Are We Entiled To See Plans of the Proposed Work Before Consenting?

by The Party Wall Surveyor

Question

Our neighbour  wishes to build a kitchen extension making use of the party wall with our house. They have asked us to sign a party wall agreement, the text of which is:

We are intending to commence construction work on our property, in the form of a side return and rear kitchen extension as of November 2009. This work will include using the party wall.

Our builders have assured is that as little noise and disruption will be incurred as possible. I have every confidence that this will be the case.

I would be grateful if you could sign and date this letter to confirm that this will be to your satisfaction.

We asked to see the plans, but they say “the plans cannot be drawn up without the party wall agreement as this will affect the plans”. They have told us that it is a 1 storey rear and side extension built with old brick stock. The rear element that would be visible to our own property would extend 2.8m into their garden.

They also say they have been told that planning permission will not be required, following recent changes to the law. I would be grateful for your advice on this situation. In particular:

  • Is planning permission required or not?
  • Is it reasonable that we should sign the agreement (text above) without seeing plans first?
  • What rights do we have in this situation? For example can we require our neighbours to appoint a party wall surveyor (at their expense)?

Answer

The letter that you describe would probably not constitute a valid notice under the Party Wall Act. There is no prescribed format but it must contain the names and addresses of both parties, a brief description of the works and a start date for the works. Once you receive a valid notice you will have the opportunity to appoint a surveyor to protect your interests. In all normal circumstances the surveyor’s fee will be payable by the party having the work done. If you are concerned I would recommend that you contact a surveyor now and let your neighbours know who you will be appointing. If you were agreeable they could then appoint your chosen surveyor as ‘Agreed’ to keep the costs down – otherwise they would also have to appoint a separate surveyor.

If the wall is a party wall your neighbours have a right to use it – either in its current form or to knock it down and re-build it. Importantly, they only gain that right by serving notice. As they have the right to use the wall there should be nothing to hold up the drawings. My guess would be that they would like to know whether you will be appointing a surveyor or not so that they can factor those costs in to the project and see whether it would be cheaper to build a new wall alongside the party wall. They may not realise that the work would still probably be notifiable as the foundations to the new wall would probably be deeper than those to the existing structure. If the excavation work is notifiable then that notice must be accompanied by a drawing to be valid.

It is true that the laws covering permitted development changed just over a year ago, there are now no volume restrictions to ground floor extensions that can be build as permitted developments but they must still be within certain maximum dimensions. An owner of a terraced or semi-detached house can extend back 3 metres from the existing building without planning consent. There is some argument over where that existing line is on period properties with narrower back additions. The generally accepted rule is that you can build an infill extension (i.e. filling in the space beside the back addition) without planning consent but if you also want to extend back beyond the rear of the back addition consent will be required. You may want to speak to your local planning office to see how they interpret the rules.

Follow-up

If I decide to have an agreed surveyor appointed, can I access a list of surveyors qualified to do this kind of work and/or registered with a professional organisation?  I see there is a Faculty of Party Wall Surveyors website, but it is not clear what status this organisation has.

Answer

The Faculty of Party Wall Surveyors is primarily an educational resource although the do offer accreditation – to obtain membership surveyors must submit a couple of awards and sit an interview. There is also a club for Party Wall Surveyors, The Pyramus & Thisbe Club, which has a directory of members on its site – anyone can become a member so long as they are nominated and seconded by existing members.

I would not say that either organisation will guarantee you success in choosing a surveyor but they are a good starting point. I would recommend that you chat to a couple of surveyors on the phone and see how helpful/knowledgeable they are before appointing one.

You should not expect your appointed surveyor to investigate the planning issues for you unless you instruct them separately to do that.