Consequences of Brexit are starting to hit home

Effects of leaving the customs union and the single market cannot be overlooked

Friday, 19th March 2021 — By David Green

David Green

David Green

ALL of us in Camden have been so preoccupied with Covid-19 that other factors influencing the economic life of the borough tend to fade into the background.

Amid the personal and collective tragedy and the effect on mental health and on jobs across the borough, our hearts have been warmed at the extraordinary achievements of our local hospitals, well-publicised on national TV, and of our Camden GP practices, among the most efficient in the country to get the vaccine out to large numbers of patients.

But we should not overlook Brexit, the consequences of which are less clear-cut but nonetheless slowly beginning to impinge on the borough.

Leaving the single market and the customs union has meant that some existing local business activities are either not possible at all or have become more expensive.

In particular some jobs in financial services have already had to relocate to the EU and it seems certain that more roles will move.

We have all heard about the impact of the new export arrangements on the fashion trade and on musicians and other performers whose business depended on touring in the EU.

All these sectors are key to the borough. That apart some local EU nationals have for a variety of different reasons decided to return home because of Brexit.

What does this add up to?

It is too early to say for sure, but all this means less money to spend and less overall demand for housing. Rents have fallen, in some cases significantly, and house prices are soft.

This is in principle good news for those seeking accommodation, but for most people prices have not fallen enough to make a difference to affordability or to the housing shortage in the borough.

It would be good if the provision of housing by the council could be increased, even if council finances across the country will become more stretched in consequence of the combination of Covid and Brexit.

Private developers are, in many cases, also stretched and unsure whether and where to invest. So maintaining the pace of housebuilding, especially in the face of post-Grenfell remediation, will be the challenge.

Those who do have accommodation of their own may well have decided that they need more space. If they sell to move out of town this could also ease prices somewhat, but our local architectural practice has found that many want to stay put and to expand and improve what they already have.

This is always possible and the borough is blessed with a great deal of design talent. But clients may well find that Brexit has affected refurbishment too in that material costs are rising, with potential supply bottlenecks, and labour costs have risen as EU workers have left.

The economic consequences of both Covid-19 and Brexit will have a profound effect on the way we work, where we want to work, what we want our workplaces to be like and what we will now expect of the public realm. It may take some time for it to become clear just what the new ways of living will be.

The adaptations that communities will want will all bring welcome economic activity, provided it can be financed.

Camden Council could, for instance, make a real contribution by exploiting, in the light of what we know about the new world, the undeveloped small sites it has at its disposal.

The good news is that the built environment professions have already given much creative thought to what the new “good” in renewed urban spaces might look like.

• David Green is a director of Belsize Architects and a former Bank of England official.

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