Developers 2 – SME’s 0

Crane and construction siteI have been asked to become involved in two matters latterly that are very similar.

The Business Owner’s both own their own building and have done so for years and have been good local citizens paying their rates and, where appropriate, their land tax.

The buildings are both two-storey buildings in a retail shopping strip. The side wall of their building is a brick party wall fire rated.

In both cases, their respective neighbours sell their shop to a developer, who may pick up three or four properties in a row. He decides to develop the site(s) and seeks dispensation on the height of the building and car parking.

The building goes up and, to the surprise of the Business Owners, who did not think to go down to the council and look at the plans, the upper levels of the neighbouring building have windows and balconies that over look their premises. This does not overly worry the owners, but the increased traffic does, as the occupiers of the now apartment block on the upper levels have permits to park, which makes it difficult for the customers and staff of the long standing resident shop keeper to do so.

To make matters worse, when the Building Owners attempt to develop their own sites, they are not permitted to build more levels like the neighbour, as this would take away the light and view from the neighbour’s apartment block. What?! This can potentially strip millions of dollars off the value of the proposed development.

My other real concern was that the client’s buildings (in both cases) were quite old and built on the boundary line. As such, I worry about possible damage to the building and to the staff, should there be undermining of the foundations of the boundary wall during excavation for the neighbouring car park and a collapse of a tilt slab wall above.

The lessons here are that just because there is a solid party wall between two buildings now, does not mean that this will remain the case moving forward.

Always go and look at the plans if your neighbours are redeveloping.

Ensure that the council and engineers have thoroughly considered the risk to your or your client’s building, as well as the staff, remembering it is up to the employer to ensure a safe working place for their staff.

It is first in – best dressed, as the councils and the courts are certainly leaning towards the developers rather than the community. The cynic in me thinks this creates more land tax and rates for the government and councils in the short term. Another part of me thinks it is a denial of natural justice and fairness.

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