Party Wall Surveying

Special Foundations - The Party Wall etc. Act 1996


This is a repost from William Lloyd’s post on LinkedIn

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What is a special foundation?

Special foundations are defined in Section 20 of the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 as:

“ special foundations” means foundations in which an assemblage of beams or rods is employed for the purpose of distributing any load “

This is a very old fashioned way of saying “reinforced” any many would argue isn’t particularly relevant today.

What is “special” about a special foundation?

90% of the discussion around special foundations is around the fact that the building owner has no right under the Party Wall Act to place special foundations on the land of the adjoining owner. Under Section 7, subsection 4:

(4)Nothing in this Act shall authorise the building owner to place special foundations on land of an adjoining owner without his previous consent in writing.

If no consent is forthcoming, the adjoining wall requires a redesign to a mass fill concrete underpin which, strangely, doesn’t require express consent from the adjoining owner.

Is it that clear cut?

Not really. There was a case in 2013 “Chaturachanda vs Fairholme” that didn’t clear things up at all.

In this case the concrete slab rested on a mass concrete foundation which resulted in the argument that under section 20, the reinforced underpinning was only a wall and not a foundation. This was subsequently agreed by the Third Surveyor and when elevated, the County Court.

So I can place concrete under my retaining wall to get around this?

Nope. The Court went on to expressly state that:

Neither such a pad or blinding layer will protect the Building Owner from the Adjoining Owners veto in section 7(4)

Ie, there needs to be a mass concrete “foundation” as a permanent part of the design to provide a considerable level of support. Anything else can be rejected as a “sham”.

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Should I consent to special foundations?

My personal opinion is that without the option to say no, this would not be talked about as much as it is. It is one of the only clauses within the Act which gives the adjoining owner a right to say “yes” or “no”.

If you don’t plan on having a basement dug in the future then there is little reason for you to say no to your adjoining owner using special foundations. After all, reinforcement within the underpinning ensures that it is as structurally sound as it can be.

However if you plan on having a basement in the next few years it is worth thinking about whether the “toe” of the foundation is projecting on to your land (as in image above) and if so, will it restrict your ability to create floor space? There are engineering solutions that do not need the “toe” and perhaps these would be worth exploring.

Either way - lots to talk about on this one.

White & Lloyd Ltd are Party Wall Surveyors operating throughout South East England with offices in Weybridge, Surrey and Fulham, London