To get the best results, is it time to invest in the right consultants?

The senior team at Superstructures: Craig Carr, Darren Noller, Mark Hayward and James Potter Picture

The senior team at Superstructures: Craig Carr, Darren Noller, Mark Hayward and James Potter Picture: Friel - Credit: Friel

Sue Wilcock speaks to Superstructures MD James Potter about how having the right consultancy team in place at the start of a project can reap rewards in the long run.

Most building projects are financed through borrowing money and the larger the development, the greater the risk. It doesn’t matter whether it is a house extension or building a new retail centre, the construction process takes a similar approach.

For the client, in the most simplistic of terms, it’s about investing money in a scheme, with an expectation that there will be a return on that investment once the project is completed and the costs to get it designed and built have been taken out. If you get it right, the rewards can be great, but if you get it wrong, it can turn your profit into a loss overnight.

Local structural engineering business Superstructures prides itself on its strong design background. It’s passionate about providing a detailed, comprehensive package of information for every project, which streamlines the construction process, adds economy, and reduces risk.

However, at times, it can be a struggle to gain acceptance of the added value that a good consultant can bring to the success of a scheme.

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As MD of Superstructures, James Potter, explained: “The structural engineer plays a vital role in any development, but, frustratingly, we’re often seen as simply the person that ‘provides the calcs’, or ‘signs off the project,’ so the box ticking exercise is completed. A good structural engineer will add substantial value by designing in economy and simplifying the build at the same time as fulfilling the primary objective of ensuring the structural solution is sound.

“The approach to our fees shouldn’t be that it is a perfunctory charge that needs to be paid, for as little as can be got away with. It should be viewed as an investment that can save the client thousands of pounds – or considerably more on larger projects.

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“The best results come when the consultant team works together to produce a fully coordinated design. As well as accelerating the construction process, they can reduce the financial risk by ensuring problems are identified at an earlier stage.

“Typically, putting a good consultancy team in place can add an extra five percent to the overall project cost. However, the swing between profits lost or wasted with a bad design team, versus profits gained with a good design team, should make this extra investment a no-brainer.

“Something we see time and time again on small and medium-sized projects is the lack of investment in the design of building foundations. It’s still very common for clients to hope for the best on this element of the build; cutting costs on relatively inexpensive investigations and design, and keeping their fingers crossed that everything will be agreed on-site when building works have started.

“Substantial sums of money can be spent when ground conditions are not as expected – usually they are presumed to be almost perfect! These increased costs can be down to project delays, waiting time for building teams, emergency re-design fees and increased costs for a more complex foundation design that has not been included in the builder’s original sum. There are also complex issues to be considered such as the influence of trees and the destabilisation of existing structures, even on the smallest of projects. All of these elements can have a huge impact on the financial success of the scheme.

“The problem with a bad design team isn’t just that it impacts the material building costs. If you are building a commercial or a retail outlet for instance, it can have massive implications to revenue through lost trade resulting from late completion.

“Designing and constructing buildings is very challenging, technically difficult, and every project is different.

“The key is to invest in a great consultant team. Good design takes time and is also a result of effective communication throughout the team as a whole. Therefore, it’s important everyone has a good relationship and works collaboratively to bring an innovative and bespoke approach to each specific project. This investment at the front end of the scheme should pay dividends during the construction phase and at project completion.

“Although he was referring to oil field fires, I think Red Adair’s famous quote, “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur” is just as relevant to arguing the case for making the investment in a good consultancy team.”

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