Party Structures: The Party Wall etc. Act 1996

Structural Survey

ISSN: 0263-080X

Article publication date: 1 March 2000




Chynoweth, P. (2000), "Party Structures: The Party Wall etc. Act 1996", Structural Survey, Vol. 18 No. 1.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Party Structures: The Party Wall etc. Act 1996

Party Structures: The Party Wall etc. Act 1996

Peter HamptonArchitecture and Surveying Institute1999(no ISBN Number)

Keyword: Party wall, Legislation

Party wall aficionados will welcome the publication of this new book by one of the country's most experienced and respected party wall surveyors. In the already overcrowded publications market serving this field this book attempts to offer something different. It takes the form of a loose-leaf ring-bound manual for easy reference by practitioners on site.

The book started off life as an aide-mémoire for members of the author's own design team and therefore focuses on a number of practical and procedural issues in addition to addressing the important legal aspects of the subject. This is in keeping with the author's own views of the party wall surveyor's role which, in the best traditions of party wall writing, are entertainingly and uncompromisingly laid bare throughout the book. Surveyors are urged to "steer clear of the law" but rather to apply their skills in applying their "sheer common sense and construction knowledge" in the administration of the rights provided by the Party Wall Act.

Despite this practical emphasis the book includes a useful introduction to the Law of Party Walls which quite rightly includes reference to common law and the Law of Property Act 1925 as well as to the recent legislation.

Approximately one half of the book's contents are dedicated to the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 but, it must be said, there is little in these sections that is not dealt with more fully in some of the other publications that readers will be familiar with. The mandatory copy of the Party Wall Act is included, as are a selection of draft documents and a sample letter of appointment. The one exception to this standard approach is to be found in the author's consideration of security for expenses. While emphasising that the detail of the subject is best left to solicitors the author provides a helpful summary of the practical considerations governing the need for the provision of security. He also introduces letters of guarantee and performance bonds as well as including a precedent for an escrow agreement.

As any surveyor who has been involved with the Party Wall Act will know, "party wall surveying" is something of a misnomer as the practicalities of construction work on a boundary line rarely fall conveniently into this single piece of legislation. The appointed surveyor is therefore often called on to advise on a host of other legal and practical matters but few of the available publications give any substantial assistance in this regard.

This book attempts to redress this shortfall and, in particular, includes a summary of the construction-related implications of the Law of Trespass. Crane oversailing and the erection of scaffolding on adjoining land are both addressed and the possible legal means of acquiring access are considered. Precedent oversailing and scaffolding licences are also included. The author also provides a consideration of what he describes as the "monstrous" Access to Neighbouring Land Act 1992 and many readers will probably share his view of it as "an otiose and obfuscating Act which would be uncertain in its operation and probably highly expensive to use".

Finally a comprehensive list of the leading reported legal cases is included covering party wall matters and the related subject areas of trespass, nuisance, boundaries and easements. This provides a helpful starting point for further study and case references are included for this purpose. The list is followed by summaries of two of the cases which, although useful, leave the reader wondering why only two have been singled out for this treatment.

This last point highlights the most serious potential criticism of the book, namely that it gives the impression of being incomplete. In each of its sections there is scope to increase the comment and documentation that could be included if the book is to achieve its objective of providing the practitioner with a valuable on-site reference manual. The structure of the book could also be improved if ease of access on site is a primary concern. Clearly these criticisms are mitigated to some extent as this is a loose-leaf work and in fairness, both the author and the publishers appear to be aware of these shortcomings. The introduction makes specific reference to the book being added to in the future and the price of £17.50 is stated to include amendments within the first 12 months.

In summary this is a welcome addition to the library of the specialist or committed party wall surveyor which fills a number of gaps left by other publications. In time it certainly has the potential to become a comprehensive practitioners' handbook with a much wider readership. Whether it succeeds in reaching this larger market will be determined primarily by the scale of the promised updates and by the extent to which these can realistically be delivered to buyers within the 12 months as promised.

Paul Chynoweth

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