Who are Southern BCP?
Southern Building Control Partnership was set up in Spring 2017 when the three established local authority building control teams from Mole Valley, Reigate & Banstead and Tandridge Councils joined together to form an LABC shared service.
They work out of two council office hubs in Dorking and Oxted, Surrey.
Mark Simpson is our interviewee and he's Head of Building Control at Southern BCP.
Mark is pictured below with Business Manager Angela Hughes and the ISO 9001 certification the team earned in December 2018.
(All images in this article were of course taken pre-coronavirus.)
Why would you recommend living and working in your particular part of the world?
Being based in East Surrey with the North and South Downs on our doorstep you don’t have to travel far to find open countryside or a beach. Equally we are within very easy access of the M25 and the train into London takes less than an hour. So, whether you prefer a bit of local culture or the draw of our capital city you can have both - and Gatwick airport is less than half an hour away too when we can eventually safely fly off on holiday again.
Because we are situated in such a diverse geographic area it means that the range of projects we work on is vast. We work on residential extensions, listed buildings, barn conversions and oast houses as well as schools, large housing developments and mixed used schemes. We are currently involved in a housing association/Lidl town centre development which when complete is no doubt going to give the local Waitrose a run for its money.
The cost of living ‘down South’ is certainly higher, however salaries reflect this and whilst much of the geographic area we cover is considered affluent there are certainly decent, family-orientated places to live that are still affordable. And finally, don’t forget the South East is one of the sunniest places in the country which always helps!
Is there flexibility in the way you work that might interest prospective employees?
We began to agile work about 18 months ago and most of our team would spend at least some of their week working from home – until lockdown happened!
For our surveyors who live further away it has been a real bonus to be able to log in and WFH before heading off for their site visits and when one of us needs a day to concentrate on a piece of work or has a tricky plan check, the lack of interruption is great.
What three words do you think sum up the partnership?
Collaborative – we run weekly technical groups for our own surveyors and engineers and work collaboratively with our Partners and customers from concept to completion.
Customer-focused – the number of Partners we have gained through recommendations over the years confirms this and we have been awarded ISO9001.
Forward-thinking – continually reviewing our processes and procedures and using technology to improve the way we work.
Why would you recommend applying for a job at Southern BCP?
We are a great team of people who genuinely enjoy working together. We help each other out and enjoy each other’s success, whether it’s someone’s academic achievement or the fact that one of us has completed a 100-mile charity bike ride.
We are a forward-thinking Partnership and are continually looking at improving how we do things whether for example through our internal processes and procedures, often thanks to suggestions from one of the team – for example on how we approach builders about potential contraventions.
Now is an exciting time to join building control following the outcome of the Hackitt report and the draft Building Safety Bill which has just been published. The role of building control will be more important than ever in ensuring public safety and that standards of construction are improved. We will again be challenged to work in new ways with the HSE and Fire & Rescue Service on high risk buildings and demonstrate that we are adaptable, have the relevant experience and can work with and guide construction industry colleagues to get it right.
We also have the longer-term challenges of the outcome of the Local Plans currently being developed which will provide greater opportunities to work with our planning colleagues.
What are you finding challenging these days as a building control team?
Keeping in touch with other team members that you might normally see in the office but not necessarily work directly with. We have been using Microsoft Teams to hold weekly technical and team meetings to bridge the gap and have also learnt who has the most attention seeking pets!
Missing meeting up with our local agents and contactors at our regular lunchtime CPD events. They are a friendly bunch and we have built some great working relationships over the years and many a Partnership has developed because of a conversation at CPD.
Working in building control usually means you aren’t chained to your desk and the role is diverse however whilst in lockdown our surveyors hadn't been out and about meeting up with builders on site and we know they have missed this element of their role, even though they had been holding ‘virtual’ meetings on site.
The pandemic has meant that the construction industry has naturally changed like most others and this has had a knock-on effect for the agents that submit applications to us. We need to ensure we are proactive and attract new business and have a few ideas, including working harder on our social media presence and working better with our existing contacts.
