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CROSS Safety Report

The role of District Surveyors

Report ID: 713 Published: 1 January 2018 Region: CROSS-UK

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A reporter highlights how, under the London Building Acts 1930, District Surveyors were appointed to supervise construction and enforce regulations.

The reporter feels that a similar system is now required.

Key Learning Outcomes

For policy makers:

  • Setting high competency standards for building control professionals will help to raise the quality of construction

  • Equally, ensuring competency standards for designers and contractors is just as important

Full Report

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This section contains the Full Report submitted to CROSS and describes the reporter’s concerns or experiences. However, the text has been edited for clarity, and identifiable details have been removed to ensure anonymity and confidentiality. If you would like to know more about our secure reporting process, or submit a report yourself, please visit the reporting to CROSS-UK page.


Under the London Building Acts 1930, says a reporter, District Surveyors were appointed to supervise construction and enforce regulations, including, and especially, means of escape from buildings in the case of fire. There were the reporter thinks, 17 areas in London, each with its own District Surveyor. Everyone had to be professionally qualified, usually as a structural engineer, but some may have had other professional qualifications.

Competitive exam entry requirements

All, without exception, had to pass an internal exam run by the London County Council before appointment. The exam was competitive, no old papers were available, and the questions covered technical structural and materials knowledge, and knowledge of the byelaws and regulations.

The effect of this system meant that extremely able individuals were enforcing the appropriate regulations. Their mode of appointment made them independent of the local authority and as such they were not sensitive to outside influence. 

District Surveyors respected within industry

Indeed, most contractors respected their ability and although sometimes found their attitude somewhat dictatorial, generally accepted their interpretation of the regulations. It seems to the reporter that a similar system is now required, free from the influence of council members and other outside forces.

Their mode of appointment must ensure they are free from obligation to outside authorities and they must have the status, qualifications and experience to gain the respect of all those in the building industry; and of course, would need salaries to match.

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Prior to 1986, there was no national system of building control in England and Wales, but in inner London there was a system of local byelaws, controlled by the District Surveyors. The District Surveyors exam, colloquially referred to as ‘the DS ticket’ ensured very high standards, and only a Chartered Engineer with many years’ experience could be awarded the ticket.

This meant that the District Surveyors were very well respected (and sometimes feared), and that work was generally very well controlled. One aspect was that the law stated all work had to ‘be to the satisfaction of the District Surveyor’. The situation has changed but the London District Surveyors’ Association is very active and provides the Local Authority Building Control (LABC) service for all Greater and Central London Boroughs.

Competence standards in relation to building control would undoubtedly help to raise quality; particularly now that the scope of the regulations is much wider and there is a competitive element. Ensuring competency levels for designers and constructors is just as important for raising standards in the construction process.

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