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Anger at plans to ban ‘mega basements’ in South Kensington

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Guidelines setting limits on size of subterranean rooms a ‘dangerous precedent’

Architects have reacted angrily after a planning inspector approved plans to ban multi-storey ‘mega-basements’ in an exclusive part of west London.

In October, it emerged the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea had placed about 220 planning applications in limbo while a planning inspector reviewed its proposed policy.

The decision last week means the ‘frozen’ applications for new subterranean rooms, swimming pools, and parking spaces will now starting moving through the system again – however, most are expected to be rejected.

According to Kensington & Chelsea the ‘vast majority of these cases would not comply with the new policy’.

Architect Ian Hogarth said the new guidelines setting limits on the size of basements, which were driven by residents’ anger over the inconvenience caused by basement builds coupled with a spike in applications, set a dangerous precedent.

‘Historically, neighbour disturbance has been covered by the environmental health department and has never been admissible as a valid planning issue,’ he said. ‘The decision now leaves this issue wide open, and could affect any development anywhere in the country.’

Hogarth added limiting the footprint of new basements was an ‘arbitrary’ measure that could dramatically reduce the opportunity to provide lightwells for builds at properties with small gardens.

Architect Chris Darling of Darling Associates said the planning inspector’s decision was ‘disappointing’.

He said: ‘Kensington & Chelsea is unique in combining exceptionally high density with exceptionally high land values. Kitchens, utility rooms, and gyms don’t need natural light and placing them in basements helped to retain precious above-ground space for living and bedrooms.’

Nick de Lotbiniere, a director at consultants Savills, said he believed the policy was ‘too restrictive’ and may be open to legal challenge.

‘The issue is whether construction noise and disturbance should be given so much weight,’ he said.

‘Policies designed to deal with basements could start to interfere with other forms of development.’

Ian Fergusson, associate director at consultants Turley, agreed that a challenge to the policy was possible, but said it may be hard to win.

‘The council and the inspector have been robust about their proposals, but there will be legal issues about the past two months, where there has been this uncertainty and we’ve heard of legal actions being prepared,’ he said.

The London boroughs of Camden, Islington, Richmond, and Wandsworth are understood to have been watching Kensington and Chelsea’s progress closely.

Both Hammersmith & Fulham and Merton already have basement-build policies in place.


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