The Survey Association: The Past, Present and Future

A 281Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

The Past
This article is about the UK Land & Hydrographic Survey Association (, or TSA as it is better known. TSA was formed in 1979 by a handful of companies to give the UK’s private surveying industry a voice and to increase awareness of the surveying profession. Has it achieved this vision or not? Read on.

Let’s start with TSA and my role within it. TSA is the only trade body representing the commercial surveying fraternity in the UK, and one of its primary objectives is to increase awareness of surveying for both clients and the public at large. TSA currently has more than one hundred and thirty member companies in five categories: Full, Associate, Affiliate, Academic and Supplier. My current role is as Secretary General of TSA, a position that I took up in 2006, having run a photogrammetric survey company for thirty two years prior to that. Since that time my role has brought me into contact with a number of high profile people including most recently the Queen’s consort, HRH Prince Philip.

Like most surveyors, I live in a world of fantasy assuming that everyone knows what I do and what TSA attempts to do on behalf of its members. I studied surveying at college in the early 60’s and assumed that everyone knew about it. After all, without surveying no construction would ever take place. As part of a recent major political lobbying campaign on behalf of TSA a number of meetings have been held with Members of Parliament. It was at one of these meetings that my naiveté was proven. A very well-known UK MP told me in a meeting that he also owned a survey company. This, I thought, was a major breakthrough as it would make my job of explaining the role of the modern surveyor so much easier. On asking him what his company surveyed, I was told washing powder, clothing, and newspapers. It then struck me that he was talking about undertaking telephone surveys; quite different to the role of the land surveyor as I perceive it. Herein lays the problem, both in the word surveyor and the perception of what it entails.

As every engineer knows, foundations are the critical starting point for all construction work. Likewise, surveys are the critical starting point of all designs. Why is it then that so often the survey is an afterthought or that members of design teams do not consult or communicate with each other regarding extents, scopes and specifications of surveys? Why is the surveyor just regarded as a supplier of information and not as a critical member of the design team? On smaller projects the surveyor may not be required beyond the initial provision of survey drawings but his input to the initial stages could be highly beneficial to both the team and the client. TSA will not rest until the value of today’s surveyor is recognised.

The Present
As already mentioned, TSA now has over one hundred and thirty companies in membership, including the national mapping agency, The Ordnance Survey. TSA recently changed its constitution to allow non-private companies to enter membership. This allows the whole of the community to have an input and make sure that we are all aiming for the same ideal.

Entry for companies into TSA is very strict with a large number of hoops for the applicants to jump through. As a result of this the client can be assured that the member is a professional outfit which should provide the best service and advice possible.

The role of TSA is to promote best practise amongst its members, provide a forum for members for discussion, debate and continuing professional development and to the wider audience, such as engineers, provide guidance on new methods and techniques and a list of suitably qualified and experienced companies. TSA is also heavily involved in lobbying Government and other agencies such as the Environment Agency, regarding policies likely to affect or involve the survey industry.

TSA also liaises with the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and the Chartered Institute of Civil Engineering Surveyors (Chartered ICES) on a range of issues and has established a group called the SLG, or Survey Liaison Group. This body meets at regular interval to examine matters of mutual interest and to ensure that there is little or no duplication of effort by the three bodies. Additionally, TSA liaises with MAPPS in the US, swapping both technical and business information on a regular basis.

Education is important for the industry as well as the clients and the education of future surveyors is of paramount importance. There are very few universities now offering surveying degree courses in the UK so ten years ago TSA establishes its own survey technician course, run at a member’s training centre in Worcester. The course runs for a total of twelve weeks over a two year period and to date over three hundred students have graduated through the course. Not large numbers I know but in a relatively small industry they represent a substantial investment in time and effort. In an attempt at ensuring a future supply of surveyors for the industry, TSA has developed a secondary website for youngsters. This can be found at

Education of the membership is also important and during the last three years a number of business improvement seminars have been held. These are FREE to the members and are aimed at encouraging greater business awareness. We have also started running FREE technical seminars on subjects such as GPS, Laser Scanning, GPR and others. Sad to say that these are far more popular than the business improvement seminars which says a lot about the members who would probably rather learn more about the gizmos than improving their businesses. Having spoken to colleagues around the world I realise that this is not a problem for the UK alone.

The Future
As with all businesses, TSA fully embraces the world of the World Wide Web and Social Media. Up to five years ago, TSA produced an annual directory of which five thousand were distributed each year at considerable cost. The drawback of the printed directory is that it is out of date almost before publication. In 2007 the decision was made to abandon the printed directory and invest the time in a more effective and outward looking website. This can be found at The site now attracts an average of ten thousand hits per month, a superb figure of which we are justly proud.

Over the last few years, TSA has produced a number of client guides to help them understand the role of the surveyor both in general and in specific areas. To date, these FREE documents have been downloaded in over seventy countries, including many downloads from the States and now total many thousands. These are all available from the TSA website. The most popular of these guides has undoubtedly been the research into GPS carried out in 2008. This has now been updated in 2012 and includes both RTK and GLONASS.

TSA now has its own LinkedIn group which is open to non-members too and currently has just under one thousand members. Twitter is also becoming a very important way of getting our message across and a new Blog will be included in the latest revision of the website due for launch in early May.

The aim is to have as many companies in TSA providing they are seen as suitable and to get to the position where clients will only commission work from a TSA member. Perhaps
a pipe dream but it is happening slowly with some major contracts now requiring membership of TSA to enter a submission. Thirty three years since its formation I think it is safe to say that TSA has arrived, at least in the UK. Who knows, next year the world?

Rory Stanbridge, MRICS, FCInstCES, FRSPSoc is the Secretary General of The Survey Association. After a career in surveying spanning some forty years, he took over the role at TSA in 2006. Previously working as a photogrammetrist he was employed both in the UK and Zambia. From 1974 to 2006 he ran his own specialist company, Photarc Surveys, before retiring from it to pursue a different career path. A passionate believer both in TSA and surveying!

A 281Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE