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Mrs Lynsey Claire Rollins

THE ARCHITECTS REGISTRATION BOARD

PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT COMMITTEE

In the matter of

Mrs Lynsey Claire Rollins (064942B)

Held on 25 and 26 September 2017

At

ARB
8 Weymouth Street
London
W1W 5BU

———-

Present

Ms Emma Boothroyd (Chair)
Ms Judy Carr (PCC Architect Member)
Ms Jules Griffiths (PCC Lay Member)

Mr Stephen Battersby (Clerk)

———–

In this case, the Board is represented by Mr Iain Miller.
Mrs Rollins has attended this hearing and is legally represented by Mr Jason Elliott.

The PCC found Mrs Rollins guilty of unacceptable professional conduct (“UPC”) in that she:

1. Failed to produce a design that was fit for purpose in that it resulted in one or more of the following;

a) a loft conversion that did not meet Building Regulations due to a lack of head height at the top of the stairs and the landing;

b) a double bedroom, the relevant width for which measured approximately 1100mm;

c) an en-suite bathroom with insufficient floor space and/or head height for a shower basin and toilet;

2. Failed to adequately communicate changes to the agreed design

and that by doing so, she acted in breach of Standards 2 and 6 of the Architects Code: Standards of Conduct and Practice 2010 (“the Code”).

The sanction imposed is a penalty order in the sum of £1000.

Allegations:

Mrs Rollins faces a charge of unacceptable professional conduct (“UPC”) based on two allegations in that she:

1. Failed to produce a design that was fit for purpose in that it resulted in one or more of the following;
a) a loft conversion that did not meet Building Regulations due to a lack of head height at the top of the stairs and landing;
b) a double bedroom, the area for which measured approximately 1100mm;
c) an en-suite bathroom with insufficient floor space and/or head height for a shower basin and toilet;
d) insufficient head height throughout the loft to house any standard size wardrobe; and

2. Failed to adequately communicate changes to the agreed design.

Background:

1. This case arises out of a complaint made by DB and JB (“the Complainants”) in respect of the professional services carried out by the Respondent who, at the material time, was trading under the name L Rollins Design.

2. The background to this case is that the Complainants state they instructed the Respondent in February 2015 to act as Architect in respect of the conversion of a loft into a double bedroom and en-suite bathroom for their daughter. Other extension works were commissioned at the same time but do not form the subject of this complaint.

3. In her appointment email, the Respondent set out her terms of appointment in that she agreed to undertake design of the works, including a planning application and a Building Control application. Planning permission was granted and in April 2016 building works began.

4. A few weeks into the conversion the contractor advised the Complainants that neither a double bedroom nor an en-suite bathroom could be achieved in the space. Work was paused and the Respondent was asked to assist in finding a solution.

5. In May 2016 the Building Control officer advised the Complainants that the conversion did not comply with Building Regulations as there was insufficient head height at the top of the stairs and the landing. The Respondent attended a site visit to review the situation and it was agreed that a further planning application for a front facing dormer could resolve the problems.

6. These plans were submitted in May 2016 and in July 2016 planning permission was refused. In August 2016 the Complainants instructed a structural engineer to review the project and suggest a solution. These solutions involved a change to the drawings and required a further planning application. The Respondent prepared the drawings and a further planning application was submitted in September 2016.

7. On 26 October 2016 the Complainants state that they were made aware by the Building Inspector that revised specifications and plans had been submitted by the Respondent as part of the Building Control application in October 2015. The Complainants say that these revisions meant that if built as drawn the Complainants would never have been able to achieve their original brief of a double bedroom. This is because the bulkhead of the staircase was extended into the useable space for the bed. They say that the Respondent never made them aware of these revisions or at any time explained to them that they would not be able to achieve their original brief.

8. The Complainants complained to the Respondent in October 2016. To date the build is incomplete and the Complainants have made no further progress.

Amendment of the Charge:

9. At the start of this hearing it was raised with the parties that in relation to allegation 1b the word “area” was incorrect and the Complainants had said that the width was 1100 mm. Mr Miller on behalf of the Board agreed that this was incorrect. Mr Elliott on behalf of Mrs Rollins submitted that width was the correct term but that the loft had varying width at several points. He suggested that the charge was amended to substitute “area” for “relevant width”. Mr Miller confirmed on behalf of the Board that he had no objection to this. The Committee considered that the amendment could be made without injustice as both parties understood the issue was in relation to width and the amendment would properly reflect the allegation. Accordingly, the Committee decided to amend charge 1b to replace the word “area” with “relevant width”.

10. All the allegations are denied. It is further denied that if any factual allegations are found proved, such failings amount to UPC.

