This is the story of a common-or-garden domestic extension that took years to complete and resulted in a savage battle between the architect and the client that ended up in the High Court
It’s all very well to mutter on in this page about mega-money disputes, but what happens to the tiddlers? Well you can keep them, that’s what I say. Those jobs can, and do, turn out to be a massive pain in the neck. This story is all about a £25k back kitchen and loo extension. And tears. Seven years of tears. And I tell you that if I were a builder or architect, I wouldn’t touch these jobs with your bargepole, never mind mine.
Get the picture: it’s a terraced house in the year 2000. The customers have the wit to get themselves an architect, meaning a person qualified in law to use that title. The fee is £4,000. A neat glass roof design is conjured up. Getting a builder is tricky. Prices seem high. Eventually one is found. The glass roof, though, requires a specialist firm. The builder signs up to the JCT minor works document. The specialist agrees a contract on its own terms. So, now there are two contracts and the professional services contract. The customer wisely moves out. Not to worry … it’ll be over by Christmas. That’s what they said about the First World War.
The builder puts up a temporary roof to get the customer back in. It was defective, it leaked and the leak damaged the plastering. Christmas was celebrated without a window in the kitchen. And when the glass specialist eventually got to work the falls were wrong. By January 2001, the customer had lost faith and blamed the architect. By October (oh dear) there was an ousting of contractors and architect.
Come all the way forward to last month. The High Court judge said: “The main trouble seems to have resulted from a lack of co-ordination between the contractors … The failure to incorporate the slope was in the end critical, but the error was not spotted until it came to installing the roof.”
Also the specialist glass people couldn’t start because once the builder was ready, the specialist was busy elsewhere. Now look here: that type of story, those turn of events, those facts are, ever so ordinary. Things do not go to plan on sites from Basingstoke to Bangkok. Mistakes are the norm.
The customer wisely moves out. Not to worry, it will be all over by Christmas. That’s what they said about the First World War
Mr & Mrs Customer got their new kitchen and loo eventually, and it came within budget. Most folk would thereupon get on with life. Not these folk. They complained to the Architect’s Registration Board. That organisation is a statutory body set up among other things to prosecute architects for incompetence. It has an enormous responsibility; an adverse finding can destroy a career. And to have a prosecution hanging over you year in, year out is soul destroying.
It took a five-day trial in spring 2005 for the Professional Conduct Committee (lawyer, lay-person and architect) to find the architect guilty of professional incompetence by agreeing separate contracts for the two contractors because “many of the problems do stem from the division of responsibilities between the contractors”. It was also guilty of “maladministering” the contracts.
I confess that I’m uncomfortable with this. On the one hand a round of applause for doing something about standards but going as far as prosecutions, charge sheets, lawyers, a trial! This architect is being made an example of.
The architect brought that decision to the High Court. The judge rejected the verdict relating to the two contracts. But he thought the architect should have advised what terms ought to have been accepted from the specialist rather than using its standard terms. As for the duty of “ensuring the contract ran smoothly”, the judge decided he would not interfere with the first tribunal. This is unfortunate, especially since the “appeal” is a re-hearing on facts and law.
The main cause of the problems was lack of co-ordination between the contractors. But the “blame” was placed on the architect, even though it visited the project 23 times. Even the prosecution barrister accepted that this case was on the border.
I sense the case does more harm than good. It would have been better to have had a word in the architect’s ear instead. As for the public disciplinary proceedings, Big Brother comes to mind … a way to make everyone cringe about everyone.
Read Tony Bingham’s blog at www.building.co.uk/blogs