[Comments updated: 14.07.2014 – Jon Heuch Responds!]

The Consulting Arborist Society – Mortgage Tree Report CPD Course 2014

Some of Arbtech’s arboricultural team, namely; Matthew Middle, David Garrick and Alan Thompson, went along to the Consulting Arborist Society’s 1-day CPD event – Mortgage & Insurance Tree Reports (4th March 2014). This is their review.

The course was delivered by Dr Jon Heuch at Barcham Tree Plc’s site in Cambridgeshire. The cost to Arbtech in sending each of our three consultants on this course was £150+VAT for members, and £200+VAT for non-members. All told, the CPD event probably cost the business in excess of £2,000 (when you consider hotels, travelling expenses and loss of business opportunity).

Arbtech managing director, Robert Oates, was certified via Dr Dealga O’Callaghan’s version of this course, run at Myerscough College, back in 2004. At the time, O’Callaghan’s course was not affiliated with CAS. Robert says:

“At that time, it was a great course – O’Callaghan is an engaging speaker and stuck rigidly to the subject. He was very clear on what a mortgage report was and was not (a visual inspection that deals almost exclusively with immediate health and safety issues). Any time a delegate – including myself – raised the subject of attempting to assess the future risk of subsidence, O’Callaghan was quick to remark that this was not a subsidence assessment (lacking the data inputs for the arboriculturist to draw informed conclusions of that nature) as to undertake to understand what was influencing a building below ground, would require different and more rigourous methods of assessment.”

Asked to comment on the original course, Dr O’Callaghan had this to say:

The OCA/Myerscough course has stood the test of time. Mike and I started this in 1998/99 and it is still running and we get a full compliment each year.

And when reached for a view on what should be covered in such a course, in addition to subsidence concepts, O’Callaghan, argues that a Mortgage Report course should cover several key points, including;

A practical exercise in assessing a property with trees adjacent [and] Report Writing for this specific purpose (templated) include [sic] how to avoid liability, acceptable exclusions, etc.

For general information, O’Callaghan also runs a course that specifically deals with subsidence through Myerscough: ‘Assessing Subsidence Claims‘.

[Matt]

Jon Heuch is a confident speaker and delivered the course in a friendly, agreeable manner. When we reached the subject of soils and geology, it was immediately obvious that this was one of Jon’s areas of expertise as he was able to go into great detail about the various types of soil, rock formations, etc.

Nice guy, not a great course

However, he was quite easily lead off topic by delegates; especially on the subject of subsidence. This became frustrating very quickly, especially given Jon’s opening remarks – and the literature on CAS’s web site – that this course was not about subsidence/heave.

Unfortunately, most of the course was spent talking about subsidence and heave, intricate soil science detail, and one or two other points that appeared to have little to do with undertaking and producing tree inspections to inform mortgage reports. I feel that there should have been more emphasis placed upon the capture of data and the production and format of the report.

I also strongly feel that we should have spent time outside – as is common for most tree inspection type courses. We would certainly have benefited from having a look at various buildings near trees; or at least being shown the on-site circumstances where it would become necessary to defer to another authority, or to instruct a client to take soil samples.

Jon was happy to field plenty of questions, which in his defence, lead to a lot of the off-topic talk I refer to above – though he should have shut that down more quickly to get back on topic. Further, when direct questions were asked of him, a lot of the time he would ‘sit on the fence’. Worse, if a delegate challenged him on issues throughout the day, he would change his mind (to assume the delegate’s argument), leaving me with the feeling that I never got a straight answer on important issues that influence decisions on which ultimately, we provide advice to clients.

Price / Value for Money

Several times during the day, Jon commented that the content of his course was derived from the original course (that my MD went on), run by O‘Callaghan, and how this one is much cheaper. Sadly though, it would have been more beneficial (and cost effective in the long run) for me to have paid for the more expensive course and travelled up to Myerscough College.

My conclusion

Dr Jon Heuch is a really nice, and clearly very intelligent guy. Further, as is often the way at CPD events, by speaking to other delegates I was able to take home some good ideas and tips for improving our own report template and the robustness of our advice. Despite this, I do not feel that the course itself has raised my professional standards and would not recommend it. Instead, if you are wanting to develop professionally in this discipline, I would probably recommend going to the O’Callaghan course run by Myerscough College. I will also weigh this experience heavily when deciding whether to go (or suggest colleagues to go on) on any more CPD courses run by the Consulting Arborist Society – as the course content raises questions about the vetting process for their speakers’ presentation and course material.

