Get Ahead

Walters Architects appreciate people will have other priorities at the moment but if land and building owners are planning a project, now is a great time to organize the Feasibility and Planning stage of their proposals.

The Feasibility stage of building projects is often overlooked (particularly in smaller schemes) but it is without doubt one of the most important and informative stages of any proposal.

Far too many people commit to projects without a full understanding of professional fees and construction costs and it causes problems later in the process. In order to have a better understanding of construction costs, an indicative ‘Sketch Scheme’ should be achieved and sent to a Quantity Surveyor (QS) for an approximate construction estimation at the earliest opportunity.

It will only be an approximate estimation at this stage as the scheme design has not yet been finalized. The final design may be (and often is) fully dependent on the budget.  Only if the scheme is within budget at this stage should the design be progressed into a Planning Application. After these works the client will have an understanding of the approximate construction costs and a fair idea of the professional fee . A rough guide to professional fees is usually between 10 – 15% of the total construction costs and this covers Architects, Structural Engineers, Mechanical & Electrical design, Energy Consultants, Surveyors etc…

It’s surprising how many clients underestimate the cost of a project and then claim the professional fees are too high, particularly in a fixed fee scenario. If architects, or other consultants, are quoting a fixed fee on estimated build cost of £5m and the client believes it to be only £3m then you can easily see where problems start. This situation also proves the value of a QS at this stage. It is at times like this when architects and other consultants are asked to reduce fees and/or reduce their services. This is fine, but there is usually a consequence and it’s usually at the construction phase.

Generally, developers see Planning Permission as the main obstacle before they can build and don’t get overly concerned with exact building costs until after this stage. They can also sometimes depend on the contractor’s tender prices rather than estimated build costs provided by professionals such as Quantity Surveyors. This is also a mistake. What position developers find themselves in when Planning and Building Control approval is obtained and the client is looking for savings at the Tender stage? This can lead to contractors being asked to cut corners because their clients don’t want to pay for amended Planning Application and are simply running out of time. This situation can, and often does, lead to a poor-quality building.

It’s also a difficult position for the Contractor as they have been asked to provide the most competitive price on a Tender (to win the work), based on information provided and then they are asked to make further savings (through amending the design or otherwise) after they have won the project.

Planning permission takes approximately 12 – 16 weeks depending on the complexity, size of the scheme and the Local Authority involved. Since their partial lock down (most planners are trying to work from home) the subsequent delays will most certainly mean the process will take longer.

Nowadays, there are so many other consultants involved in the planning process that it is worth involving them in the first instance to negotiate, discuss, design and estimate cost before anything formal is submitted. Obviously, the more professionals involved the more time it will take to coordinate information.

Developers and clients should use this ‘down time’ to talk to Architects, Clients Agents and Project Managers to get ahead of the Feasibility stage of projects so that a robust and detailed Planning application can be submitted in time for the start up. Clients should also consider that there will inevitably be a back log of applications. These delays are going to have an impact on Construction start dates and the drafting of contracts and agreements in the months to come.

Some Local Authorities will be tempted to approve schemes with a lot of Planning Conditions attached and we have already seen examples of this in recent weeks. These planning conditions often need to be lifted before works starts on site so this process could be considered a two-phase planning process.

Whilst it means Planning is approved in principle, and the developer can proceed at less risk, it will take longer before sites can start the construction phase.  Lifting conditions can take a further 8 weeks or more.

Our message is simple really, lock down will end and the Feasibility and Planning stages take so much organizing, why not us the time wisely and start the process now?

Call Walters Architects today, our phones are on divert, and have a quick chat about how best to proceed during these uncertain times. We are always glad to help.

Post a Comment