The news of the recent collapse of a part of Chester’s Grade I-listed city walls, an ancient monument, parts of which are more than 2,000 years old, has brought into sharp focus the importance of the Party Wall etc. Act 1996.
Chester city walls are the oldest, longest and most complete in Britain, retaining the full circuit of ancient defensive walls.
Whilst investigations continue into to the cause of the collapse, it serves to remind us that the Act has very practical purposes.
It is not simply a procedural or ‘paper’ exercise but is there to protect those developing property and neighbouring owners adjacent to the development.
We look at the essential elements to consider:
1. The Act
- Conveys rights and obligations on those wishing to undertake development work in relation to party walls, new or existing walls at the legal boundary and excavations near neighbouring buildings / structures.
- Provides a framework for preventing and resolving disputes to enable works to progress.
- It is separate from obtaining planning permission or building regulations approval.
2. Consult an experienced surveyor
- Essential if planning any excavation work within six metres of a neighbouring boundary or works at boundaries or shared walls including demolition.
- Their initial analysis of the proposed development will determine whether the Act will be triggered and if notification is necessary.
- Depending on the works being undertaken, foundation types, excavation depths etc., you’ll need an expert to provide you with a definitive recommendation.
3. If works are deemed Notifiable
- The owner wishing to undertake the works MUST issue formal notice to all neighbouring owners including leaseholders with an interest of over 12 months.
- Necessary safeguarding measures have to be put in place, to offer protection against potential problems further down the line.
- Works may not start until the notice period has run if neighbours’ ‘consent’ to the notice, or once a formal party wall award has been agreed by appointed surveyors to resolve any dispute.
4. Don’t see it as unnecessary extra cost
- Some landowners, developers, contractors see no tangible benefit in compliance, especially if they may have ‘gotten away with it’ in the past.
- It’s a false economy as this approach often leads to project delays and future disputes.
- Remember, the Act also outlines a number of rights which are of benefit for the progression of the project, such as rights of access and making use of shared structures.
5. The risks of flouting the Act
- While it is a compulsory part of the building process, very often projects get underway without party wall notices being issued, either through ignorance or omission.
- If your actions do result in a problem for a neighbouring property, a judge isn’t going to look favourably on a defendant who simply chose not to bother with notification.
- The subsequent delays, legal costs and compensation pay out are likely to be considerable.
6. How we can help you
- The majority of Party Wall issues can be easily mitigated by bringing in a Party Wall Surveyor at an early stage of the project.
- Using a surveyor affiliated to one of the specialist party wall organisations – such as the P&T Club or the Faculty of Party Wall Surveyors – will provide all parties the reassurance needed to commence the project with confidence.
- Whether you are a building owner or neighbour, should you have any questions or concerns that relate to Party Wall & Neighbourly Matters, don’t hesitate to get in touch for a non-obligatory chat.
David Hollingsworth is Chairman of the North-West branch of the P&T Club, which seeks to advance knowledge of party wall legislation and procedure and to promote best professional practice in its application. Click below to read his recent article in the Club’s Journal regarding Chester’s City Walls.