EU Referendum: Briefing with the Built Environment Industry, Tuesday 24 May

What are the potential impacts of the EU Referendum for London’s built environment industry?

With the EU Referendum fast approaching, a series of leading industry professionals met at this event hosted by New London Architecture on 24th May to examine the impact of the EU on the built environment industry and the potential implications of the vote on development, construction, planning and architecture in London.
Janice Morphet, Visiting Professor, UCL Bartlett School of Planning
David Green, Director, Belsize Architects and former Head of the European Division of the Bank of England
Jason Prior, Chief Executive Building and Places, AECOM
Hew Edgar, Policy Manager, RICS
John Prevc, Partner, Make Architects
Peter Murray, Chairman, New London Architecture (Chair)

Each Panel member had about 5 minutes to speak, after an introduction by Peter Murray. The main points are summarised below.

Janice Morphet, Visiting Professor, UCL Bartlett School of Planning

  • How far has Planning been ‘Europeanised’ – EIA and Environmental legislation.
  • Major Transport scheme funding – A14, HS1/2, Crossrail, National Grid, for example.
  • We should be aware of how much UK ministers are involved in developing and voting for various policies – they aren’t just imposed on us by from outside.
  • Last week’s 6-monthly report focuses on 4 areas: Planning reform, Access to Housing, Infrastructure and Youth Employment.
    UK has a more adversarial professional style from the consensual style in the EU – the EU makes cumulative decisions, whilst the UK works in 5-year parliamentary blocks.

David Green, Director, Belsize Architects and former Head of the European Division of the Bank of England – ‘not an architect’

  • The City is working out what innumerable decisions would be required after a ‘Brexit’ including:
  • EU legislation would be gone – would the UK reinstate or replace it?
  • Access to a single market?
  • How to negotiate with the rest of the world?
  • Cross-border freedom of services – including sales, people, professional qualifications, materials, standards, etc.
  • Procurement and tendering – what instead of OJEU? Although this was derived from the rest of the world anyway.
  • If Brexit, will be strict immigration – how to lobby Government re inward migration of professional staff?
  • Professional qualifications – are differences in standards. Have professional bodies resolved this? No, they are too busy to make a case.
  • Materials standards – if the UK change theirs, how would this work?

Jason Prior, Chief Executive Building and Places, AECOM

  • Talented EU professionals contribute to company survival. Talent is a major export, so Brexit would mean the impact of the UK offer would be reduced. Built Environment businesses attract high-quality talent from outside the UK.
  • Clients are currently on a slow-down as they are awaiting the EU referendum decision. If Brexit, there will be less need for our product. Multinationals will leave the greatest seamless economic product in the world. They will leave a single island to join the big group, and decisions to do this will be fast.
  • Complexity of working in the EU? No, it’s a piece of cake! Flexible, with protection of workers’ rights, anti-bribery and corruption legislation, consistency of materials and specifications across the EU. It’s much more difficult elsewhere – e.g. in the US each State is different.
  • Brexit would distract Government from more important stuff.

Hew Edgar, Policy Manager, RICS

  • Uncertainty is a major issue – e.g.
    Easing of demand for UK product, scaled back economic market.
    Only 6% think Brexit would be positive.
    Residential and construction pipeline – not stalled, but slow-down until decision. Will bounce back if Bremain.
    Slower business rate / growth.
    Scotland firmly for Bremain (except fisheries areas).

John Prevc, Partner, Make Architects

  • There’s very little global objectivity – it’s mainly emotional or subjective opinion.
  • His company – 17% EU employees, plus 13% non-EU, so total of 30% non-UK staff.
  • Only 10% of their work is outside the UK – most’s in London, only 1% in Europe. If remain, need to increase this.
  • Jobs are definitely on hold.
  • Clients, banks/funding communities/pension funds sense risk.
  • Supply chain – able workforce – will Polish construction workers go home if Brexit?
  • Research and education system are often EU funded.
  • Much investment in UK and UK success will go.
  • UK is less good at raising standards than, e.g., Germany – this is unlikely to improve is UK leaves.
  • Societal – where does UK belong? What’s our ‘back yard’? It doesn’t end at the White Cliffs of Dover, it’s a global business community.

