6 Jul 2016
A narrow vote for Britain to exit the EU sent shockwaves through the construction sector as business grapples with the potential consequences and a fresh bout of constitutional uncertainty. With many reliant on sourcing staff, investment and materials from the continent the worry is that all may stall amidst the current confusion.
Amongst those nervously contemplating the potential consequences few are as apprehensive as Britain’s embattled construction sector, still struggling to shake off the effects of recession. Faced with a skills shortage, a dependence on inward investment and reliance on cheap imported materials the prospect of an exit was met with a combination of both hope and fear.
Adding to the general uncertainty and confusion is that despite a slim UK-wide majority for Leave many nations and regions of the UK voted Remain, notably Scotland which voted 62 to 38 per cent in favour of staying in the EU, sparking concerns of a prolonged period of constitutional chaos.
Below we present the views of leading industry figures on what the impact of Brexit might be and in what direction the country must now look as it seeks to rebuild relationships:
Peter Wilson, Timber Design Initiatives: “Brexit will completely stymie entries by British starchitects to all those competition projects in Europe that they’ve been doing pretty well in up until now. Will we see Chipperfield et al relocating completely to offices in Europe?
“From a personal perspective, I couldn’t have done the work I’d been involved in over the past several years had it not been for substantial European funding - for which there was, and is, no equivalent in the UK. Brexit will hit University funding very hard since a very substantial proportion of their research funds come from Europe, with whatever UK research funding as exists already increasingly pointed to what are known as the Russell Group of universities (aka the elite - traditional ones like Cambridge, Edinburgh, Oxford and St Andrews.”
Willie Miller, WMUD: “BREXIT is easy and difficult at the same time. The benefits to the UK flowing from EU membership over the years have been enormous but it is not the great idea that it once was. The EU needs reform but the UK government seems unwilling to participate in that and Scotland is many steps removed from having any influence. It’s hard to be passionate about it, but my desire is and has always been to be part of Europe.
“I have no time for or sympathy with the ‘leave’ folk. The debate is framed by England, by the internal wranglings of the Conservative Party and by a bunch of people like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove using immigration and sovereignty as key arguments. These are the ‘leave bad guys’ - but equally, for the most part, the ‘remain’ folk are also just as bad. It feels so strange to be in the same camp as the ‘remain bad guys’ and the new Project Fear that is being rolled out - just like during the Scottish Referendum.
“So as some commentators have said, this is a question of holding my nose and voting remain, knowing that this will probably change nothing as long as the UK Government distances itself from influencing EU policy and as long as Scotland has little or no say in the EU’s future. Of course there are other ways of being part of Europe and these may become more important ...”
Malcolm Fraser, director, HFM: “Having fielded questions for years about “business and investment uncertainty caused by the threat of Scottish independence” here is chaos unleashed. I’m no fan of the EU - I think it’s a racket, run on behalf of the elite. But I think a withdrawn Britain will be that and more, and I don’t believe that full “independence” is possible or desirable. Interdependence should be the goal, balancing the need for a nation’s independent action and responsibility with wider, collective, appropriate agreements on trade, climate change, justice etc. As a Scot, we might just limp out the end of the chaos with some of that; but I still rage at the rigid, neoliberal deathstar that the EU has made of itself. And I feel heartbroken for the caring, social democratic Britain that little England continues to turn away from.”
Paul Stallan, design director, Stallan Brand: “I feel more strongly about being part of Europe than I do about being part of the UK. I feel strongly that we should remain part of the European Union. Together with our European partners we are more able to champion a fairer more equitable world. To quote from a distinguished client of ours the Noble laureate Wole Soyinka who has written extensively about the catastrophic partitioning of Africa he states that ‘The greatest threat to freedom is the absence of criticism’. Europe is our critical friend. Whether it is the movement of people, resources, commodities we have responsibility to participate rather than turn our back. If we are confident in our own national affairs and priorities we have nothing to fear from being a member state and much to contribute.”
Alan Dunlop, visiting professor, Scott Sutherland School & Liverpool School of Architecture: “I will vote to leave and frankly the majority of colleagues and friends I’ve spoken to intend to do the same. I’m truly disappointed however that both the leave and remain groups have again led with “project fear” and that the principle issue for those voting to leave is immigration and I do not wish to be associated at all with that. Immigration has never been an issue for me, in fact I believe and it has been proven that people coming into the country from Europe and overseas contribute much more than they take. Instead it is the massive bureaucracy that the EU has become and that un-elected officials that we cannot remove are making decisions that have a direct consequence on our lives. That’s anti-democratic and why I’m voting to leave.”
Chris Stewart, director, Collective Architecture: “As with all marriages there are niggles, being part of something bigger can blind you to the truth, you can’t see the woods for the trees. Stop a while, forget about butter mountains, the shape of bananas and refugee statistics. Think about the rich culture of our continent and how after two devastating world wars we have got together with the idea of a free Europe. A continent with no barriers, with freedom of thought, freedom of movement and with one currency. Now think about the alternative, the world of Katie Hopkins, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Donald Trump. A world of walls, barriers and a sense of superiority from which a new order will prosper at the expense of others. Architecture will follow the order of the day, construct walls, remove barriers, build palaces, and improve affordable housing. What might change once the votes are counted, better work here, less work there, will it make any difference. Our profession is sliding downwards and although I will vote to remain which I hope we do, if we do not then may that be the catalyst for a bigger change.”
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