Legal disputes crop up everywhere from Oxfordshire residential sites to Surrey church halls, as this month’s roundup of High Court writs demonstrates. Plus, our regular dispatch from Brussels

Diocese of Arundel

A £1m church annex in Esher, Surrey, is at the centre of a £300,000 legal row. The Diocese of Arundel and Brighton (Building Services) is suing mechanical engineer Cameronaire Environmental, in liquidation, as well as builder MJ Gleeson Group, and architect Peter Wicheloe Architecture. The diocese accuses the companies of negligence and breach of contract. Cameronaire Environmental agreed to provide heating and cooling systems for about £90,000 but the diocese says they were designed and installed negligently. MJ Gleeson, which constructed the building for £835,720, is also being sued over the heating and cooling system. The diocese also says it had lost confidence in the architect’s ability to complete the project on time and on budget.

Interstate Investments vs Fenwick & Co

London solicitors Fenwick & Co is facing a legal battle over £82,000 after being accused of making excessive charges without authority.

Interstate Investments accuses the legal firm of failing to account for the money despite numerous requests, and of making unauthorised deductions from the sale of property.

Interstate asked the firm to act on its behalf when it sold the former Butttershaw Middle School in Bradford to Haslem Homes Ltd for £1.5m in January 2004. Interstate says the legal firm claimed to be entitled to keep legal costs of £40,000 plus VAT, and £25,000.

But Interstate says that it had never authorised deduction of the firm’s fees from mortgage funds and sale proceeds, and demanded repayment. However, the solicitors have refused to pay the money, and failed to deliver a proper bill. Now Interstate is suing for £82,575 plus interest at £18.09 a day.

Swallow Hotels

The landlords of a chain of hotels are suing their leaseholders – Swallow Hotels and London and Edinburgh Inns – for insurance rent of more than £300,000.

The leaseholders have paid £185,865.50 of the total insurance bill, but still owe £322,799.53 for 10 hotels.

The landlords, Vasella Ltd and Brentwood Investments, say they have paid insurance premiums to make sure the hotels are insured. But despite demands, Swallow and London and Edinburgh have failed to reimburse them.

Alan Hill vs George Wimpey

Chartered surveyor and property consultant Alan Hill is suing George Wimpey South West for an introduction fee of £270,250.

He had introduced various development sites to other companies in the George Wimpey Group, receiving a fee of 2% of the purchase price. He claims in June 2003 that he introduced George Wimpey South West to the Parker Knoll factory in Oxfordshire.

Wimpey went on to buy the site for £11.5m, but failed to pay the introduction fee of £230,000 plus VAT, the writ says.

EU watch

Small businesses could be badly hit if working time rules are agreed. The UK’s “opt-out” from the 48-hour week is under serious pressure, which could mean workers being prevented from working longer hours.

The European parliament’s employment committee has voted to scrap the opt-out, with Alejandro Cercas MEP citing the European Social Charter and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which say workers are entitled to the limitation of maximum working hours.

Under existing law, agreed in 1993, individuals can agree with their employer to opt out: the UK is the only country currently operating this option across a range of sectors. Other states allow the opt-out only in specific sectors, such as for hotel and health workers.

The proposals aim to phase out the opt-out within three years. In the meantime, they also pick up concerns about the possible abuse of the rules, particularly through employer pressure. Extra safeguards have been added to prevent the opt-out being signed at the same time as the employment contract and protect workers who refuse to sign.The CBI supports the opt-out on the basis of flexibility and individual worker choice.

After a vote in the full parliament later this month, the proposal and amendments will go back to the 25 European Union governments who must then decide on a common position.

l Craig is head of European policy at the RICS’ Brussels office. Email: