The professionals and permissions needed for your building project

A building project although usually a standardised process, will need to follow a number of regulatory processes and requires the involvement of a number of consultants.

It is important to understand the professional services and advice required to bring your idea to fruition. As building projects involve the co-ordination and integration of a great deal of complex information, you’ll need to get the right team on board.

Professional design team for small projects

We’ve already touched on the reasons why you should think about hiring an architect for at least the early stages of your building project in the Practice of Architecture in the UK post. In addition to conceiving the vision of your building project, the architect takes on the role of ‘lead consultant,’ becoming responsible for coordinating the works of all the other design team members into one cohesive package of information. Generally, you as the client will directly appoint each of the individual consultants, however your architect will let you know what other disciplines are required, and make introductions to those with whom they have good prior experience.


For domestic renovations and extensions the main design consultants required are:


Building Surveyor

The essential starting point for any design work is to have the existing conditions of your home fully documented. From accurate sizing of each room, to fully understanding the boundary with your neighbours, the more up front information for the designers, the more comprehensive the design will be.

Structural Engineer

From advising on what is possible through assessing the durability of your existing structure, to proposing suitable construction methods that will achieve the design you want, structural engineers are an essential consultant in any building project.

Approved Inspector

Engaging an approved inspector will massively reduce risk of running into problems with the building regulations, and will help you push the boundaries to get the best design possible for your project. See below for more information on UK Building Regulations and the process to gain approval.

Party Wall Surveyor

By definition, all terraced homes have party will with neighbours, so getting party wall agreements has become an essential part of the building process. Other than the rare occasion when your neighbour will not want any say on how the wall that they jointly own is treated, you will need a party wall surveyor to get the legal agreements in place.

Principal Designer for CDM

Since 2015, domestic clients need to appoint a consultant to discharge the Construction (Design and Management) Health and Safety considerations for the project for the design and the construction stages. This can be taken on in some cases by the builder appointed to the construct the project, or to a specialist CDM consultant.

Other consultants that may be needed:

No two projects are identical, from differences in the brief of the project, to the condition of your property. Depending on what is involved, other consultants may be considered, such as:

Planning Consultant

With the planning system becoming ever more complex, if your proposal goes beyond what is accepted under Permitted Development, it is often a good idea to hire a planning consultant who will help you put forward the best case possible to get consent for the design you want.

Mechanical, Electrical and Public Health (MEP) Engineer

Should you be interested in integrating more advanced building services, such as renewable technologies or even wireless control systems for security, heating or lighting etc, this may be beyond the capabilities of what your architect can advise on, and therefore you could consider employing a specialist engineer in these disciplines.

Cost Consultant

Establishing a well considered budget at the outset of a project, and keeping control of the costs as the design develops is one of the key challenges in any building project. Engaging a cost consultant is the most sure way to manage this process, and depending on the level of appointment, can become a very integral member of the design team.

Lighting / Audio Visual Consultant

With recent technological developments, advanced lighting and audio visual control is becoming more and more commonplace on home refurbishments. A specialist consultant in this field can best advise what is suitable for your needs.

Landscape Architect

Good architecture is site specific and considers the relationship between inside your home and the outside. Whilst architects can design outdoor spaces, and specialist landscape architect can take this design to the next level, including advice on what plant species are most suitable.

Interior Designer

Whilst architects have a design overview of the entire project, including both what you can and can't see, the design expertise generally doesn't extend to all element of interior design, such as loose furniture and decorations. Collaboration with an interior designer can take transformation of your home to the next level.

How to Hire

Nearly all disputes that arise between clients and design team members arise out of poor communication. It’s important to avoid the common mistake of not establishing the relationship properly from the outset, by adhering to the following simple guidelines:

  • Define scope of services accurately so that both client and consultant know what goals are to be realised

  • Provide an adequate number of reviews during the design process to ensure that all concerned are kept informed

  • Document decisions made through the project history to alleviate possible misunderstandings later in the course of the project


Permissions you will need to secure

Some of the consultants mentioned above can help you secure the number of relevant permissions that may be required depending on the nature of your building project. We’ve given an overview of the planning application process in the UK in an earlier post, you can view it here.

Building Regulations

Most building projects will require at least some elements of the project to gain approval under Building Control. Unlike planning permission, the building regulations have an objective set of rules which your project must follow.

If done correctly, at the end of the building project you will be issued with a certificate stating that the completed building project fully complies with the building regulations. Without this, you could be fined up to £5000, forced to re-do work, and would have trouble selling the property.

There are two ways to go about getting your project approved prior to starting on site:


Full plans approval:

When your proposed design has been fully developed into a set of construction documents, you can make an application to your local council for confirmation on whether the design complies with the building regulations or not. The council will respond within five weeks with either an approval, a conditional approval, or a refusal.

The information required for this application, typically includes:

  • Two sets of scaled plans, sections and elevations

  • Site plan

  • Block plan

  • Details specification document for the proposed work

  • Details of the proposed drainage to the project

  • Fee

Building Notice

When the proposed design is very simple in nature, and you have a high degree of certainly as to the compliance with building regulations, you can issue your local council with a simple statement at least 48 hours before your intention to start building work

The statement should include:

  • Your full address

  • A written description of the proposed works no longer than half an A4 page

  • It is risky to pursue this route on any projects other than those very simple in nature, as you have no assurance the proposals are compliant.


Inspections

Once your building project starts on site, the building control inspector undertakes a series of inspections to assess the project as the works progress. Work can  only continue if the inspector approved the works completed to date.

The key inspections, and the amount of notice required are:

  • Commencement - 2 days

  • Excavation of foundations - 1 day

  • Foundations laid - 1 day

  • Oversite preparation - 1 day

  • Damp proof course - 1 day

  • Drains testing - 1 day

  • Occupation prior to completion - within 5 days of occupation

  • Completion - within 5 days of completion

Building Control Inspector

The services described above can either be carried out by the Local Authority Building Control, or by a Private Sector Building Control service, commonly referred to as an Approved Inspector. 


Should you decide upon the latter, you as the client and the Approved Inspector must jointly notify the local authority of the intended building project by submitting an ‘initial notice’. This relinquishes the local authority of any responsibility for ensuring the project complies with building regulations.

In addition to providing up front advice about the building regulations which is tailored to the specifics of your project, the real benefit of appointing an Approved Inspector is that they will become a part of the design team, reviewing and providing critical feedback on the design proposals as it progresses.

Party Wall Awards

A Party Wall is the wall that sits between, and is shared by two separate houses. By definition it is a feature of every terraced home.

The Party Wall Act, which was established in 1996 to protect neighbours during building projects, and to provide a way of resolving any disputes that may arise related to the shared party wall. The types of wo