This week we have a guest post from Alex Frame of the Faculty of Party Wall surveyors who is giving us an introduction to the Party Wall Act. It is really great to receive some insight into a topic that crops up during our designs on a regular basis, but many architects and designers are perhaps not full aware of all the requirements and details relating to the Act. Alex gives us a brief introduction, along with links to further information and guidance.
About the Author
Alex Frame is a chartered building surveyor and a chartered building consultant who is a founder member of the Faculty of Party Wall Surveyors (FPWS).
He started his working life on the drawing board and trained in architecture and worked in many architectural practices including central and local government. He was technical director in a timber frame company until he set up his own practice providing architectural and design services.
Today he specialises in party wall and boundary matters, and has written many books and articles. He lectures at seminars and assists in running the telephone advice line for the FPWS and is a trained Mediator.
The Part Wall Act 1996
The Party Wall etc Act 1996 is now in its twentieth year since its implementation of 1st July 1997 and after such a time the existence and workings of the Act is still slowly coming to the attention of all those undertaking building works, or those neighbouring such works.
The introduction of the Act has unfortunately brought about many problems, although the Act has been in operation under the former London Building Acts for many years. This new Act is virtually the same as the old Act that operated in the Inner London Boroughs.
Much of the current problems lie with the professionals who are not informing Building Owners of their ‘legal obligations’ required by the Act. This is where the initial designers are best placed to help.
The Act is invoked by the service of a Notice of which there are basically three types; Section 1 of the Act deals with the building of a wall on or astride the boundary, which the Act calls The Line of junction. Section 2 deals with various types of work to the party structure (walls and floors), and Section 6 deals with excavations within 3 and 6 Metres of the Adjoining Owners buildings.
The Faculty of Party Wall Surveyors (FPWS) receive many calls daily from the general public who are involved with building works, both from the Building Owner and more often from the Adjoining Owner. The Faculty is constantly being told that ‘they were not informed about the Act by their architect’ and feel that they should have been told.
Clearly the Local Authorities do not hold such responsibility of dealing with the Act, nor do they want to, but they can help, and many in fact do so by drawing the attention of the Building Owner to the Act when approval is given. Some Town Planning authorities also give such information to applicants. All of which is of course helpful.
Building Inspectors are very often in the ‘front line’ when works begin on site and we believe that they should have some knowledge of the Act and its workings. Armed with at least the basic knowledge they can inform and guide the parties without of course becoming involved, but in truth the client should have been informed a lot sooner than when the first spade is put into the ground.
There is an ‘explanatory booklet’ published by The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) that applicants could be informed about at plans deposit stage, thus helping at the beginning of the project. This explanatory booklet has now been revised and the latest version is available On-Line. The FPWS is listed at the back of this explanatory booklet.
The Faculty of Party Wall surveyors also publish ‘An Easy Guide’, which as its title suggests it has been written to give an easy explanation of what to do.
If the Building Owner fails to serve a Notice under the Act of his work intention, the Adjoining Owner has to resort to obtaining a court injunction to have the works stopped, should he feel that his property might be affected. This can be quite expensive, and with the uncertainty that the costs will be recovered; the Adjoining Owner more often cannot afford to take this route. It is in fact a legal obligation for anyone undertaking works that are covered by the Act to serve a Notice.
The ideal situation is of course for the Adjoining Owner to be informed initially by the designer and then by the Local Authority and this suggestion has been put to the DCLG as a better working solution. We are sure that the Adjoining Owners would appreciate this and could merely take the form of a standard letter informing them of the proposed works.
Where then can one get information and learn about the Party Wall etc Act 1996? Well, this is where the Faculty of Party Wall Surveyors can help. The Faculty holds seminars on the subject across the country and many Building Control Officers and Planning officers have already attended and gained accreditation certificate in party wall studies, as well as valuable CPD time. Better still would be for the professional designers to become more involved.
Seminars are held around the country but mainly in central London. Anyone can attend, but more particularly those who have a constructional knowledge and who would benefit from having an extra string to their bow.
The Faculty is of course in need of Party Wall Surveyors in all parts of England and Wales, mainly to make referrals when required from inquirers.