Industry figures gathered in Leatherhead, Surrey, on Monday for the funeral of James Nisbet, the “revolutionary” quantity surveyor who invented cost planning

The 89 year-old, who founded James Nisbet & Partners in 1964 and is a member of Building’s Hall of Fame, died at Epsom hospital on 13 May. He is understood to have suffered a fall some weeks earlier.

Senior consultants paid tribute to the “towering figure” of the trade, who is best known for inventing the elemental cost plan in the fifties while tasked with cutting school building costs by 50% at Hertfordshire council.

Phil Jones, senior partner at Ridge, said: “Nisbet was a leading light in the industry, and certainly an influence on me. His idea was revolutionary.”

In 1951, Nisbet published an anonymous document setting out his idea to calculate the cost of each element of a building before the architect started work, causing outrage among his peers who – in Nisbet’s own words – “thought it would give them more work for the same money”. But the idea soon caught on and, in time, became standard practice.

Nisbet was a formidable man. He made me and many others realise the importance of clarity in everything we undertook

Martin Hadnutt, Cyril Sweett

Clive Sayer, chief executive of Baqus, said: “You can imagine it went down like a lead balloon but it took QSing to new levels. He was a towering figure.”

Simon Johnson, managing partner, at Davis Langdon, added: “Although his practice was not huge, he was a big figure. Any graduate QS had heard of James Nisbet. When I qualified he was about the best-known QS around.”

Nisbet’s 78-strong firm was bought by fellow consultant Cyril Sweett for £5.9m in March 2008.

‘His desire to contribute never dimmed’

Being introduced to the legend that was James Nisbet as a year-out student in 1977 was, to say the least, daunting, writes Martin Hadnutt. Mr Nisbet (as he was known to all but his partners) was then 57 and a formidable man, both in presence and intellect. After a serious grilling, I mentioned this to colleagues, only to be told, “You’re lucky; Mr Nisbet has mellowed considerably in the past five years”. He made me and many others realise the importance of clarity in everything we undertook.

Jim Nisbet loved the construction industry and his place in it as a quantity surveyor. He was passionate about his greatest contribution to the sector, cost planning. His favourite question to new recruits was to explain the difference between a cost plan and an estimate. Should you not know the answer (and nobody could recall anyone who did to Jim’s satisfaction), you never forgot again.

Quite remarkably, he was still travelling to Nisbet’s office in London until March last year. His desire to contribute never dimmed. Not everyone agreed with Jim’s approach at times, but I suspect that simply spurred him on.

Martin Hadnutt is Cyril Sweett’s operations director for London and the South-east and former chairman of Nisbet.