[Alan]

OK, criticisms first. Too much of the content was geology/soil science. While I appreciate it’s his specialist area, and he really does know his stuff here, Jon went too in depth on these subjects (30 PowerPoint slides? Certainly felt like it.). This in itself is not a bad thing, but it detracted from the day because not enough (hardly any, in fact) any of the conclusions we could arrive at could be traced back to the local geology/soil science we were being taught.

Side note: if you ARE looking for a subsidence course, I would ‘recommend-a-friend’ to go on the Arboricultural Association course, ‘Getting to Grips with Subsidence’ run by Dr Giles Biddle & Dr Martin Dobson. This course has better tailored content and recommendations for practitioners. You also get given 2 free books – always a good thing! – authored by Biddle, Tree Root Damage to Buildings Volumes 1 & 2.

Plus points. Although Jon couldn’t be pinned down to a straight answer on a lot of issues and questions that involved giving advice to a client, raised by myself and other delegates, he was an engaging and charismatic speaker. He clearly knows his trees.

Overall

The course has not raised my professional standards nor will I be able to offer a better service as a result. I was disappointed as I was hoping to leave the course better equipped to produce mortgage reports and give advice, which as consultants, is what people pay me to do.

[Dave]

Along with fellow Arbtechers; Alan Thompson and Matthew Middle, I attended the course in March this year.

At Arbtech while our primary focus as arboriculturists is undertaking planning surveys (BS5837:2012), we do undertake mortgage reports from time to time. Aware that we need to keep our skills current, and taking advantage of the unlimited CPD budget at Arbtech (which is fantastic by the way – I can literally go on any course I want, whenever I like), Matt put the case to me and Alan that we could deepen our understanding of this type of report and better service our clients. We agreed.

Dr Jon Heuch started us off by finding out what level of experience the delegates had and it was apparent that there were a few tree officers and other local government employees who were there to find out why a report was issued, as opposed to how to write one to a better standard. Fair enough.

So far so good

We were then told that this wasn’t a subsidence course but we would be having a brief overview on subsidence. Myself and the other Arbtechers didn’t want a subsidence-focused course any more than anyone else did (or so it seemed).

However, with questions from the floor, the overview on subsidence took us up until lunch time. After lunch the presentation and lecture focussed on damage to buildings caused by subsidence and heave; and where to find resources for soil maps. There was then a lengthy classroom discussion on how subsidence had affected local authority cases that some delegates had dealt with in the past.

In the course materials was a mortgage report template, but at no point was this covered during the course. We didn’t venture outside to do a group survey, much as you do in say, the LANTRA Professional Inspection or other courses I have been on.

To summarise

Despite mentioning that this course was not about subsidence, Jon spent the great majority of the course discussing subsidence. He was, I felt, constantly taken off topic by discussion points raised by other delegates, rather than sticking to the course material and outline. At no point was there an example of what to look for on-site to produce a better mortgage report. There was no time to review/understand the mortgage report template provided in the course materials.

All in all at several hundred pounds per attendee this course was really money wasted, as it did not provide any additional information on how to do a mortgage report, or improve the quality of our advice. And despite this, we can now use this logo on our reports: (we wont be)

CAS Mortgage Tree Report Logo

[Matt, Alan and Dave]

 

The description of the course, provided by CAS themselves, is this:

About the Course

This course is for arborists experienced in inspecting trees and writing reports for clients on their structural and health condition. It builds upon that experience to equip an arboricultural consultant writing reports when the tree is on a property, near a building, road or other target. …. (If you are involved with cases where subsidence is happening or may have occured [sic], separate training is recommended).

Our summary? Despite the headline act being Dr Jon Huech, who seemed to have the respect of everyone (well-deserved, he knows his stuff!), it didn’t really hit the mark. If separate training for subsidence is recommended, then why did we spend the entire day going over it, and not spend any time on the two key issues referred to above by both us and Dr O’Callaghan (namely, that we should spend time outside on a practical exercise and also go through the report template in some detail so as to fully understand the exclusion of liability)?

Despite our admiration for Dr Heuch, it’s a shame this review of the course content isn’t more positive. Hopefully though, this feedback will be valuable to CAS and future delegates can benefit from the shared learning.

We really hoped you enjoyed reading this review and welcome you feedback and comments below. Were you there? Do you disagree with our opinions? If so, let us know. It’s all constructive, after all. Finally, please feel free to tweet and share this as much as you like. Until next time…

-Matt, Alan, & Dave.

Image Sources: Consulting Arborist Society