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DEREK LATHAM:
The Role of the Consultant
Derek Latham, of Derek Latham and associates, (architects, town plarzners, landscape architects and historic buildings consultants) is well known for his work for the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust. Here he reflects on the salutary effects of crossing the fence, from the conservation officers to the consultants role; and shows us ourselves as others see us.


THE ROLE OF THE CONSULTANT

To consider my role as consultant I must first return to those halcyon days I spent as Design and Conservation Officer in Derbyshire. “If only”, I mused, “If only I were putting in the applications, undertaking the repair work, or designing new buildings for those difficult infill sites if only I were doing it the problem would be so much easier and the worl4 a better place! It was not that such thoughts were clearly in my head, for it is only upon reflection that I realise that such thoughts must have commanded my subconscious appreciation and assessment of many of the proposals and projects that I dealt with I only hope now now that I was not too arrogant because of those unspoken assumptions. I think not, for in reality the mental trans— ferral of roles led me, I hope, to a better understanding of the position of the applicant, appellant, and most pertinently, the consultant!

So what was it like? Indeed, what is it like? Well, a different viewpoint clearly changes your perspective. It is not, I hope, that the values change but certainly the methods of achieving them do. From an environment where I spent my life as motivator, exhorting my colleagues (particularly those undertaking development control advice within the highway department) to respond quickly, and more generally promoting a sense of urgency and decisiveness into the local authority machine, — I found myself in the contrary situation, constantly explaining to clients tb” ehey could not start work next week, that the Consevvatjon Officer wo3zld not have a grant payment cheque upon him on
our first visit, and that when people asked you to do things yesterday they meant it! Long explanations as to how long the due democratic process took met with “Don’t you want this job, old son these are problems I pay to sort out. Now when can we start?”

The next revelation was one of conmiunic ation. The disbelief in people’s faces when you tell them that the Planning Officer might be there to help them ( and not just a hurdle to be jumped) was something of a revelation. Why had it not occurred to me before that people are always polite to the Planning Officer (well, not always) because they feel that must be the best way of achieving a planning permission quickly? A ready ability to say ‘yes’ to the Planning Officer’s suggestions, when they had not the slightest intention of so doing, only compounds confusion. The thought of actually, genuinely, disagreeing with the planning Officer, in order to illustrate what they really intend , and to develop a proper dialogue, (trying to understand the Planning Officer’s point of view as well as trying to get him to u±iderstand theirs), seemed a long way off. The need for a communicator, or rather an interpreter, became all to clear.

Of course it is unfair to bracket all clients in this mould, but the early months of a new practice seem to attract those people who are not familiar with the normal architectural and planning roles, or those who, though familiar, will try and avoid them, to ‘try on’ their own ploys with a ‘green’ practice which is eager to pleaseits new—fpund clients. I must confess that, after years of practice, I am only a little wiser in identifying initially those clients who are likely to play fair with me, as opposed to those whose intentions are not strictly honourable! Personal appearance and background can be deceptive; perhaps our best client, financially, and now a very good friend, who has taken itmnense entrepreneurial risks, is known to deal constantly in cash,(except for us), and appears to work 25 hours a day, started life as a potato picker; but has always
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