What impact will Brexit have on green building in Britain?

Cranes over London
CC BY 1.0 Lloyd Alter/ count the cranes

When in London last week it seemed the city was covered in cranes. For quite some time there have been complaints about too many tall buildings in London, about the high cost of housing, and about development pressures on the greenbelt around London. Everyone thought that something should be done about these problems, and unfortunately, everyone probably just got what they wished for.

Thanks to the recent vote to leave the European Union, London projects are already being pulled, there are worries that house prices have already started crashing. International companies are already planning relocations of staff to the EU. According to the Architects Journal,

Projects will stop. Within minutes of the Brexit news, Daniel Minsky, who works with a boutique investment and development agency in London, was told that a proposed land deal had been pulled. The buyer withdrew at 7.05am this morning because they felt the residential value ‘was too risky’.

We have all seen this movie before; as soon as people get twitchy they all head for the exits together. Bank funding dries up, equity in property vanishes, the market freezes.


The precipitous fall of the pound just made imported materials significantly more expensive. Also from the AJ:

Decisions will have to be made about where building materials come from. The clay for the 336,000 bricks on the Tate Modern extension came from Germany.

Many of the elements of green building in the UK are imported; Cross-laminated timber from Austria, Passivhaus windows from Slovenia, Heat recovery ventilators from Germany, Heat pumps from Japan. All just got more expensive.

Boris Johnson will likely become Prime Minister. This doesn't bode well for green building rules and regulations; He's a notorious climate denier, writing in the Telegraph recently, even as he is describing a heat wave in December, that humans have nothing to do with it.

It is fantastic news that the world has agreed to cut pollution and help people save money, but I am sure that those global leaders were driven by a primitive fear that the present ambient warm weather is somehow caused by humanity; and that fear – as far as I understand the science – is equally without foundation. There may be all kinds of reasons why I was sweating at ping-pong – but they don’t include global warming.

There was already strong pressure from the Conservative government to lower environmental standards; it might well get worse.

On BDOnline, many architects expressed their concerns and doubts about the future.

Cany Ash, director, Ash Sakula Architects
“Brexit is akin to full-scale urban blight. All our energies will be wasted while this bureaucratic mess is cleared up. Housing and social projects brokered through delicate public-private partnerships only achieve momentum through stability and optimism… and we have pissed that away.”

Another pointed out that all those famous Polish plumbers and other trades come from the EU and may not be available anymore.

Sally Lewis, director, Stitch
“On a personal level, I am devastated. On a professional level it is hard to judge what the immediate impacts might be if we vote to leave. But I know for sure that the housing construction industry relies heavily on highly skilled and hard-working Europeans. As we’re struggling anyway to deliver the housing we need, filtering out the workforce that can help us meet our housing delivery targets is plain daft.”

I have asked the British architects I know for their opinions; I will update this post as their responses arrive.

Tags: Green Building | London

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