Architects have slammed a proposal by one of London’s most exclusive residential boroughs to curb a boom in building out mega-basements
They say the move is politically motivated and beyond the remit of town planning principles.
Last week Kensington & Chelsea temporarily halted 120 current applications for new rooms, swimming pools and parking facilities beneath homes within its boundaries because they potentially fall foul of draft planning guidance.
If the Planning Inspectorate declares the guidance sound in a decision expected in December, the authority will ban new basements of more than one storey beneath most houses and stipulate that no basement can be built out beneath more than 50 per cent of a home’s garden area.
According to Kensington & Chelsea, some 450 applications for new basements were received in 2013 – a tenfold increase from 46 in 2001. Thirty-three of last year’s applications were for basements two or more levels deep.
The proposed new guidance has already been through local consultation and a public examination, and Kensington & Chelsea says it has the support of ‘a large majority of residents and residents’ associations’, many of whom feel the restrictions should be even tougher.
But architects claim the rule changes are driven by anger over the local disruption that basement development caused during the construction phase, coupled with a degree of resentment towards the wealthy residents behind the schemes.
Chris Darling, managing director of Darling Architects, said the proposals were ‘significant’ because of the extent to which they went beyond traditional planning remits of controlling massing and appearance, safeguarding the local environment and protecting or promoting business. He said: ‘Now we are looking at planning as a means to minimise construction disturbance to neighbours and local residents.
‘This is an incorrect use of the system, which over time could further burden the already constraining and generally anti-development planning process.’
Architect Carl Falck said there was a political dimension to the draft guidance and that the precise nature of development below ground ‘should not matter’, provided work was structurally sound and did not interfere with the water table.
He said: ‘When people want to expand their properties for a granny flat, that seems to be understandable. But when [it’s] someone who wants a double basement and pool, there seems to be a knee-jerk reaction to oppose.’
Ian Hogarth, of Hogarth Architects, said the guidance was driven by neighbours’ ‘envy’ and distaste for dust and noise. He said: ‘Whatever happens with the guidance, people will still build down – the council may be able to reduce the scale, but they won’t be able to stop the practice itself, so neighbours will still have dust and noise.’
Manuel Nogueira, founder of AndArchitects, said: ‘Basements don’t have any impact on people once they’re built. This policy has come from the influence of residents and with an eye to the elections next May.’
He added that the planning inspector’s judgement on Kensington & Chelsea’s proposals would be keenly watched by neighbouring authorities including Westminster City Council and Hammersmith & Fulham.
Gary Elliott, partner at structural and civil engineers Elliott Wood, said there was a trend for councils to try to restrict basement construction by setting increasingly onerous technical requirements, but that it was no substitute for making ‘tricky and potentially unpopular political decisions’.
The council’ statement
‘The new draft basement policy has now been through its public examination stage and a report as to whether it is sound is expected from the planning inspector in December.
‘The new policy does not ban basements, but strikes an appropriate balance between allowing residents to improve their houses with some additional space when it is difficult to develop above ground, whilst setting sensible parameters for development below ground to minimise construction disturbance and to retain space for trees and mature planting. To this end it is proposed that they are limited to a single storey and not more than 50 per cent coverage beneath the garden.
We’ve listened to our residents and wish to rein in the very large projects
‘There has been strong opposition from some developers, but we have listened to our residents concerns and wish to rein in the very large projects which are in close proximity to neighbours.
‘The policy does carry some weight for decision making purposes as it has been through several rounds of public consultation and a public examination. However, the final decision as to whether it is sound is still awaited. In the meantime councillors have decided to give some weight to the emerging policy and, in the interests of fairness and consistency, the council has decided not to determine planning applications involving basements until the inspector’s report is received unless they are in line with the adopted development plan, existing planning guidance and the emerging policy.’
Kensington & Chelsea freezes 120 mega-basement plans