Increasing Workloads Expected Despite Planning Application Delays – RIBA Future Trends April 2023

THE ROYAL INSTITUTE of British Architects (RIBA) latest Future Trends survey results shows architects’ outlook for future work remains positive, despite growing planning application delays.

In April 2023, the RIBA Future Trends Workload Index stayed at +8, the same as in March, and the third successive positive month. The RIBA Future Trends Permanent Staffing Index remains positive and improving, at +3.

The survey shows that the commercial sector is expecting more work for the first time in a year, though the housing sector is less optimistic. Medium and large practices still see a bright future, while the regional picture is mixed. However, current workloads remain down on a year ago, and those in smaller practices are more likely to be underemployed. Additionally, slower processing of planning applications is revealed to be worsening project delays compared to two years ago.

Workload Expectations 

The Future Trends Workload Index stays at +8, the same as in March.

It shows over the next three months, 28% of practices expect workloads to increase, 21% expect them to decrease, and 51% expect them to stay the same.

Medium (11+ staff) and large (50+ staff) practices remain firmly optimistic about future workloads, with a combined figure of +29. Small practices (1-10 staff) remain positive but fell 3 points to +4.

Regionally, the picture remains mixed with most regions feeling positive about future work. There is some growing optimism – the North of England (+28) rose by 10 points and Wales & the West (+17) rose by 3 points. London’s (+3) outlook dipped but remains positive. The Midlands & East Anglia (-5) remains negative, and the South of England (-2) fell by 10 points.

Three out of four monitored work sectors show an improved outlook. The commercial (+3) sector had a positive outlook for the first time since May 2022, indicating growth is anticipated. Whilst remaining negative, the public (-6) and community (-3) sectors improved, with the latter rising by 5 points. The housing (-2) sector fell by 3 points.

Architect Employments

The Future Trends Permanent Staffing Index remains positive, rising by two points to +3. The index shows:

8% of practices expect to employ fewer permanent staff over the coming three months, 11% expect to employ more, and 81% expect no change.
Medium and large practices (+22 combined Staffing Index) remain strongly positive about recruitment.
Small practices (0) anticipate staffing levels to hold steady.
Staffing outlook in London (+4) remained consistent. Practices in Wales & The West (+10) rose by 5 points, show a growing appetite for recruitment. The North of England (+2) and the South of England (+2) both recovered by 2 points. In line with a pessimistic view of future work, the staffing outlook in the Midlands & East Anglia (-3) rose 4 points but remains negative.
The Temporary Staffing Index (0) rose by 3 points.
Levels of personal underemployment rose slightly to 20%.

Planning Applications

The survey results show that the speed with which planning applications are being processed is deteriorating compared to two years ago, causing project delays.

In April 2023, 22% of practices report projects being abandoned in the last three months, compared to 7% in 2021, due to delays in the processing of planning applications.
47% report some projects being delayed by 6 months or more, compared to 30% in 2021.
Only 15% of practices report no projects being delayed, compared to 22% in 2021.

In addition to monitoring and reporting on the impact of planning delays, RIBA has called for the Government to invest in building up the capacity of local authority planning departments, particularly with qualified design expertise. As part of this, the Institute has also called for planning departments to be allocated additional financial resources to recruit and retain planning professionals.

Future Trends April 2023

Adrian Malleson, RIBA Head of Economic Research and Analysis

RIBA Head of Economic Research and Analysis, Adrian Malleson, said: “While architects are looking beyond immediate difficulties to see growth ahead, ongoing challenges include PII costs, fee pressure, and the continuing adverse effects of our current EU trading arrangements. Inflation and interest rate increases are hindering practices. Inflation is increasing project costs while decreasing the value of fees. Higher interest rates are increasing the long-term capital costs of projects, deterring potential clients.

“The speed with which planning applications are being processed is deteriorating compared to two years ago, delaying projects, holding back architects and the creation of the buildings we need.

“Nevertheless, some practices report increasing workloads, brisk enquiry levels and improving activity from developers.

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


>> Read more RIBA surveys in the news

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