A Conversation with Jeremy Galtress
The ‘Hercule Poirot’ of Utility Surveying
Most of us can follow a satnav, read a map or navigate by landmark to get from A to B. But what if you could picture your trip in more depth? Imagine visualising the network of below-ground services as you move around; navigating your journey by valve, hydrant marker, utility code or telecoms’ cabinet.
This is how our expert RICS utility surveyor, Jeremy Galtress, sees the world: “All those roadside and ground markers give me an instant picture of what’s underneath my feet. Look closely at any high street and there are lots of clues.”
“You need to be a good detective to be a good utility surveyor – you have all these markers around you; evidence that you pull together to create a detailed underground story.”
Those clues assist in giving clients what they need, and the more accurate the picture, the more effective the work. The more technical phase comes when services are traced using modern efficient dedicated equipment, to give a more comprehensive dataset. Traces are then recorded using known survey techniques, to deliver as accurate and current a picture as possible. “There can be a sense that ‘more is best’ when it comes to identifying underground services,” says Jeremy, “but underground data can never be 100% guaranteed regardless of how much there is. The data I collect and interpret in many ways acts as a conversation opener.”
Jeremy’s long experience of surveying and data interpretation, an inherent love of detail, design office training and basic common sense all combine to help clients identify where more work is needed. Jeremy cites his time spent in a design office as particularly informing because it gave him a clear understanding of the construction process and how utilities are planned underground. It is this combination of skills that helps construction companies and utility firms gain a more accurate underground picture. And accuracy is crucial.
“In restricted build areas or where developers need to maximise yield, a few additional metres of build capacity can make a massive difference. The more comprehensive the underground picture, the better the outcome and enhanced accuracy can lead to lower risk and less potential constraint from easements.”
Commissioning a utility survey makes clear sense from a development income point of view, but also from a cost-saving perspective. In the UK, daily fines of £5,000 already exist for roadworks overshooting their timetable. But in new proposals from the UK Department of Transport, utility companies causing unnecessary traffic delay could be hit with additional hourly fines.
New plans aim to give councils greater powers over utility and construction companies to ensure any digging or repair work does not disrupt. Knowing what lies below can only help boost that efficiency and save money.
Good working relationships throughout the process – from commission to report – are also important: “Experience tells me that working closely with project stakeholders benefits the outcome. Even before we go to site, I’ll work with the client to develop the brief and specification, making sure we take the right approach to deliver the right data for that project in the right timeframe.
“But good relationships with all stakeholders are vital, especially with the land owner and/or occupier – not just for the duration of the survey but to allow the client easy access for all future work.”
With those relationships in place and the specification developed, Jeremy can set about the survey using the most appropriate tools for the job. So, does he always find what he expects to? “I nearly always receive a signal from the GPR (Ground Penetrating Radar) that I don’t recognise,” he says. “It fascinates me and I won’t give up until I find a way to figure it out.”
Taking time, according to Jeremy, is a valuable part of gaining a more accurate picture: “It’s always worth spending a little time reflecting on the data we collect. Rushing a utilities survey is never a good idea because of the reliance on interpretation – things aren’t always what they might seem at first glance.”
In this country, there is no legal requirement for utilities or construction companies to undertake a utilities survey before building work (unlike in Australia where the requirement is federal legislation). But the requirement is passively driven through CDM (Construction Design & Management). CDM places a duty of care onto clients to source and deliver every possible piece of H&S information before projects start. A good utilities survey will meet those requirements by providing a vast amount of information that can inform the entire project from start to finish.
“A high-quality utility survey informs the project from inception to long after completion. Together with a land survey, CCTV survey , and ecology and other surveys, utilities surveys provide such a rich dataset of information for clients and other users to interrogate and make decisions on before they’ve even broken ground.”
Jeremy leaves our conversation with an example of how utility surveys plus experience delights and benefits clients: “Many clients access Stats (Statutory Record Searches) to obtain information on what lies below. On one recent project, the stats showed a little nest of valves on a water main just inside the site boundary. Something about this didn’t look right to me; I thought the utility company would have to own the land here and they didn’t. Sure enough, a utility survey showed them to be under the footpath. In this instance, if a survey hadn’t been commissioned, the designer would have left an easement and the final development would have been smaller than needed, reducing rental income significantly.”
To find out more about utility surveying or to talk to Jeremy about his work and experience, please get in touch.