11. In reaching its decisions, the Committee has carefully considered the live evidence of the Complainant, JB, and the Respondent, together with the documentary evidence presented to it in the Report of the Board’s Solicitor, the 159 pages of documents exhibited to it, and a bundle of documents supplied by the Respondent.

12. The Committee has accepted the legal advice given by the Clerk. It has had regard to the fact that the burden of proof is on the Board and that the civil standard applies, namely proof on the balance of probabilities. Whether the conduct alleged amounts to UPC is a matter for the Committee’s independent judgment to which no burden of proof applies.

Findings of Fact:

The Committee makes the following finding of facts:

13. Allegation 1a

It is an undisputed fact that there was insufficient head height at the top of the stairs and landing and the loft conversion did not meet Building Regulations in this regard. The Respondent contends that this was because she was unable to gain access to the loft at the time of preparing the drawings but nevertheless took accurate measurements and acted with due skill and care. She said that the problem may have arisen because of the way the works were carried out.

14. Mrs B explained that there were a number of meetings to try to resolve the issue. In October 2016 at a meeting with the Building Inspector and the contractor JB noted that the Building Inspector’s view was “that the conversion had been built upon the lowest possible point of the 1st floor ceiling and that without major structural work to lower the 1st floor ceiling or removal of the roof, neither of which were present as part of the plans, the architectural design would not adhere to building regulations.” She also said that the contractors were able to demonstrate that they had followed the drawings in the construction.

15. The Committee considers that it is likely that the design was not fit for purpose because the relevant head height for Building Control purposes was not achievable on site. The Committee considers that this was more likely to have been because of an error in the Respondent’s design rather than an error in construction. There was no evidence before the Committee that it was an error by the contractor in following the drawings.

16. As such, the Committee finds the facts of 1a proved. In failing to ensure that the conversion would meet Building Regulations the Committee finds that the respondent failed to produce a design that was fit for purpose.

17. Allegation 1.b

The Committee finds the facts proved for the following reasons.

It is a fact that the relevant area for the bed measures 1100mm. What is disputed between
the parties is what was agreed as part of the original brief and whether a double bedroom
was ever part of the design.

18. JB was clear in her evidence that they wanted a double bedroom for their daughter. They were knocking two bedrooms into one for their youngest child and wanted a similar space in the loft. JB said that the plans were drawn up with a double bed. JB also explained that they considered building above the garage but felt that the loft was a better option. JB was emphatic that their position was always that they wanted a double bedroom.

19. Mrs Rollins said that at the initial meetings she was told that the brief was for a bedroom. She says that the en-suite was mentioned later and she wasn’t briefed to create a double bedroom space. Mrs Rollins said that building above the garage had been discounted as it created access problems. Mrs Rollins said that she included a double bed and a bathroom on the plans because the Complainants asked her to put them in. She said that she tried to explain about the head height issues and she said that she told the Complainants that there would be less useable floor space and you would have to get into the bed from the bottom of it.

20. Building Control raised a query with the bulkhead of the staircase and Mrs Rollins submitted revised drawings in October 2015. In those drawings the bulkhead was extended into the bedroom space significantly limiting the width available to fit the bed. The Respondent accepted that this would not fit a double bed.

21. The Committee considers that the brief was for a double bedroom. The Committee preferred the evidence of JB which was consistent and credible. She was clear why they wanted a double bedroom and was clear in her recollection that this was mentioned at the outset of the project.

22. Mrs Rollins said that she included the double bed in the plans at the request of the clients and the Committee considers that this was something that they wanted. The inclusion in the planning drawings of a double bed created a legitimate expectation that the space would fit a double bed.

23. There was an error within the design, insofar as the staircase as designed could not have met building regulations and needed to be amended significantly. This error meant that the width for the bedroom was significantly affected and a double bed was no longer possible. The Committee considers that the Respondent’s design was not fit for purpose as a double bedroom would not be achievable.

24. Allegation 1c

As with the double bedroom issue JB was clear that this was part of their original
brief. She said in her evidence that it was discussed at the outset and included on the plans.
She said that they were never told that it was unachievable.

25. Mrs Rollins said that it was included on the plans at the request of the Complainants and she explained to them that there would be limitations because of the head height. She said that she suggested options to provide more head height but these were rejected by the Complainants. She said that DB had said that he would make the en-suite work.

26. The Committee considers that the inclusion of the en-suite on the plans suggested that it was achievable. There is no documentary evidence that Mrs Rollins pointed out the limitations with the en-suite or explained that it would not fit a shower, basin and toilet.

27. Mrs Rollins accepted at this hearing that the en-suite had been positioned too far back into the eaves and the Committee considered that Mrs Rollins’ design was unworkable.

