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Legal blow for Sophie Hicks’ self-designed underground home in Holland Park

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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.

  • 7 Comments

Readers' comments (7)

  • Although I would not choose to live underground (apparently from the section), surely Hicks' aesthetic judgement and that the scheme has PP would be enough to satisfy neighbours' criteria…?

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  • I'm sure that a prudent purchaser would have been made fully aware of the possible effect of the covenants by their solicitor prior to purchase of the site ......

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  • @Chris Abbott, my thoughts exactly. Pretty audacious to invest that much on that site in that set of circumstances.

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  • Another aspect of this is the new Professional Indemnity Insurance landscape around basement projects in general. We have recently renewed our PII and found it challenging to find a broker who would allow us to do basements. We needed the cover for existing projects as run-off cover and will be avoiding basement projects in the future as a result of this shift in the attitudes of insurance brokers. There must be a raft of defects claims with London basement projects!

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  • how does an architect have enough money to build a house like this?

    Perhaps the answer will help us understand the lack of BAME representation in our industry as well

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  • Simon Lewis-Pierpoint

    What a shame when politics gets in the way of architecture that in many circumstances could be eligible to be listed in the future as a piece of 21st Century Architecture that deals with a very restrictive site in London! Design is always subjective, best of luck Sophie Hicks.

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  • @Chris Abbott @Chris Rogers
    I had a project once where the solicitor had not noticed that the garden and basement area had not been included in the land Registry entry. He was rather embarrassed and did sort it out.

    @Babel
    Sophie Hicks will hardly sue herself for a defective basement : In fact she will do it properly.

    @Trabtrib
    Read the article - she has designed a number of fashion stores in the UK and abroad : That makes good money. As a former stylist at Vogue magazine she had the contacts.
    Getting ahead in wat can be a very subjective industry - in terms of what sort of design is fashionable - is difficult for all.
    Women architects - eg Sophie Hicks - are moving forward, as are a few BAME architects.
    Sadly, this country is still quite sexist and even more racist, especially property and construction.

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