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'We're ARB scapegoat, ' claims title abuse firm

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The ARB has been accused of preying on easy targets by a firm of building designers found guilty of unlawfully trading as council-approved architects.

Building Design Associates (BDA), based in Rochford, Essex, was last month fined £3,000 on two counts of title abuse and ordered to pay the ARB more than £1,000 in legal costs by South East Essex Magistrates.

The fine - which the practice has attacked - is one of the stiffest penalties imposed and follows a recent investigation by the registration body.

The case was referred to the ARB by the South East Chapter of the RIBA.

BDA was discovered to be advertising in local newspapers as council-approved architects, despite currently employing no architects. The firm had employed Alan Peel, who was an architect until he retired and resigned from the ARB in 1997.

Despite pleading guilty, BDA director Jeff Sharp maintains he is the victim of rough justice by the ARB and its lawyers, Wright Son & Pepper.

'The ARB clearly saw us as an easy target and a scapegoat because we have been so honest.

We have not attempted to hide anything and feel we have mistreated. If you get the maximum fine for cooperation, I hate to think what the ARB might do if you stick two fingers up at them, ' argued Sharp.

'Wright Son & Pepper told us the maximum fine could be £3,000, but assured us that it would not be that big. Therefore we did not employ a solicitor because we thought the issue could be resolved in writing. We did not do this on purpose and we are amazed at the size of the fine, ' he added.

Sharp claims BDA was unaware that Peel's membership of the ARB had ceased. The firm has now employed Greg Nicholls as an architect and re-registered with the ARB.

ARB regulation executive Alan Peacock said he was surprised at BDA's accusations, saying he 'doubts' lawyers entered into discussions about the probable size of the fine.

'BDA broke the law, pleaded guilty and the magistrate imposed the fine. The ARB has no control over the level of fines. I very much doubt our lawyers would say what BDA claims, but I can't be sure, ' said Peacock.

'After the recent low level of fines imposed for title abuse, this result is a far more accurate reflection of the seriousness of the crime.

'It sends a clear message to those unlawfully using the title architect that they run the risk of finding themselves in a similar position to BDA, ' he added.

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