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‘Seriously incompetent’ architect escapes ARB rap

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A Manchester-based architect has avoided punishment despite being found guilty by the ARB of serious professional incompetence over ’inadequate and misleading’ plans for a house extension

Paula Butterfield of Butterfield Architecture was spared from sanctions by the ARB’s professional conduct committee (PCC) because of the low risk of repetition and her ’unblemished’ 20 years of practice.

Butterfield had been instructed to produce drawings and submit a planning application for a rear extension to a semi-detached house.

The architect was accused of both failing to carry out an accurate survey and for drawing up plans that were inadequate and misleading.

The extension shown on the drawings - submitted for planning as a 3m addition - was flush to a similar extension on the back of the neighbouring property. However once construction began it became apparent there was a significant difference between the two buildings, with the scheme shorter than the neighbours’ 4.42m-long addition.

Furthermore, while the drawings showed the patio doors at ground level, in reality the ground level was significantly below the doors.

Butterfield attended the hearing and admitted some of the facts, but denied the allegations amounted to unacceptable professional conduct or serious professional incompetence.

The PCC found that her mistakes demonstrated incompetence, though in themselves not so serious to amount to serious professional incompetence.

However these errors were compounded by Butterfield’s failure to explain the consequences of her drawings, having known (or ought to have known) her clients’ expectations for their extension. This, said the ARB committee, was ‘a sufficiently serious a failing so as to amount to serious professional incompetence’.

Considering the appropriate sanction, the PCC noted Butterfield’s record and held that it did ’not consider that there was a risk of repetition’. The board decided that no disciplinary sanction was necessary.

A copy of the committee’s decision on Butterfield can be found here.

At a separate hearing earlier this month architect Ross McKay of Maybole, Ayrshire was found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct and issued with a £2,000 penalty order.

In 2008 the architect took over a project to convert a property following the death of the original architect.

McKay was asked to bring the cost of the scheme within budget by reducing its scale and by modifying the existing plans.

The client subsequently received invoices for additional work undertaken by McKay, which had allegedly been carried out without her knowledge or agreement.

It was also alleged that McKay failed to produce a design that could be achieved within his client’s budget.

The ARB rejected allegations that McKay had failed to adequately inform his client that there was no fixed-fee agreement in place, and also dismissed claims that he had failed to produce a design that could realistically meet his client’s budget.

But the board held that the architect had failed to adequately inform his client that additional fees were being incurred on an hourly rate and accumulating during the production of the revised sketch proposals.

The committee found that McKay had claimed a fee of £2,970 for 66 hours of work without telling his client that additional fees were being incurred. This was a serious failure which amounted to unacceptable professional conduct.

In considering sanction, the PCC had regard to the Mr McKay’s previously unblemished 40-year career.

However, the PCC also noted his limited insight into his failings to the extent that he had not made any apology or expressed remorse for his actions.

It further noted that McKay had sought to make financial gain at the expense of his client, and felt that the risk of repetition of his failings was moderate.

In the circumstances the PCC considered a £2,000 penalty order to be the appropriate and proportionate sanction.

A copy of the committee’s decision can be found here

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