28. If, as suggested by the Respondent, the Complainants had asked her to include the bathroom the Committee considers it was incumbent upon her as a professional to give robust advice, preferably in writing that this was not achievable. Even when the issues were raised with Mrs Rollins after the build had begun there is no evidence that she referred to her earlier verbal advice about the limitations with the bathroom.

29. The Committee considers that the Respondent produced a design that was not fit for purpose in that it included an en-suite bathroom that had insufficient space for a shower, basin and toilet.

30. Allegation 1d

The Committee noted JB’s written evidence in relation to this. There is no evidence
before the Committee that Mrs Rollins was ever briefed to ensure there was enough head
height within the space to house a standard sized wardrobe.

31. The plans do not show a wardrobe and although the Committee accepts that the
Complainants may have anticipated that a wardrobe would fit in the space there is no evidence to suggest that they discussed this with Mrs Rollins or asked her to ensure it was part of her design.

32. The Committee therefore finds this aspect of the allegation not proved.

33. Allegation 2

The Committee finds this allegation proved for the following reasons.

34. There is a fundamental conflict between the evidence of the Complainants and the Respondent. Mrs Rollins states that she kept the Complainants advised about the limitations with their project throughout and in addition she spoke to DB to highlight the issue with the revised drawings. She said that she delivered the revised plans to the Complainants and offered a pre-start meeting before the build began. She said that she offered solutions to the limitations such as dormers but the Complainants dismissed these ideas. She recognised that there were no documents that reflected these conversations and said she had changed her practice as a result.

35. The Complainants were adamant that they were not at any point advised of the significant impact that the revised position of the bulkhead would have on the useable space for the bed. JB said in her evidence that they were firm in their brief for a double bedroom and an en-suite and the plans they received reflected this. They were never told that the en-suite was unworkable and if they had been they would not have proceeded with the loft conversion and may have looked again at other options.

36. The Complainant points to the fact that there is no correspondence or email or note about these significant issues. JB was emphatic that, had they been made aware of the fact that a double bedroom with en-suite was no longer achievable they would not have started the project at all.

37. The Respondent stated that she did discuss the issue with DB over the telephone in October 2015. She said that she explained to DB that there was an issue with Building Control and he was told that he would need to rotate the bed through ninety degrees. The Respondent accepted that there is no note confirming this.

38. The Respondent also confirmed that the revised plans were not delivered to the Complainants until February 2016 just before building was to begin. She said that she did not attempt to discuss other options with the Complainants in the light of the revisions and said that as they had previously been rejected she did not see the point in raising them again.

39. The Complainants had relied on the Respondent for her professional input. The onus was on her to advise the Complainants of the implications of the layout and also the amended position of the bulkhead so that they could make an informed decision as to whether the project was still viable, given their initial objectives of which they made the Respondent aware.

40. Given the importance to the overall viability of the project of the staircase bulkhead and the positioning of the en-suite this information should have been expressly and clearly communicated to the Complainants and a record of those discussions should have been retained. The fact that the Complainants chose not to have a pre-start meeting does not in the Committee’s view absolve the Respondent from her responsibility to ensure these important matters were fully communicated and understood by the Complainants before work began.

41. In the circumstances, the Committee finds that the Respondent failed to adequately provide the Complainants with advice regarding the position of the en-suite and communicate the reduction in space caused by the revised position of the bulk head.

Finding on Unacceptable Professional Conduct:

42. Having found the facts of 1a – c and 2 proved the Committee went on to consider whether this amounted to UPC. UPC is defined as conduct which falls short of the standard required of a registered person. The Committee had regard to the relevant standard within the Code.

43. Standard 6 of the Code states:

“You should carry out your professional work faithfully and conscientiously and with due regard to relevant technical and professional standards

6.1 You are expected to carry out your work promptly and with skill and care and in accordance with the terms of your engagement.

6.2 ……

6.3 You are expected to keep your client informed of the progress of work undertaken on their behalf and of any issue which may significantly affect its quality or cost.

44. By reason of the facts found proved, the Committee finds that the Respondent acted in breach of standards 6.1 and 6.3 of the Code for the following reasons.

45. The Committee finds that the design and drawings prepared by the Respondent for the bedroom were inaccurate and unworkable. In preparing this design, the Committee finds that the Respondent failed to carry out her work faithfully, conscientiously and with skill and care in breach of Standard 6 of the Code. In failing to adequately explain the issues with regard to the layout of the en-suite and the bulkhead the Committee finds that the Respondent acted in breach of standard 6.3 of the Code.

46. In reaching its findings on UPC, the Committee has carefully considered all the evidence presented to it, all submissions made and has accepted the advice from the Clerk. The Committee recognises that not every shortcoming on the part of an Architect, nor failure to comply with the provisions of the Code, will necessarily result in a finding of UPC. However, a failure to follow the guidance of the Code, whether in one’s professional or private life, is a factor that will be taken into account should it be necessary to examine the conduct or competence of an Architect.