Peter Murray, Chairman of NLA asked each panel member for anything to add:

  • JM:
    Air quality & sustainability standards: much better in the EU.
    Brussels PR is very poor – no-one in UK knows the ministers: within the EU it’s expected that time is spent in Brussels, whereas it’s discouraged in the UK Civil Service and those who do go are disapproved of and it’s detrimental to their careers.
    Other have invested more in soft diplomacy – e.g. EU ministers actually answer their own phones!


  • DG:
    Many things thought of as European, e.g. OJEU – not so.
    Do we stick to EU rules when other countries don’t? No, this is a fallacy.
    Efficiency of procurement – what’s wrong with our own arrangements?


  • JPrior:
    Money and leadership of big firms are in UK (e.g. Indian and Middle Eastern).
    There is talent throughout the UK. With talent and freedom of talent, the rest follows.
    Arts and Culture – would Frankfurt compare with London if financial markets considered moving?
  • Synergy of global cities.


  • HE:
  • Would housing prices plummet if Brexit? Not the low and middle, as they are domestically driven, but possibly properties over £1M as many are foreign investment.
    Second homes & buy-to-let down since April (change in regs).


  • JPrevc:
    UK Architecture versus EU? Culture started pre EU!
    Mainly a funding issue – facilitates travel, etc. Attracting EU students to Universities, also global (HK, Malaysia etc). EU feeds money to universities.
    Profession can only benefit from global outreach.
    Brexit might affect expansion in building student accommodation.

Questions from the Floor (only time for 2):

Ben Derbyshire, HTA.
Q1: 25% of HTA staff are EU nationals – the company couldn’t do without them. Boris was wrong to say we have no loyalty to EU ideas – HTA has intense loyalty, especially to the EU City and more planned environments. Do we want a world of high-rise tower blocks?
A: JM noted that the EU has fewer large-scale cities than somewhere like China. Urban policy for new cities; commission on how policies affect scale; promotion of the examination of all policies on place and space. France is similar – more of a neo-liberal approach – re-frame how governments think about socio-economic boundaries. Where there is a strong leader, e.g. elected mayor, it contributes to GDP.
DG: our organisations need to see the EU city model is moved forward. JP confirmed – City State originated in EU countries. Macro-planning level – EU/China conference on carbon management: must look at larger scale. Transport systems are more state level, or city scale. Skyscrapers are an economic expression of now – they may not stand up for long, as not good enough to be future-proof.
Q2: Peter Graham
There’s not been any mention of the Euro (Eurozone crisis). UK trade with Europe has gone down from 55 to 45% over the last 10 years and the EU is the only region to have had no growth in the last 10 years. Surely we would allow ‘desirable’ students to come into the UK anyway? The UK is the 5th largest economy in the world. Surely there would be opportunities with Brexit?
A: The UK has the largest current account deficit in the world and it’s getting worse – so it’s not that strong an economy and could get worse if Brexit.

Final points from Panel:
John P: Staying in – the EU is still on a journey, there are elements the UK want to stop: better to stay in than trying to infiltrate from the outside.
Hew E: RICS is politically neutral: they don’t advise, just inform, leading to a balanced document.
Jason P: The quality of debate in the UK is generally appalling. We should be shaping matters, not shouting from the side-lines. We should vote in people who are engaged in the debate. We need to look at big environmental policies – larger than individual country issues, e.g. electricity supply, power-sharing etc. Don’t carp, engage.
DG: Intergovernmental experience; ‘bad’ things are blamed on the EU, whereas the UK actually has a very large vote.
JM: Looking to the future. EU investment plant for 2050 – 2060. Must be involved. If out, would we be able to gain funding for matters like transport, as the Swiss model, as they are connected to rest of EU? IF WE ARE NOT AT THE TABLE, WE ARE ON THE MENU.

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