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At what stage do I engage a Party Wall Surveyor in a project?

The party wall process should ideally be engaged with early on in the design for projects where there are likely to be party wall implications. The reason for this is that aspects of the design can have consequences both in terms of the program, and cost that may have an undesired impact later on. These consequences can be virtually impossible to anticipate unless you are very familiar with the process and the conventions of current practice. Planning applications could be lodged, building control could be submitted, structural engineers calculations could have been completed, all for designs that may have contentious aspects which may put strain on the program later on. It would be a tragedy in the case of most projects, from simple rear extensions, to multi-million central London developments, to have to go back and redesign aspects of the proposals when the building owner or developer is fully committed to a particular design.

An example of this is the matter of access to neighbouring land. Recently, I dealt with a project where it was assumed that access to the neighbours land would be a right under the Act. It transpired that the access was entirely discretional on the part of the adjoining owner. The adjoining owner required an access license, and was able to negotiate a compensatory payment that the building owner had not anticipated. There was also a further delay while the adjoining owner entrenched their negotiating position, and while their surveyor reviewed the license documentation. If we had been involved earlier on in the project, we could have advised the developer to anticipate this and to consider alternative options.

Another example recently was a deep basement excavation in Central London where a particular vibrational sheet piling methodology had been proposed. Upon review it was determined by us as party wall surveyors that the method chosen did not satisfy the criteria of 'unnecessary inconvenience', that we are required to apply according to the Act. The piling methodology had to be changed to auger piles, which had an impact on the floor area of the basement. The basement car parking was a material condition of the planning approval that had been received from the local authority. Months in the programme could have been lost if this reduction in floor area reduced the number of parking spaces below the number required by planning policy.

We recommend that early on in the design phase a party wall surveyor attends the design team meetings so that they can understand how the project is likely to pan out, in terms of its specific party wall implications. They can advise on the resistance that is likely to be experienced from the adjoining owner and the arguments that may be employed. They can also advise the rest of the design team of these implications, before they progress too far with the project.

It would be much better to think ahead a few moves, and plan a strategy early on, than to wait for delays to be encountered at a critical time. The cost for a party wall surveyor to attend a design team meeting should be small in comparison to the costs that could be encountered later on.

Of course, we cannot anticipate changes to law as new cases are decided in the courts that may effect a project subsequent to commencement. But, it is possible to minimise the risk of being affected by principles that have already been decided in the courts or by the conventions of professional practice.

Party Wall Resolutions provide advice to developers and design teams at all stages of project, please call to discuss your project.

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