Rickie Bloom is a chartered building surveyor and an Associate Director at Anstey Horne, the leading authority on Rights of Light, Party Walls and Building Surveying with a history spanning over 200 years in business. Rickie is a specialist in party wall disputes and neighbourly matters, and has acted for Building Owners and Adjoining Owners on a diverse range of projects including landmark bluechip developments in central London, super-prime residential schemes as well as works to residential dwellings.
The Party Wall etc Act 1996 (‘The Act’) can be notoriously tricky to navigate and if not carefully managed, a source of frustration to clients, Architects and Project Managers alike. If consideration is not given to the intricacies of the Act, then the result may be unexpected programme delays, increased cost, and the potential for unbudgeted scheme redesigns.
The Act comes into force when an owner is undertaking any (or all) of the following three types of notifiable work:
Excavation within three metres or six metres of an Adjoining Owners’ property where the excavation is below the level of the Adjoining Owners foundations.
The construction of a new wall up to or astride a line of junction where not previously built upon.
Any works to a party wall or party fence wall (garden wall).
If the notifiable works are disputed, then an Award will need to be agreed in order to resolve the dispute between the neighbours. An Award determines the time and manner of executing the work, and is a legally binding document which typically contains the agreed drawings and documents as well as a schedule of condition of the neighbouring property prior to the commencement of works which serves as a record to be called upon in the event of damage occurring due to the notifiable work.
By considering the following 4 key pointers, a project need not become bogged down in delays or cost overruns due to party wall issues:
1. Prepare early:
Appointing a skilled Party Wall surveyor as early as possible in the design phase will add value to any project. The Party Wall surveyor will provide expert guidance and advice on the notifiable works under the Act and advise on the level of detail required on the drawings and documents likely to be requested in order to agree Party Wall Awards.
Having a clear picture of the issues at play and the work needed to address them can eliminate impracticable options at an early stage and help to bring focus to the design process. Additionally, a good surveyor can advise on how best to utilise the access rights afforded to Building Owners under the Act to help ensure that what is designed can actually be constructed.
2. Co-ordination is key:
It is important to remember that all costs are borne by the party initiating the works. If the drawings and calculations are of not of a sufficient quality the whole process can be drawn out by lengthy reviews or time-consuming queries which ultimately cost the client time and money.
A coordinated effort between the surveyor and the design team will ensure that a complete package of documents is ready for issue, reducing the time needed by the Adjoining Owner’s advisors thus reducing their associated professional fees and improving the chances of a positive outcome.
3. Reserving matters:
In some instances, the information required to conclude an Award may not be available. Documents such as the contractor’s method statement or temporary works design (or other elements of contractor’s design) may be held up by unrelated design issues, causing unhelpful delays to the finalising of the Award and commencement of the works.
When the conditions are right, it may be possible to agree to have these items as ‘reserved’ in an Award (meaning the information is to be reviewed as and when it becomes available) and this may save time and help to get the project mobilised.
4. Phasing works:
On more substantial schemes, it is often sensible to split the project into phases in order to allow works to proceed and to ‘unlock’ different aspects of the development. Typically, Awards are split as follows:
Phase 1. Demolition (Exposure / Cutting away from Party Walls)
Phase 2. Excavation / Temporary Works (Basement Levels, Piling etc).
Phase 3. Superstructure (Fixing of Steel Frames/Beams into walls, weathering details etc).
Phasing allows works to progress on site while the surveyor works in tandem with the design team and the contractor to progress matters as and when information becomes available.
In summary, the Act brings order to an inherently tricky process and is designed to bring two sometimes opposing sides to a defined and fair outcome. However, the Act does not work on its own - the legislation is often nuanced and there is a myriad of ways that projects can be become mired in disputes before they have even begun.
To avoid this scenario, it is crucial to appoint your surveyor early so that they can co-ordinate with your design team, identify any potential issues that may arise, and if needed, assist in formulating a phased approach to unlock difficult or contentious schemes.
A competent and reputable Party Wall surveyor is not only key to understanding the Act and its consequences, but is also the best means of guiding the project to an outcome that is as quick and inexpensive as possible.
Rickie Bloom BSc (Hons) MRICS Anstey Horne & Co