EU debate: ‘If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu’

Tuesday 24 May 2016

Leaving the EU would have a major effect on the UK’s ability to draw upon the best talent, with a resultant blow dealt to the economy and the built environment sectors.

It would be far better to ‘roll our sleeves’ up and change it from within, rather than risk being ‘on the menu’ if we are not ‘at the table’.

Those were some of the key messages to emerge from a debate on the EU referendum held this morning and hosted by NLA, RTPI London, Landscape Institute and Planning Futures.

Introducing the debate, NLA chairman Peter Murray related how Land Secs chairman Robert Noel had said his firm would not develop anything for the next five years if the UK voted to leave Europe on 23 June.

UCL Bartlett School of Planning visiting professor Janice Morphet said that most planners did not pay a huge amount of attention to the role of the EU in framing what they do, and at its heart the EU is ‘an economic project’. But the great difference between the UK and rest of the EU is in our political styles, the former being an adversarial approach, the latter more consensual. And where the UK works in five-year parliaments, the rest works on a ‘cumulative approach’ and a flow of legislation. But it was ‘a cultural thing’ that meant that the UK hasn’t effectively engaged with the EU since its formation, said Morphet. Indeed, an example of how little the UK is engaging with Europe, is that there is an EU Urban Agenda being officially launched through the Pact of Amsterdam at the end of this month, but no-one in the conference had even heard of it. (http://urbanagenda.nl/pactofamsterdam/ )

David Green, director of Belsize Architects and the former head of the European division of the Bank of England said the key issues relate to what, if anything, we put in place of European legislation should the UK leave, what sort of access we would like to have of what is left of the single market and issues relating to procurement, free movement of labour, professional qualifications and professional standards. The professional bodies will also need to find a unified lobbying position, he said. ‘I’d like facts to be produced – what are the decisions which need to be made?’

For AECOM’s Jason Prior, chief executive, building and places, any restriction on the talent pool would have a ‘huge’ impact in the long term, and the consultancy sector is a major piece of the UK economy. But the quality of debate was ‘awful’ and UK political leadership in Europe ‘dreadful’, as it had been for ‘generations.’ Pulling out of Europe might also be problematic for architects getting hold of, say, Italian façade systems or German engineering products. ‘Let’s not kid ourselves’, said Prior, ‘It’s a piece of cake working in Europe compared to working anywhere else.’

RICS policy manager Hew Edgar said ‘uncertainty’ had cropped up a great deal since the announcement of the EU referendum, and surveys had indicated a steady easing in investment into central London. Another survey, said Edgar, indicated that only 6% of its respondents felt that BREXIT would have a positive effect on the sector. Finally, Make Architects partner John Prevc said he wanted to see more ‘objectivity’ in the debate to replace the subjectivity and half-truths that abound. ‘What on earth are we voting for?’, he asked. Make has 17% EU employees, and 13% non-EU, but only 10% of its work is from outside the UK. Jobs have definitely gone on hold, however, with three particular ones from the office now in limbo in London. And although architecture is a ‘very resilient profession’ and intellectual capital crosses borders daily, Prevc said he feared for the UK education system and for research, often well funded by monies from Europe. ‘I don’t believe our back yard stops at the white cliffs of Dover’, said Prevc. ‘It’s a global back yard.’

By David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

Watch the full event video here (starts at 06.23)

Share this page Toggle