47. The Committee has considered the authority of Spencer v General Osteopathic Council [2012] EWHC 3147 (Admin). It has borne in mind in reaching its decision that for a finding of unacceptable professional conduct to be made, “a degree of moral blameworthiness on the part of the registrant likely to convey a degree of opprobrium to the ordinary intelligent citizen” was required. Any failing should be serious. The Committee accepts that “mere negligence does not constitute misconduct” and that “a single negligent act or omission is less likely to cross the threshold of misconduct than multiple acts or omissions….a single instance of negligent treatment unless very serious indeed, would be unlikely to constitute deficient professional performance”.

48. The consequences for the Complainants were particularly serious given they only found out that their initial brief was not feasible after the build had begun and the problems came to light.

49. The Committee considered that the Respondent’s actions in failing to properly explain to the Complainants the limitations with her design and the subsequent issues with Building Control was a serious failing that was likely to convey a degree of opprobrium. In isolation, some issues with the design may not have been serious and could have been remedied on site. However, the Committee considered that the Respondent’s failure to adequately explain the issues with the design or to keep the Complainants properly informed of a significant change in the viability of the project was misconduct.

50. The Committee finds that both individually and collectively, her failings are serious and adversely impact both on the reputation of the Architect and the profession generally. As the Architect, the Respondent failed to provide to her clients information that was essential for them to be able to make an informed decision on the viability of their project. Such a failing represents conduct falling substantially below the standard expected of a registered architect. Such failings can quite properly be categorised as UPC.

51. The Committee therefore finds that the Respondent’s conduct does amount to unacceptable professional conduct as set out above.

Sanction:

52. Mr Elliott then addressed the Committee in mitigation. The Committee then considered whether to impose a sanction, and if so, which one. The Committee has had regard to the public interest, which includes the need to protect the public, to maintain confidence in the profession and the Board and to declare and uphold proper standards of conduct, behaviour and competence. The Committee has carefully considered all the evidence and submissions made during the course of this hearing. It has heard and accepted the advice of the Clerk. It has borne in mind that the purpose of imposing a sanction is not to be punitive although it may have a punitive effect. It has taken into account the Respondent’s interests, the indicative sanctions guidance and the need to act proportionately. It has taken into account any aggravating and mitigating factors in this case. The Committee has exercised its own independent judgement.

53. Having taken into account Mr Elliott’s submissions, the Committee has identified the following mitigating factors:

• that the Respondent has no adverse regulatory history in her 20 year career;
• she has fully engaged in the regulatory process;
• she has taken some steps to remediate her failings by changing her working practices to the extent that her records better address the concerns identified in this case;
• she has provided a number of positive testimonials attesting to her character and professionalism and setting out clients’ satisfaction with her work;
• she has expressed genuine regret for the situation of the Complainants and carried out additional work without charging a fee after the problems were identified;
• the Committee considers the risk of repetition to be low in view of the insight demonstrated by the Respondent into her failures and the steps taken to avoid these issues in the future

54. The Committee has identified the following aggravating factor:

• her failings have put the Complainants to substantial cost, delay and inconvenience. The Committee considered that the effect on the Complainants was serious and that they have suffered anxiety and uncertainty.

55. The Committee notes that the matters found proved are serious to the extent that Mrs Rollins’ failings diminish both her reputation, and that of the profession generally. The Committee therefore concluded that the Respondent’s conduct was sufficiently serious for it to require the imposition of a sanction and has considered them in ascending order of severity.

56. The Committee first considered whether to impose a reprimand. The Committee considered that Mrs Rollins did demonstrate some of the factors that would make this sanction appropriate including insight, a genuine expression of regret, previous good disciplinary history and corrective steps taken. However, given the seriousness of the UPC found proved, and the effect on the Complainants, the Committee considered the Respondent’s failings too serious for such a sanction to be either appropriate or proportionate.

57. The Committee then considered whether to impose a penalty order. It noted that this sanction is appropriate where the offence is too serious to warrant a reprimand. It considered that this was the appropriate and proportionate sanction given the factors identified above in its consideration of a reprimand.

58. The Committee considered that a penalty order together with its findings in relation to UPC would be sufficient to mark the conduct as unacceptable and uphold the reputation of the profession.

59. Having determined that a penalty order was the appropriate and proportionate sanction the Committee considered a suspension order. The Committee does not consider Mrs Rollins’ failings require a suspension and considered that preventing her from practising as an architect for a period was unduly punitive.

60. The Committee therefore imposes a penalty order in the sum of £1000 which the Committee considers to be an appropriate amount to reflect the seriousness of the Respondent’s failings.

61. That concludes this determination.

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