November 2018 Issue
Like pretty much everyone I know I’m both pre-occupied with and trying to avoid thinking about, Brexit.
Sounds much like the UK government position yes?
So it’s that article this month – the Brexit one I’ve been trying to avoid since starting this column – and I expect there’s probably more than one to come on this subject too – for both the months before and after we leave the EU next year.
So what could happen?
By the time you’re reading this in mid-November we’re supposed to have have a much clearer picture what the future will look like – so how has that worked out? It could be a very high definition image – but perhaps it’s a hi-res image of something super blurry, sea mist perhaps? Or smoke?
I’m tempted to channel Donald Rumsfeld here – ‘known unknowns’ and all that - except unlike Rumsfeld it’s the ‘known knowns’ that bother me – all of which seem pretty bad – and in many cases have already happened – these include:
Being priced out of the land market by foreign money that is worth more against a devalued pound.
Being unable to afford to buy all those clever bits of engineering and glazing from Europe as it’s all become more expensive thanks to our devalued pound.
Being unable to afford staff from a shrinking labour pool as our immigration drawbridge is drawn up.
And that’s just housing.
At least the’ unknown unknowns’ retain the potential to be good:
Will there finally be some activity in the development market as people stop sitting on their hands?
Will there be some counter-intuitively astonishing global UK trade deals that somehow boost the housebuilding and construction industry?
Will there be a surge in building actual castles as individuals want to physically draw up what has only been a metaphorical drawbridge to date?
While so many of us are trying to work out what’s going I’m reminded that John Lennon famously sang:
‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans’
…he also sang:
‘I am the walrus
Goo goo g’joob, goo goo goo g’joob’
so perhaps shouldn’t be taken too seriously, however I can’t help thinking that he had a point.
Which is that there are simply larger forces at play, and bigger things to be worrying about, than Brexit.
Come the first working day after Brexit, (rather hilariously that’s April Fool’s Day), I suspect very little will change. We already know that we’ll remain in a ‘Transition Period’ for a further 2 years (and increasingly that looks as though it’ll be extended further) - so it seems obvious that our departure will be heralded in, not to the sound of the Beatles (…’All you need is Love’ anybody?) but to the sound of The Eagles’ final verses from ‘Hotel California’:
‘You can check out any time you like,
But you can never leave!’
So what are the larger forces at play I’m thinking of?
How about Climate Change, Population Growth and Battery Technology for starters?
Imagine what it must be like to be a housebuilder in the Maldives for example? Within this century it’s entirely plausible that the Maldives will simply cease to exist as they sink beneath the waves along with the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu and various other Pacific Island Nations. These are WHOLE COUNTRIES. That’s not a comment on whether Climate Change is man-made or not – who cares? – it’s still happening.
On the plus side for housebuilders Population Growth is probably a good thing – even it’s not great news for our green and pleasant land - but improved Battery Technology seems like a win win for everyone. For example I’m currently participating in a trial by UK company Powervault who are installing a ‘domestic battery’ in my house as part of a research project with Oxford University and the Eden Centre. The principle is much the same as Tesla’s Powerwall – though in this case the product is homegrown British (very Brexity…) and deliciously ‘Circular Economy’ – being made up of ‘end-of-life’ batteries from the Nissan Leaf (confusingly Brexity – foreign and British all at once - like the Sunderland car plant) and Renault Zoe (not very Brexity at all – boo the French etc…).
While the batteries may be exhausted for use in vehicles, which have a very rapid charge/discharge cycle, they can still be used in the less demanding context of a house. The idea is that the Photovoltaics on my roof charge these batteries during the day and then I get to use the power at night when I need it. They can also charge up at night during low demand ‘cheap’ periods in the small hours and that’s good too as it all goes towards reducing my electricity bill.
The more important bit is done by Oxford University however, who are developing algorithms which will monitor and control the flow of power in and out my battery, alongside all the other members of the trial. That’s exciting because if the same concept were rolled out nationally it has the potential to massively smooth out UK energy demand which would dramatically reduce our need for both existing and new power stations.
Just think of all the brownfield land that would free up eh?