Architect Sophie Hicks faces a fresh battle to build herself a modern house in west London after judges ruled neighbours had legal standing to withhold consent on reasonable aesthetic grounds
The Court of Appeal found that leaseholders at 89 Holland Park had the potential, through a specific covenant, to block Hicks’ proposals for a plot behind the building because of the scheme’s appearance.
When Hicks bought the site in December 2011, it came with a covenant giving long leaseholders at five flats within the existing Grade II-listed Victorian building the right to veto certain future developments.
In 2015 planning permission was granted – at appeal – for a single-storey glazed building leading to two floors below street level. A planning inspector described the proposed entrance pavilion as an ‘unusual feature’ that was ‘noticeable at night as a gently glowing glass box’.
But in January 2017, after being presented with three folders of information by Hicks, the leaseholder management company refused its consent for the scheme. Aesthetic reasons were cited among other factors.
Last year a High Court judge found that aesthetics were the major concern of the neighbours, and that this was not a reasonable reason to withhold consent under the covenant.
This seemed to pave the way for Hicks to build the house. Planning permission was re-issued to the scheme by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea last year.
But now the Court of Appeal has overturned an element of the High Court decision, ruling that the neighbours do have a right to attempt to block the construction of the house on certain aesthetic grounds.
‘The covenant in our case was a covenant between neighbours; and in my judgment a neighbour has a legitimate interest in the appearance of what is built next door to him,’ said the judgment handed out this week.
Judges called for the case to return to the High Court for a decision on whether the specific aesthetic grounds relied on by the leaseholders were reasonable.
Clive Chalkley, partner at law firm Gowling WLG, which acted for the leaseholder management company in the case, said the latest decision was a ‘step in the right direction’.
’The decision has potentially significant implications for those who own their property as a share of freehold, or those who have acquired the freehold through collective enfranchisement,’ he said.
’If the freeholder has the benefit of a covenant, provided all the other usual tests are met, then long leaseholders with an interest in the property may now have a better chance of being able to take their own interests into account in seeking to enforce that covenant.’
Hicks, a former stylist for Vogue magazine, became an architect in 1994. She has designed a number of fashion stores in the UK and abroad.
Last year her 1A Earl’s Court Square house won an RIBA London award.
Hicks has been contacted for comment on the Court of Appeal decision.