Choosing a planning or building professional

Architects, surveyors, builders and engineers

As an independent regulatory authority, we are unable to recommend architects, surveyors, engineers, builders or other tradesmen. However, if you are planning to have any building work carried out  we would recommend that you give careful consideration to your choice of who you employ as part of the building process. 

Types of construction professional

There are many different types of construction professional, who at first glance appear to offer the same end product, however strictly speaking a surveyor is not an architect and an architect is not an engineer but in many instances their roles may appear to overlap.

Understanding the difference between each specialism is an important first step in any building project as it will help you to be certain that you are employing the right professional(s) for your project.

Architects and Chartered Architectural Technologists
 
These professionals, traditionally, are appointed to oversee and manage the entire building project - from initial designs, submission of plans, right the way through to final completion on the ground. 
 
Typically an Architect approaches a project from the point of view of the aesthetic appearance of the project and how it fits in with the surrounding built and natural environment. Of course the architect has to consider much more than just the building's appearance, they will seek to combine the best materials, systems and working practices into their final design with the aim of providing the highest standard of building to their client.
 
For an individual to use the title "architect" he or she must be registered with the The Architects Registration Board (ARB). The Architects Registration Board is the body set up by Parliament as the independent UK regulator of architects.

Alternatively, you could appoint a Chartered Architectural Technologist who can also lead your project from inception to completion, please visit the Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists website to find a local qualified professional.

On some projects your professional or agent  may advise the need for you to appoint additional professionals such as different types of surveyors, or engineers who will each contribute their particular skills to the challenges faced.

Surveyors

There are various different types of surveyor - Building Surveyor, Quantity Surveyor, Land Surveyor etc. In essence the role of a surveyor is to measure, quantify and calculate distances, objects etc. The purpose for making these calculations may be to assess project costs or to set out in detail a site for valuation or a proposed building project, further to this they may also assess the project at different stages to ensure that the design and regulations are being met.
 
Whilst strictly speaking a surveyor does not specialise in designing buildings, over many years of practice they will have gained the skills and knowledge necessary to be able to construct small scale structures such as an extension to an existing structure, outbuildings etc. 
 
The point of view of a surveyor is likely to be more about the practicality of the structure rather than its appearance, whilst this is not so say that a design produced by a surveyor will be unattractive it is may not have the design flair of a similar design by an architect.

Surveyors must be members of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

Building Engineers
Today the term engineer is a very wide one and can cover a huge variety of disciplines, a building engineer is typically a professional who specialises in the design of a particular type of structure or system. 

For example a Building Engineer may be consulted to design a specific component of a project such as a roof structure or its foundations. The Building Engineer's role includes both technical and management processes by which the building or component is designed, constructed, renewed and maintained. It is likely that the services of a Building Engineer would be employed by an architect to tackle a specific challenge in a project, the resulting designs would then be incorporated into the final scheme.
 
A Building Services Engineer may be tasked with designing the building's ventilation, energy systems or service infrastructure (amongst other things). Again the specific requirements of the different systems involved may influence the overall design of the structure, this is something that the architect would have to manage.

Builders and other tradesmen

Once you have settled on the final designs of your project the task of making the design a reality will fall to a builder and/or other types of tradesmen.

Your choice of builder will be very important as ultimately they will be delivering the final project. If you are employing an architect or surveyor to oversee your project they will be able to advise you on your choices. It is likely that they will invite local builders to tender for the work and draw up a suitable contract.

The Government has set up the TrustMark scheme to help provide guaranteed standards and protection to customers. If a firm is TrustMark registered, it is working to a code of practice set down by an approved Scheme Operator and standards that give you greater confidence and protection. A list of TrustMark scheme operators can be found here.

Things to check

Employing the right construction professional to prepare plans and possibly manage or supervise your proposed building works can contribute significantly to the successful completion of your project. To help choose the best person for your scheme we recommend you consider the following:

  • Are they a member of a recognised professional institution?
  • Are they part of a local practice?
  • What type of projects have they worked on before?
  • Can they provide references and examples of their work?

When you first contact your chosen professional, ask them to provide references from previous clients and examples of work they have completed. Planning Services cannot provide recommendations, however you could search through our online planning applications for examples of previous applications they have submitted (use advanced search and select the agent you are interested in).

Further advice

  • Can you find a professional person through recommendations from friends or neighbours?
  • When selecting an architect/surveyor be sure to get a quote from more than one organisation. Choose the one that feels best for you - but remember the cheapest quote does not mean that they will be the right person for the job. 
  • Ensure the extent of the professional’s responsibility is discussed and agreed in writing before any commitments are made. For example do you only want them to prepare plans or is site supervision included?
  • Check what permissions will be required. 
  • If you consider your job so small that you don’t require a professional, then get advice from someone from within the construction industry you know and trust.

Your first meeting

Your professional will want to talk to you about your building project to understand what you want to achieve. Clear understanding at this early stage may prevent problems arising later. You should also talk to your chosen agent about:

  • their fee
  • frequency of progress updates
  • informing you of anything which might affect the quality/cost of your project
  • what information they need from you before they start work – for example, you may need to check deeds, find out who owns a wall, and so on.

When you reach agreement about the scope of the work, your agent must record this in writing. At the very least, the contract should state:

  • what work the architect will do
  • the fee, or how it will be calculated
  • who is responsible for what
  • what professional indemnity insurance is in place
  • any terms for settling disputes.

If you are employing an accredited professional, they should always make you aware of the routes to take should you wish to complain about the level of service you have been provided.