Guest Blog: What You Need to Know About Party Wall Awards

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Guest Blog: What You Need to Know About Party Wall Awards

Monday, June 6, 2016

Andrew McWhirter has over 30 years of experience as a Chartered Surveyor and works with the cream of the crop in private, commercial and state developments. He’s my trusted source for all matters involving party walls, so I was delighted when he offered to write some guest blogs for our readers. – John Dyer-Grimes


Before getting into the Party Wall Act and Party Wall Awards, you first need to understand what exactly a party wall is. For this, I’ll turn to the description from the gov.uk website:

>: a wall that stands on the lands of 2 (or more) owners and forms part of a building – this wall can be part of one building only or separate buildings belonging to different owners
>: a wall that stands on the lands of 2 owners but does not form part of a building, such as a garden wall but not including timber fences
>: a wall that is on one owner’s land but is used by 2 (or more) owners to separate their buildings

Due to the density of buildings, party walls have become an issue in most London builds, whether you’re knocking down an entire attached house to build a new one or simply repositioning a garden wall. Even if you’re on good terms with your neighbours, few people agree to having work done that impacts their property and inconveniences them – even slightly.

Somewhat inevitably, there will be objections to your build and if you have multiple neighbours or a block of flats nearby you could be bombarded with dozens of objections.

All parties need to have their interests protected. On one hand, if neighbours could simply block all works involving party walls, then it would be very difficult for anyone living beside them to improve their property. On the other, if the neighbour was powerless to stop works being done, then their property and even personal safety could be put at risk by reckless developments.

The Party Wall Act of 1996 is the solution, and a very peculiar piece of legislation. It turns surveyors such as myself into statutory judges in an alternative dispute resolution process that determines whether or not building works affecting party walls can go ahead. The owners of the properties involved appoint party wall surveyors who assess the merits of the build and reach an agreement on whether or not the build should be granted a Party Wall Award.

If a build receives a Party Wall Award, the neighbour has no legal grounds to object to the works as long as they don’t stray from what’s been approved in the documentation of the award. That’s why it’s officially referred to as an award rather than an agreement: very rarely have the neighbours actually agreed!

Details in the award include: the works that will take place, the method and times in which work can be done, identifying responsibilities and liabilities, and a “schedule of condition” that describes the current state of the neighbour’s property.

That last detail is essential and must be exhaustive, as it prevents neighbours from claiming that your project damaged their property – which is a favourite strategy amongst disgruntled neighbours who suddenly notice cracks in the wall that, in reality were, there already.

It’s worth remembering that the Party Wall Act is an entirely separate piece of legislation from planning approval and there is no crossover whatsoever. This means that, in theory, demolishing a listed building in a terrace to build a factory could be approved by a party wall surveyor yet not have a cat’s chance in hell of receiving planning permission. It’s not our role to consider the viability of a build, our only interest is whether it unreasonably impacts the well being of neighbours and their property.

It’s also important to note that the property owners are not our clients, rather they are “appointing owners”. The idea is that we are to remain entirely objective, using our knowledge, experience and good sense to determine what’s best without any emotional involvement or influence from the appointing owners – though I do occasionally encounter surveyors who do not act impartially. There is a procedure in place in the event that we can’t reach agreement, but this happens very rarely.

Now that you know what a Party Wall Award is, click here to find out how to maximise your chances of receiving a Party Wall Award for your build and what you can do to make the procedure as pain free as possible.

For more information about what I do, please visit www.mcwhirterlocke.com.

Andrew McWhirter