Keeping up with changes in regulations and allied legislation due to the Hackitt report and engaging in the SE LABC AGM and keeping fully up to date with the implications of the changes facing Building Control.
Can you give us an example or two of some special projects you’ve worked on?
I was involved in the National Centre for Young People with Epilepsy (NCYPE) project in Lingfield, Surrey. The £6.9m state-of-the-art centre hosts vital diagnostic, assessment and rehabilitation services for children and young people with epilepsy across the UK and comprised a large extension and extensive refurbishment of the existing building creating an exceptional research building, which is highly regarded around the world. This was a complicated construction/design in that it required collaboration with the applicants, architects, structural engineers and fire authority as we applied a combination of Approved Document B2 and HTM Regulations.This development went on to win the SE LABC Building Excellence awards and its category at the Grand Finals.
We have been involved in forming relationships with agents for many years and have a large portfolio of Partner architects. One project in question which was outside our jurisdiction was a very large conversion project which created 85 flats. This involved extensive design requirements due to a travel distance of communal areas, internal flat arrangements, smoke ventilation and fire brigade access.
All made even more difficult when being within another borough and dealing with a different fire authority in trying to overcome serious means of escape issues. I’m glad to say this project was completed on budget and on time with the architects to this day using Southern BCP as their Partner authority plan checker.
What are the advantages of working for a Partnership?
As a larger organisation we offer more opportunities to learn and develop than if we had remained as three separate LABC teams. We run a comprehensive lunchtime CPD programme (when not in lockdown) which is well attended by our professional contacts and own surveyors/engineers. This helps us all learn about the latest innovation in the industry and gives us the perfect opportunity to talk to our agents and contractors face to face and strengthen those relationships.
We strongly believe in investing in training for our team and in the three years that we have been a Partnership we have seen our apprentice pass his LABC Level 5 Diploma, our business support team leader gain her level 3 Technical Support qualification, promoted our trainee to building control surveyor and supported him to become a member of CABE as well as six of our senior surveyors and head of building control gaining their Level 6 Fire Safety Specialist qualification.
With the experience and knowledge available in our team of 20, we can help each other and widen the learning of younger members of the team. There is rarely a technical question or customer query that one of us hasn’t come across before. As a large team we also have a diverse range of Partners and this gives us chance to work on some great projects that would not necessarily be built in our area.
I'm pleased to say that we continue to actively develop BC careers and as I write we have just taken on an apprentice and someone else on a one year work placement.
With a larger budget, the opportunity to work with the latest technology has been both a blessing and a curse at times! Understandably, not everyone found it easy to adapt and we fully admit that at the beginning of the Partnership we sometimes struggled with new ways of working; checking plans on screen, working on iPads and laptops and our ‘cloud-based’ phone system.
However, working in the ‘cloud’ came into its own when Covid-19 hit us back in March. Almost overnight we were able to shift to WFH and still offer our full range of services, except for actual site visits. (Which we overcame with the use of mobile tech again – offering ‘virtual’ site visits until it was safe to return to on-site inspections.)
Why would you recommend building control as a career?
One day is never the same. You can be in the office discussing a plan check with a colleague in the morning, out on site in the sunshine (or rain) helping a builder overcome a problem with thermal bridging an hour later before heading back to the office for one of our lunchtime CPD events with our local agents and contractors. We’re sure it’s not just the free buffet that makes them turn up every time!
We are public servants and I would say we all have an overwhelming sense of wanting to protect the public and ensure that building works that come under our jurisdiction are the best that they can be from a safety and compliance perspective. We also wholeheartedly support the LABC Building Excellence awards and our shared sense of pride when a project has gone really well means some of our surveyors are very enthusiastic about putting forward their best projects. As a result we have had a fair number of wins over the last few years.
If you want to strike a good balance between a rewarding career and a home life, then a building control career allows you to have this. We work hard to do our job but don’t work anti-social hours (unless you are on the dangerous structure call out rota) and local authorities offer generous holiday allowances and pension schemes.