Spotlight on Member - Graham Dowrick MCABE

1 May 2019

Spotlight on Member - Graham Dowrick MCABE Image
What’s your background?

I’ve worked in the industry for more than 60 years, having started off as an apprentice bricklayer for Sir Robert McAlpine on the site of The Steel Company of Wales in Port Talbot in the mid-fifties. On completion of my apprenticeship, I worked for a local housebuilder, but it was my ambition to get a more supervisory role. After a short period with the housebuilder, I was successful in obtaining a post with Barrow-in-Furness County Borough Council as a trainee building inspector.

During my apprenticeship, I gained an ONC (Ordinary National Certificate) in Building and the Final City and Guilds certificate in Bricklaying.  I commenced employment with Barrow in April 1962, and my first winter was the infamous winter of 1962/3 when it froze solid for about six weeks. At that time, the required depth for cold water supply pipes was 1’ 6” below ground level, but that winter the pipes froze at that depth and the required depth was increased to 2’ 6”, the same requirement applied to foundation depth in non-cohesive soils.

How did you gain your qualifications?

At that time, the Model Building Byelaws were in force, but these were not compulsory, and it was up to the individual local authorities to adopt all, or parts of, the bylaws as it suited them. Barrow was one of only three local authorities in the country that did not adopt the bylaws and continued to operate local acts. The relevant exams were set by the Guild of Building Inspectors under the umbrella of the Institute of Municipal Engineers. There were no college courses available to us, so we had to resort to correspondence courses. I sat the exam in the spring of 1964 between two periods of hospitalisation. I was delighted to get the results while convalescing. One of three trainees from Barrow, I was particularly pleased as the pass rate for first time applicants was 40%. One of my colleagues went on to become National President of the Institute of Building Control Officers, which was still to be formed.

Having qualified, we were encouraged to move on as the Building Inspectors Section was staffed by trainees at various stages of training. I applied for and was appointed to Cardiff City Council. It was during this time that the Building Regulations 1965 were introduced and then came into force in 1966. After four years at Cardiff, I was appointed to Bedford Borough Council. The duties for building control officers was more varied at that time and included dealing with improvement grants, control of explosives and petroleum legislation. Under the control of explosives, we were required to check that fireworks were stored and displayed safely. With the petroleum legislation, the installation of petrol storage tanks were inspected and periodically tested. But local authority reorganisation changed all that. Back in the day, the only thermal insulation requirement was 1” fibreglass in the roof, and there was no requirement for damp proof membranes in ground floors. My final local authority posting was at South Northamptonshire Council where I finally became building control manager.

How long have been in your current role? 

I retired from full-time work in 2001 before working as a self-employed inspector for various councils in the East Midlands. I’m semi-retired now, working two days a week for PWC as an approved inspector. We cover the whole of England and Wales through offices in Thrapston, Towcester, Fleet, Warrington and various satellite offices.

What are the most significant changes have you seen across the industry during your career?

The most significant change has been the introduction of National Building Regulations and the subsequent progression from a single A5 document to the introduction of separate Approved Documents and the further introduction of additional areas of control, sound and thermal Insulation, facilities for the disabled, electrical installations, safety glazing and security.

On the practical side, there has been a big improvement on the provision of drainage materials, from 2’ 0” long spigot and socket glazed clayware pipes with cement joints, which had to be smoke tested before backfilling, to the present 6 metre long PVC. The introduction of the single stack system removed the need for hoppers taking bath and WHB waste pipes. Initially, these were required to be internal, but that later changed to allow external installations. Radon prevention measures were also introduced. There was also the introduction of fees and the opening up of building control to independent approved inspectors.

Technology has also developed and electronic submission of plans and other documents is now common practice, a long way from two sets of all drawings one of which had to be on linen.

What are some of the most main challenges facing the construction industry today?

The Grenfell Fire tragedy will have a huge impact and we wait to see the extent of that. While we depend on developers/builders to notify us at different stages of construction, this does not always happen, and the powers that we have to require work to be uncovered are limited to works below ground level. We do what we can to ensure that the covered work is correct and so we have to rely on questions and responses from the builder which are recorded.

What are the most important changes needed within Building Regulations?

The Approved Documents need to be revised to be more user-friendly. Information that you need is not always where you would expect to find it and you can waste a lot of time searching for it. Part R, which relates to high-speed broadband services, should be taken away from building control as it is not relevant to us.  

What do you like most about your work?

My present role is mainly plan checking, but I find a lot of job satisfaction from going on-site and helping builders over difficult problems they have. Sadly, not all builders appreciate what building control can actually do.  

When did you become a member of CABE and what do you see as the benefits?

My route to membership of CABE has been a long one. In the early days, there was a lot of dissatisfaction with our relationship with the Institute of Municipal Engineers. There was a movement from our own independent body and the Institute of Building Control Officers (IBCO) was formed which was successful for many years. Moves were afoot to try to form a Royal Charter for the Institute, but this appeared to be out of our reach and a merger with RICS seemed to be the best way to achieve this. This did eventually happen but it became apparent that RICS was nor geared up for the building control members and, as a result, we became disenchanted with them and gravitated to CABE which was more representative of the Building Control membership. CABE as an organisation is very helpful, supportive and the free CPDs offered are very good. CABE is a global institute while the Chartered Engineer status is good recognition for members.

What is a key quality for a building control officer?

In my early days, building inspectors were recruited from the building trades and were mainly bricklayers or carpenters, with the occasional plumber. That is now no longer the case so it’s key for building control officers to possess a degree of logic and know how to compromise whilst at the same time not impacting on the end result. 

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