Arb issues £1,500 penalty order after unacceptable professional conduct verdict

A Gloucester-based architect has been found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct and fined £1,500 following a wrangle over the design and construction of a low-energy, low-maintenance timber-framed house.

The Architects Registration Board

Members of the Architects Registration Board’s professional conduct committee heard the property – for which Gordon Simpson was project architect and contractor – was under threat of demolition because its height exceeded that of approved plans.

They also heard that Simpson, of Art Hand Architecture, had not dealt with his clients’ complaints properly and had failed to manage his dual role as architect and director of project contractor Dwell Green Ltd in an acceptable way.

While Simpson did not design the approved plans for the three-bedroom bungalow, he did design a revised version of the proposal after Dwell Green was appointed to the job by the clients under a £201,000 design-and-build contract in 2016.

The PCC record of the case said the built structure was taller than the scheme consented in 2015 because the original proposal required a site-wide dig to lower the base level for construction.

Simpson altered the pitch of the roof of the structure and sought to amend the 2015 consent, but local planning authority Stroud council refused the changes.

Nevertheless, work continued on the project and an enforcement notice was ultimately issued. A planning inspector upheld the notice in August this year.

A section of the decision quoted by the committee said the overall effect of the building on-site was that it looked “more like a two-storey house than a chalet bungalow” and that the “combination of building height and bulk has an unacceptably dominating effect on the outlook”.

The PCC said it was not disputed that construction of the project had not been carried out in accordance with the planning permission. It also found that Simpson had failed to respond to solicitors’ letters sent on behalf of his clients, which constituted a breach of standards within the Architects’ Code.

On Simpson’s failure to properly manage his dual role as architect and contractor, the PCC accepted that the architect had not acted without integrity. However it said that he should have disclosed the potential conflict of interest in his acting as both architect and contractor to his client in writing.

Simpson had argued that his client had appointed Dwell Green as contractor and that a letter to them had made it clear that, “Art Hand Architecture is my architectural design practice … and Dwell Green is our joint development company”.

The PCC acknowledged that there was no rule against architects also acting as contractors, but said their ability to give impartial advice in such circumstances had to be made clear.

It noted that after Stroud council rejected resolving the planning issues surrounding the project via a minor amendment, it had been open to Simpson, as the architect, to advise Dwell and the client that work should be stopped pending resolution of the situation.

“The complainant could then have made an informed decision as to how to proceed in the full knowledge of the risks involved, which included, potentially, demolition of the property if an enforcement notice were served,” it said.

“However, work continued on the build without any meaningful steps being taken by the respondent to resolve these issues. It is a moot point, but possible, that his decision not to stop building was in part, influenced by the fact that he was a director of Dwell.”

Simpson was found not guilty of unacceptable professional conduct in relation to a fourth allegation, that he failed to pay sub-contractors for work on the project.

The PCC said the architect’s good disciplinary history, engagement with the disciplinary process and regret for his failings had been taken into account in determining a £1,500 penalty order as the appropriate sanction. 

The PCC heard that he was “mortified” by what he said was an isolated incident in an otherwise unblemished career of nearly 20 years.