Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Kensington & Chelsea freezes 120 mega-basement plans


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Architect Carl Falck said there was a political dimension to the draft guidance and that the precise nature of development below ground ‘should not matter’, provided work was structurally sound and did not interfere with the water table.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.’


Readers' comments (5)

  • There's surely room for more case studies in how large basement developments in residential areas can (or can't) be undertaken with minimal disturbance to the neighbours - but also on just where the money's coming from for such obviously very costly works.
    It's easy to discuss objections in terms of 'jealousy', but how about motivation in terms of 'greed'? - and I'm not a left-wing nimby.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Our experience of these guidelines, is whatever their original purpose, they are followed by a scope change on implementation that stops modest developments that were not the original intention. Residents who have been vociferous in driving these changes will find they have de-valued and restricted their own properties. Our practice currently has two live applications, which are for single basements that have been put on hold together with all the doubles and triples. Both would pass under the new guidelines but despite this our clients are being disadvantaged with an unnecessary delay. The loss of greening they say they are trying to control is already covered by by guideline insisting on a metre of soil over garden basements. On this and many issues planning departments are losing sight of their original purpose under the post war planning acts, in fact they should be re named "stopping departments" as they no longer plan or promote development.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Have never been to the area but is it essentially an area of large traditional fairly densely packed terraces with little or no off street parking? Presumably in such an area very large basements can allow the movement of living space underground and allow the potential to then convert the ground floor to bedrooms, potentially increasing the number of occupants and quite possibly the number of vehicles looking to park in the area? Bigger houses with more space and potentially more occupants could potentially put more strain on every aspect of the area infrastructure, drains, utility supply e.t.c. Or am I making too much of the word 'potentially'?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Besides all the valid comments from my architectural colleagues this seems also to be a case of cutting one’s nose to spite one’s face. Not so long ago my practice Studio Bednarski completed a total rebuild in W11, where as a part of the project we created a sub-basement ( in this case it worked a dream with direct stairs to the garden and natural light through vertical windows ). The project and its sub-basement met with local opposition, with one local individual particularly vocal. Our local estate agent contacts told us later that that individual selling a house nearby was telling potential buyers that the house had a great potential as … a large sub-basement could be created. As a W11 resident I objected to this policy and to my council tax being used that way. I do hope that the inspector will see through it and throw it out, as if not RBKC planners will be very busy, for years, with basement work appeals.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I have neighbours in basement flats in two buildings in RBKC who have submitted planning apps for subterranean development / sub basements beneath the entire footprint of the existing building and gardens. These are victorian buildings previously converted into flats. Do you honestly consider it acceptable for residents of upper floor flats to have to endure the excavation / removal of foundations / underpinning / creation of sub basements directly beneath their floorboards? The impacts of this construction methodology on neighbours is off the scale, and totally disproportionate, forcing them out of their homes for the duration of the construction. Would you seek approval for someone else to do this below your own home?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.

Related Jobs

AJ Jobs