to neoclassical architect Quinlan Terry. This comes a week after the RIBA announced Charles had accepted its invitation to give the RIBA Trust lecture in May, which must be galling to those who hoped that, 25 years after the carbuncle speech, the prince and the institute could make friends. Although they are unpalatable to the modernist lobby, the prince’s views are shared by many and have a right to be heard. But by going over the heads of Westminster’s planners, he is exploiting his privileged position. That the heir to the throne is concerned about design can only be a good thing. But it is vital to the spirit of democracy that the prince take part in the planning process. By bypassing the planners, and by being obsessed with Quinlan Terry, he risks losing the respect he has won for his commitment to the quality and sustainability of the built environment.
Denise Chevin, editor