Slow planning process causing project delays for architects

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has published the latest Future Trends survey results, a monthly report of the business and employment trends affecting the architects’ profession.

In July 2021 the overall RIBA Future Trends Workload Index remained in strongly positive territory, returning a balance figure of +27.  Whilst this is a four-point decrease on June’s results, architects remain very positive about future workloads. Actual workloads are 12% up on a year ago. 36% of practices expect workloads to grow in the coming three months, 55% expect them to remain the same, and 9% expect them to decrease. These results indicate that recovery continues.

Workload is expected to increase in three of the four workloads sectors – Private Housing, Commercial, and the Public Sector – suggesting growth to come.  Pessimism about future work is only to be found in the Community sector. All regions continue to expect workloads to increase in the next three months, as do all practice sizes.

For several months, architects have been reporting concerns about the impact on projects caused by delays in the processing of planning applications. The key findings are:

  • Thirty per cent of practices report some projects being delayed by six months or more
  • Seven per cent report some projects being abandoned
  • Thirty-nine per cent report some projects being delayed by up to a month
  • Sixty per cent report some projects being delayed by between one and six months
  • Twenty-two per cent report no projects delayed or abandoned

Commentary from practices this month also continue to highlight significant challenges in obtaining affordable and suitably comprehensive Professional Indemnity Insurance, and ongoing challenges around product availability and costs.

Site labour and practice staffing levels are being affected by Covid-19 infections and isolation. Some practices are beginning to report difficulties in recruiting staff, with a suggestion that this is exacerbated by the furlough scheme serving to dampen staff movement.

Private Housing continues to lead the workload recovery, with a balance figure up one point to +28. The sector remains strongly positive, with 38% expecting further workload growth to come. The commercial sector posted a balance figure of +11 down two points from June’s figure of +13.

With a balance figure in July of +2, expectations about future work in the public sector remain positive, but only just. The community sector remains in negative territory, posting a balance figure of -3. The sector has returned a negative or zero balance figure for 17 successive months.

Once again, all regions expect workloads to grow over the next three months, however optimism in London has fallen, with a balance figure of +17, down 11 points from June’s figure of +28.  Nevertheless, this is the fifth month in a row that the capital has reported an expectation of increasing workloads. In contrast, optimism in the South of England rose sharply this month, with a balance figure of +33, an increase of sixteen points from last month’s figure of +17.

The Midlands & East Anglia held steady at +27, down just 1 point from June. Confidence in North of England is high but has moderated this month, with a balance figure of +36, down from +49 in June. Wales & the West at +28 has also seen confidence fall back, with a fall (from +45 in June).

In terms of staffing:

  • At +13, the RIBA Future Trends Permanent Staffing Index rose slightly, increasing by two balance points from last month’s figure of +11.
  • 18% (up by 2%) of practices expect to employ more permanent staff over the coming three months, whilst 5% expect to employ fewer, the same figures as July.  77% (down 2%) expect staffing levels to stay the same over the coming 3 months.
  • Personal underemployment rose slightly by 2% and now stands at a to 16%

RIBA Head of Economic Research and Analysis, Adrian Malleson, said:

“Overall, the July Future Trends survey shows a sustained and broad-based confidence in the profession, as recovery gathers pace.”

“Practices are reporting healthy enquiry levels and projects scheduled for up to a year ahead. Many practices are actively recruiting to meet the new levels of demand.”

“Significant issues remain, however, regarding affordable and suitably comprehensive Professional Indemnity Insurance, product availability and attendant inflationary pressures, local authority delays in processing planning applications and site and practice staffing shortages.”

“The RIBA has been actively lobbying the Government around planning delays. There have been some useful reforms including digitisation that have come about as a result, but we do need to see planning departments fully resourced to deal with this ongoing backlog.”

“The RIBA is having regular conversations with MHCLG, the ARB and politicians to highlight the urgent need for action to address issues in the Professional Indemnity Assurance market. The rise in cost combined with the reduction in the scope of coverage is deeply concerning. We will use the upcoming debates on the Building Safety Bill to push the Government to look at options for reform.”

“RIBA is reporting findings to government and working with other bodies in the built environment to monitor ongoing trends. We continue to be on hand, providing support and resources to our members as they navigate these challenging times.”