Editor’s Comment – May

Since the somewhat surprising (or not) announcement of a general election by Theresa May, unsurprisingly the debate and political sparring has mainly been around the subject of Brexit. This election, whether Labour likes it or not, is going to be decided based on who we think will provide the best result from Brexit. And the exit polls are likely to be as useful as the Referendum itself when it comes to having any idea of what is in store.

The resulting shadow boxing is part of the problem the parties are having, regardless of how ‘clear’ they want to seem, because nobody knows quite what we will be up against. There are few things that are certain – one is the fact that the Government has been hastily assembling negotiating teams, but now EU ministers have decided it will only get to do ‘real’ negotiations once the election’s over. Of course if the highly unlikely scenario happens, and the Tories don’t win, even with this added breathing room Labour’s going to have a torrid time getting its act together, as it will need to pursue Brexit having explicity backed it.

Despite the dominance of social issues around Brexit, Labour has recently however come out with something that resembles a policy on a construction sector issue, which is refreshing on both counts. Shadow Housing Secretary John Healey promised “big steps” to deal with the UK’s housing crisis, but at the time of writing the Manifesto had not appeared so there are few signs of detail. Labour has however pledged the ‘big round number’ of building 1 million new homes, which sounds similar to something former Conservative Housing Minister Brandon Lewis said – and then stopped saying. The difference is, Labour is also pledging that half will be social housing.

Healey made great play of the statistics Labour had gathered that its councils built 2,577 homes between 2010 and 2017, whereas in Conservative-led areas it was only 1,679, positioning Labour as the council house-building alternative. This should play well with a lot of voters, with a new generation unable to get on the housing ladder at all and glad for any options. With the average cost of a home now 7.6 times that of annual salaries, and wages barely keeping pace with inflation, many are struggling to raise deposits, and good ideas are urgently needed.

Home ownership is now a whopping 8 per cent down on its peak in 2003, and only 16 per cent of funding for new housing is directed to affordable. Maybe in the light of these daunting questions, the big one should be whether ownership should be the goal, or whether we move to a more comprehensive rental-based system such as other EU countries have successfully relied on for years. Post-Brexit, we need to still be open to good ideas.

Talking of good ideas, Materials, a new conference and exhibition which ADF is partnered with just made its debut at ILEC at Earl’s Court in London. It saw a healthy number of architects visiting across the two days, who heard insights from a wide range of speakers on materials from concrete to composites, and CLT to brick. There was also a lively Brexit debate and a Meet the Buyer session, and so far the responses from exhibitors as well as visitors have been very encouraging. Roll on next year!

James Parker