Brexit puts Bristol housing plans at risk, says mayor

David Blackman

Marvin Rees says lack of EU construction workers and competition from Hinkley is ‘major challenge’

Marvin Rees, Bristol’s powerful elected mayor, has warned that construction labour shortages caused by Brexit will prove “a major challenge” to his plans to build 2,000 homes a year.

Solving Bristol’s housing shortage was one of Rees’ main policy pledges when the Labour candidate (pictured) beat the incumbent mayor, former RIBA president George Ferguson, in last year’s election. Rees has vowed to hit the 2,000 a year target by 2020.

However, Rees told Building that he fears there will be fewer European Union construction workers, who have been a major source of labour for the industry over the past 15 years, available in the area.

A report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development this week showed that more than one in four employers across the economy have noted evidence that non-UK nationals from the EU were considering leaving their firm or the UK by the end of this year.

Rees’ comments come after Building’s survey of more than 2,000 readers, published last week, found that the sector wanted the government to protect it from the likely negative impact of a “hard Brexit”.

A high proportion put securing the maximum free movement of construction workers and protecting the import and export of construction products from tariffs as their two top priorities.

Building conducted the survey as part of its Building a Better Brexit campaign to highlight the specific needs of construction prior to the government’s negotiations to leave the EU.

Compounding Rees’ problem is that there is competition for skilled construction workers from nearby Hinkley Point off the Somerset coast, where the first in a planned new generation of nuclear reactors will be built for £18bn. Led by French utility EDF and supported by a one-third stake from Chinese investment, Hinkley Point C is expected to create 25,000 jobs through the course of its construction.

Bristol has undergone huge regeneration in recent years, with its dilapidated docklands area now a vibrant cultural and social scene.

Rees said: “[The lack of EU construction workers will] be a major challenge for us. We’ve had this construction boom in Bristol - unfortunately it hasn’t been on building houses. We’ve committed to getting 2,000 homes a year built by 2020, so we’ve got to get our capacity up.

“Now we’ve got Hinkley just down the road, part of that is about making sure that we’ve got the skills available to us. We’re going to be competing with Hinkley for that as well. It’s not ideal, let’s put it that way.”

Rees warned that the UK’s Brexit negotiators must be pragmatic in their talks with EU counterparts to make sure they get a deal the regions need.

He argued: “As we go into these negotiations and seek the British deal from our departure, we must make sure that the needs of the UK are taken fully into account and we don’t end up with hard-nosed [tactics].”

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