A look at party walls and neighbourly matters


Sara Burr FRICS, director of the party wall department at GVA Schatunowski Brooks looks at the importance of party walls and neighbourly matters to the smooth delivery of projects…

More and more we are being asked to advise on ‘neighbourly matters’ generally, in addition to party walls. So who can be a party wall surveyor and what does neighbourly matters actually mean?

Given the complex interpretations of The Act, appointing an experienced team is essential.  Unfortunately, the use of the title ‘Party Wall Surveyor’ doesn’t need any qualifications and becoming chartered in the area is particularly challenging.

Technically you don’t have to have any qualifications at all but experience and knowledge of the Act. The interpretation of the Act has become more complex and so has case law. It is now a whole industry which can cause delays and halt construction.

There are now a number of organisations that ‘surveyors’ can become members of to obtain letters after their name which to the general public are attractive. These qualifications are nowhere as onerous as those of becoming Chartered, whether through the RICS, CIOB, ICE, IStructE or RIBA. So in essence there are two breeds of party wall surveyor, those who are Chartered and want to specialise in the area and those who have chosen to get involved in the process in order to obtain a qualification.

We must acknowledge that there is a huge amount of administration involved in the process. From serving notices to following timescales, which in itself can be complicated, through to finally signing and serving an award. Assistant surveyors and administration assistants are an invaluable team. The key to the process is ensuring you have all the information available to undertake the work and allow sufficient time for the process to take place.

Adjoining owners see the Act as a tool to stopping development when the planning process fails to protect their ideals. It becomes expensive for building owners who have not budgeted for surveyors’ fees, the information required or the cost of time. It was intended to be an enabling Act.

So what are ‘neighbourly matters’? 

There are currently working parties discussing with the government about a Boundary Dispute Resolution Bill and a Basement Development Bill to enable such disputes to be regulated in the same way as party wall matters. These matters may or may not be incorporated into the Party Wall etc Act 1996 but it must be remembered that this Act sprung from the London Building Act 1974 which became Nationwide on the one specific issue. Basements historically have been curtailed to London but boundary disputes have not. Given the current development landscape there is clearly a need for this to be reviewed.

Then there are matters which don’t come under any of those or the Access to Neighbouring Land Act. Matters such as scaffolding or crane over sailing licences. The Access to Neighbouring Land Act was intended for ‘maintenance’ not to allow access for ‘development’ purposes. Such issues again can delay a project or cause additional cost if not obtained. More and more frequently now adjoining owners are using that potential gain as a tool for compensation.

Boundary disputes, these also can amount to trespass, but not just because ‘who owns what’. It could extend to rights of way or established use.

As chartered building surveyors we deal whole spectrum of neighbourly matters, not just arty walls and provide cost saving advice for both Building Owners and the Adjoining Owners.  Part of property consultant Bilfinger GVA we can offer support to clients nationwide.

Sara is past London Chairman and currently Vice Chairman of the Pyramus & Thisbee Club, a Learned Society for party wall specialists.  Sara leads the party wall team at GVA Schatunowski Brooks, a specialist neighbourly matters team within Bilfinger GVA with over 50 years of experience delivering expert advice.  

Sara Burr


Bilfinger GVA Shatunowski Brookes

004420 7911 2703



Please note: this is a commercial profile


  1. There remain flaws in the Party Wall etc Act 1996, when it comes to abuse of position by a developer, failing to be transparent about the extent of strip out and/or lack of adequate supervision or design.
    Many historic buildings in London, Manchester, Liverpool suffer from relatively minor interference with foundations and loading. Much takes place behind closed hoardings with limited or in our experience pre-orchestrated inspection with the added incredible fees rates where adjoining owners surveyors are able to use the lacunae in the Act to stay in place to extract extortionate fees. There is too great a possibility for fraud and corruption to avoid or gain costs with little recourse to equity for parties with irreparable settlement damage to buildings. Presently a short walk past the end of Courtnell Street W2 or up and down Northumberland Place W2 and Westboune Park Road, where at either side of each hoarding diagonal cracking is visible in the adjoining buildings with in some cases catastrophic distortion. Powered tools, insensitive open plan design with little respect or understanding for cellular brick timber and lime mortar construction – or care – once planes of weakness are introduced – in our experience these can never be restored. Our view of the present correlation of D.S.Services and unfettered shanty town development with no concept of what in town and country planning they are destroying environmentally is not a happy one. The ridiculous description of the RICS Guidance for example of cantankerous adjoining owners whose sole purpose might be to protect their home, their lives and their environment from in the case of many in this area permanent encroachment and intrusion of the transfer of loading and wrecking of fine architectural stucco and craftsmanship with no historic understanding of community or perspective of harmonious terrace planning – we could go on – but s.6(3) of the act creates gross abuse of position hand in hand with greed and with it the harming if our built environment – we have a catastrophically distorted and cracked home with jamming doors and windows cracks through every ledge window head and lintel front and back and know that he Party Wall etc 1996 is a trespass, nuisance and encroachment purchase Act. It creates social disparity and injustice for profit.


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