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Court decision means tougher rules for basement extensions

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Basement extensions must have planning permission if they require excavation and engineering works, according to a landmark court ruling

A High Court judge has ruled that the London Borough of Camden wrongly allowed a basement designed by north London practice Strange Associates under permitted development rights.

The case, brought by a neighbour, is the latest round in London’s ‘basement wars’ between householders developing underground extensions and disgruntled neighbours.

A statement by Landmark Chambers, representing neighbour Michael Eatherley, said: ‘This is the first time that the High Court has directly dealt with whether a residential basement extension, involving significant excavation works, is or can be within the Class A right.

‘The judgment clarifies a controversial topic in planning law and provides much-needed guidance to authorities, who have hitherto adopted divergent approaches.’

Class A permitted development rights apply to projects to enlarge, improve or alter domestic homes.

In December 2015, Eatherley’s neighbour, James Ireland, applied for a certificate to excavate a single-storey basement under his terraced house in Belsize Park, north London.

This week’s judgement found that Camden’s planning committee erred by approving the application because it did not consider the excavation and removal of soil, along with structural support works, as a separate activity from the creation of the basement.

The presiding judge, Justice Cranson, said: ‘In the context of an original “two up, two down” terrace house in suburban London, it seems to me that the development of a new basement, when there is nothing underneath at present, could well amount, as a question of fact and degree, to two activities, each of substance.

‘There is the enlargement, improvement and alteration aspect, but there is potentially also an engineering aspect of excavating a space and supporting the house and its neighbours.’

He said that, even though engineering works might be indivisible from the developer’s aim, they still require planning permission.

According to figures from Glenigan, planning applications for basement extensions in London have doubled over the past two years.

Earlier this year, Queen guitarist Brian May accepted £25,000 in compensation after bringing legal action against a developer undertaking a basement extension at a neighbour’s house.

In June next year Camden will join a number of other London boroughs in adopting new rules requiring planning permission for all basement developments.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Isn't it wonderful when all sides of the constitution meet over the simple matter of the size of housing accommodation. The snooty judiciary and schlorotic and underfunded planning system. Of course existing 2 storey houses should be able to expand 1 storey up and 1 storey down. And as easily as possible. At least a 40 degree pitch and no gang nail trusses. And a basement on a Victorian/Edwardian house will provide it with foundations and an insulated ground floor slab.

    Planning permission is obviously required for such major work, disputes with neighbours need to be resolved, and permission quickly granted. And uniformly. Even in London some boroughs say only under the existing curtilage, some say in the garden, so as not to annoy the neighbours. And do we really need 2 underground storeys of cinemas, gymnasia and car parks?

    And doesn't one love Justice Cranston's Lady Chatterley moment?! Are basements in these 2 up and 2 down suburban houses suitable for one wife and servants? I think not?! Many on the flood plains are actually building swimming pools, full of untreated flood water.

    All aspects of the latest housing crisis?

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