It’s pretty exhausting being a British voter right now: This year’s election campaign has been one of the most mind-boggling in recent memory — no fewer than seven party leaders took part in April’s televised debate, leaving more questions than answers about the benefits and drawbacks of each manifesto. Public opinion is split, the race for power at Westminster Palace has never been tighter, and the likely outcome is yet another compromising coalition… not that any leader will admit to that, of course.
Who will be walking through this door tomorrow? It's anybody's guess... via Wikipedia
This unprecedented lack of certainty means attempting to predict the outlook for the UK construction industry clearly amounts to a fool’s errand of epic proportions, but have no fear: I’m here to attempt that thankless task for you. First, let’s look at the main parties’ stance on housing, a major talking point amongst voters considering the longstanding crisis within this sector.
The Conservatives have promised that they will facilitate the construction of 200,000 new houses solely for first-time buyers, thereby relieving pressure on the market and enabling more young families to buy rather than rent. Labour announced they would make sure that 200,000 houses are being built each year by 2020. But wait, there’s more: the Liberal Democrats have now promised an incredible 300,000 houses a year by the end of the decade!
These numbers may seem rather high given Britain’s meager house-building history in recent times, with the price tags yet to be determined — but hey, British politicians have never been known to let numbers get in the way of a good pre-election pledge.
Hannibal Road Gardens by Peter Barber Architects
What does this mean for UK architects and others in the AEC industries? Whichever party is victorious, it seems inevitable there will be a drive to build substantially more residential developments during the coming parliament — but the source of work could vary considerably depending on the result. If Labour have their way, the government will take back much of the power to build social housing, as in publicly funded residential projects such as Peter Barber Architects/a>’ Hannibal Road Gardens in London.
Mint Street Peabody Housing by Pitman Tozer Architects
Meanwhile, if David Cameron and the Conservatives retain their position in government, they will continue with existing initiatives such as the Affordable Rent Model, introduced in 2012. This has resulted in long-running partnerships between public and private bodies, delivering projects such asMint Street Peabody Housing, which incorporated a mixture of homes for rent, shared ownership, and private sale in the heart of London.
King's Cross Station by John McAslan + Partners
Either way, budgets will dictate the outlook for the five years — and the same can be said for public infrastructure projects across the country. Prospects for the troubled High Speed 2 railway linkbetween London and Birmingham are likely to remain unchanged regardless of who triumphs in the election, with both the Conservatives and Labour maintaining their commitment to Britain’s most expensive transport project despite severe financial woes. Only the outspoken UKIP would scrap the HS2 altogether, and they are unlikely to hold sway after the votes are counted, so more major rail commissions in the vein of John McAslan’s stunning King’s Cross Station renovation could be on the horizon.
Heathrow Terminal 2 by Luis Vidal + Architects
While plans for the railways look set to remain on track, so to speak, the forecast for development of the country’s airports remains very much up in the air. If the Conservatives win, they will likely forge ahead with plans to expand Heathrow Airport or possibly even commission an entirely new transport hub for London. Labour, on the other hand, have opposed such a move, yet their position remains unclear on this key issue, and Ed Miliband will have some serious decisions to make should he receive the keys to Number 10 on May 8th.
In short, the construction industry should stand firm no matter whichever party — or combination of parties — takes over the reins of the United Kingdom this week. As always, its outlook depends largely on the state of the economy, and, as long as we don’t see a repeat of the financial crisis of 2008, architects and contractors alike should have plenty of work on their hands for the next five years.
Whatever happens in political circles, here’s hoping that those in power will appreciate the potential for innovative architecture to have a long-term positive impact on the public realm — I’ve still not decided which box I'll tick on the ballot paper today, but great design gets my vote every time.
The Angry Architect