The Government has confirmed that building work may continue during the current lockdown so long as the temporary Site Operating Procedures (SOP) are complied with. I therefore thought it might be helpful for those at the various stages of planning a building project to consider the impact on party wall procedures.
If your designer has already undertaken a site survey and you’ve agreed the key details of the proposed work they will have all the information required to prepare the ‘existing’ and ‘proposed’ drawings. It should then be possible to tweak the design remotely until it is ready to be submitted for planning permission (or a Certificate of Lawfulness). Planning departments are attempting to keep the wheels turning by relying on photographs and videos as an alternative to a site visit.
Party Wall Notices
Once the plans are ready, it’s time to consider whether there are any party wall implications. Adjoining owners have 14 days in which to respond to party wall notices after which they will be deemed to have dissented. A follow-up letter must then be sent requesting surveyor’s details within a further 10 days. If we allow two days for service by post at each stage and a little additional time for the fact that the postal service is rather erratic at present it could be up to a month before you receive a response or are in a position to choose a surveyor to act for your neighbour.
Most surveying practices are continuing to work through the crisis, albeit often with a scaled down team, so there’s nothing to prevent your neighbour from choosing a surveyor to act for them if that’s what they decide is required. Once appointed, the surveyors must confirm their appointment in writing, exchange letters of appointment and select a third surveyor. That might add a further week to the timescale following which they would normally move on to arranging a site visit.
Schedules of condition
The main purpose of the site visit is to record the condition of the adjoining owner’s property so that any damage reported can be easily identified. The Act does not specify when this should be done so it could be at the end of the process or even after the party wall award has been served – if that is the case, a clause should be added to the award requiring a schedule of condition to be recorded prior to any of the notified works commencing on site.
If a site visit is considered necessary this could still take place so long as social distancing guidance can be observed. Although the site visit is generally undertaken by the two surveyors together there’s no reason why it couldn’t be undertaken by just one of them given the unusual circumstances. Typically, only part of a property is scheduled so any occupants can remain in the rooms to which the surveyor does not require access. The risk can be further mitigated by safeguards such as avoiding public transport on the journey to site and the use of disposable gloves/masks.
Party Wall Awards
The surveyors will generally start the process of agreeing a party wall award following the site visit buth there is no reason why that cannot be done at an earlier stage. They will have the ‘existing’ and ‘proposed’ drawings and could ask the owners to provide photos of the property to assist with considering the works in context. If something does get overlooked, bear in mind that the surveyors remain appointed and can pick it up after the award has been served. This can either be dealt with in a simple addendum or an exchange of letters.
So, with a bit of flexibility and the use of technology there is much that can be done to keep party wall procedures moving during these unusual times ensuring that when restrictions are finally lifted works can get underway without further delay.