Tentative improvements in architects’ outlook despite chronic planning delays

Latest News Tue, Apr 2, 2024 7:54 AM

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

Findings show that architects expect workloads to fall over the next three months, but they expect staffing levels to hold steady, rather than fall, for the first time in six months.

A one-off question in February’s survey found that a majority of those working on higher-risk buildings reported project delays caused by the planning application statutory consultation process.

In February, the RIBA Future Trends Workload Index rose by 5 points to -3, indicating a slightly improved outlook.

Over the next three months, 23% of practices expected workloads to increase, 26% expected them to decrease, and 51% expected them to stay the same.

The outlook of small practices (1-10 staff) remained negative but improved, rising by 5 points to -5, while the outlook of medium (11+ staff) and large (50+ staff) practices remained optimistic, and improved by 9 points to a combined figure of +12.

While all monitored work sectors retained a negative outlook, three out of four improved. The outlook for the Private Housing sector rallied by 7 points to -5, the Commercial (-3) and Public (-6) sectors improved by 2 and 3 points respectively, and the Community sector, which has had a negative outlook for two years, fell by 1 point to -9.

All regions except London had an improved or steady outlook on workloads. The outlook for the North of England remained positive and rose by 11 points to +13. The South of England rallied by 21 points to 0, and the Midlands & East Anglia recovered by 18 points to -2. London’s outlook deteriorated by 13 points to -12, while Wales & the West held steady at -16.

In February, the RIBA Future Trends Permanent Staffing Index rose by 2 points to 0, indicating that the same number of practices expected to employ more staff as expected to employ fewer. This is the first time the RIBA Staffing Index has left negative territory since September last year.

  • Over the next three months, 8% of practices expected to employ more permanent staff, 8% expected to employ fewer, and 83% expected no change.
  • Small practices continued to expect staffing levels to decline, returning a Permanent Staffing Index figure of -3, a 1-point improvement from last month.
  • Medium and large practices had even stronger conviction that their staffing levels would increase, returning a combined Permanent Staffing Index figure of +21, a 13-point increase from last month.
  • The regional outlook on permanent staffing remained varied. Despite expecting falling workloads, London’s staffing outlook has turned positive, with a Staffing Index figure of +2.
  • The Temporary Staffing Index held steady once again at -6, suggesting falling numbers of temporary staff over the next three months.
  • Levels of personal underemployment decreased from 29% in January to 23% in February.

February’s RIBA Future Trends survey included a one-off question about the potential project delaying effects of the statutory consultation process with the Building Safety Regulator during planning applications for higher-risk buildings.

16% of respondents said they had worked on higher-risk buildings in the last three months.

Of those, 62% reported delay (54%) or abandonment (8%) of these projects caused by the statutory consultation process.

RIBA Head of Economic Research and Analysis Adrian Malleson said: “While practices still expect falling workloads overall, it appears we can be moderately optimistic.

“Crucially, the outlook for work in the housing sector is significantly less gloomy.

“Many practices continue to describe a challenging environment in the context of a weak economy, raised interest rates, and ongoing, highly damaging planning delays. Some even suggest that the uncertainty around the general election is deterring investment, particularly from local authorities. However, others report an overall improving market.

“We will continue to report our findings to the Government and work with other built environment bodies to monitor these trends.”

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