From the mega-rich, to the mega-basement, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) now have a mega-result. In a report published on Tuesday (02 December), a Planning Inspector has found RBKC’s proposed Basements Planning Policy to be ‘sound’, and subject to a number of inconsequential amendments, the policy and guidelines will be formally adopted by RBKC at the next Full Council meeting on 21 January 2015.
In the report Inspector David Vickery said: “I am satisfied that the Council has identified deep concerns amongst its local residents about alleged adverse impacts on living conditions from noise, vibration, dirt, and dust from construction and from associated traffic, in addition to concerns about impacts on drainage, on appearance and landscape, on structural stability, and on historic buildings.”
The decision means that RBKC will become the first local authority in the country to impose further stringent restrictions on subterranean development. The fallout from the decision will have significant implications for subterranean development within the Royal Borough, and probably across many other London Boroughs if they choose to follow suit – Westminster also has been developing a similar Basement Development SPD.
The new basement policy, which has taken two years to develop and has been through five rounds of consultation, will introduce strict rules to govern basement development in the Royal Borough. The new policy restricts the maximum extent that basements can extend under the garden of a property from 85% to 50%, with that 50% now required to be a single area of space rather than separate sections of discrete subterranean development. The policy will also restrict basement development to a single storey (with exceptions for larger sites). Where an existing ‘original’ lower ground floor, ‘basement’ level exists, a new level can still be added below (subject to relevant constraints), however, where a basement has already been implemented following the grant of planning permission or through permitted development rights, the policy does not allow further basement floors or basement extensions that would exceed 50% of the garden or open part of the site.It also reinforces an outright ban on basement development under listed buildings, regardless of any proportionate response to the effects of proposed works on the significance of the designated heritage asset. There is also a requirement for Construction Traffic Management Plans to be submitted upfront alongside planning applications to clearly define the potential disturbance a development may cause during the construction phase.
Despite all of the focus on basement developments in recent years, such development has long been considered a useful way to add extra accommodation to homes and commercial buildings with much less long term visual impact than above ground extensions. In fact, the construction of basements has a long history in London, dating back to at least the 17th Century, at which time they became part of the well-established vocabulary of London house building.
In recent years the ‘mega-basement’ has become an increasing issue for local residents, particularly with regard to the construction impacts of basement development. The high number of related complaints has formed part of the driving force behind the development of RBKC’s policy which, according to Cllr Tim Coleridge, Cabinet Member for Planning Policy, has intended to “strike the right balance between addressing our residents’ concerns and the genuine need for people to expand their homes.” The development of these ‘iceberg homes’ emerged as a unique way for London’s wealthy elite to expand their properties, as well as their property portfolio, by taking advantage of the lack of planning policy and guidance on the subject. However, Cllr Tim Coleridge points out that: “Basements have been the single greatest planning concern our residents have expressed to us in living memory. Many have experienced years of misery from noise, vibration, dust and construction traffic.” RBKC indicate that the number of planning applications for basement development have risen from 46 in 2001 to 450 in 2013, a tenfold increase.
The rapid rise in the number of planning applications for basement development between 2012 and 2013 is certainly in part a result of private developers’ awareness of the Council’s development of this new basement policy, and the resulting need to achieve permission for proposals prior to the adoption of an increasingly restrictive policy framework.
While there is no denying the increase in the number of applications for basement development since 2001, it remains to be seen whether this new basement policy will improve the conditions for local residents, as the policy has set out to do. The new policy will in theory reduce the overall construction times for basement development projects due to the new restrictions on size, depth and the requirement for Construction Traffic Management Plans to be provided upfront; however the policy does not provide any greater certainty to residents on construction project overruns, that developments will be carried out in accordance with such approved Management Plans, and crucially it does not limit the number of basement developments carried out in any given street at any given time. This cumulative effect of multiple, simultaneous, developments is arguably a greater concern to residents than the construction phase of any individual larger basement development.
Applications for basement development within the Borough will still be submitted, residents will still be minded to resist any form of basement development in their street, and the Council will ultimately maintain their balancing act between the two. If nothing else, the new policy should theoretically reduce the number of potential complaints/objections received in relation to the planning phase of basement developments because developers now have a clear steer about what is (theoretically) acceptable to the Council. This should also allow the Council to get back to the business of determining applications, removing the recent build-up of bureaucratic dust from those 220 planning applications which have been ‘put on hold’ pending the outcome of the Inspector’s decision on the new Basements Policy.
The RBKC press release for their new basement policies is available at:http://www.rbkc.gov.uk/pressrelease/pressreleasepage.aspx?id=6558
The City of Westminster Basement Extensions SPD is available at: https://www.westminster.gov.uk/basement-extensions
NLP has extensive experience of achieving permissions for basement development across central London and beyond. We have a detailed understanding of the emerging updated policy position across London’s Boroughs and the opportunities and constraints that exist in terms of basement design and layout, specifically with regard to trees, light wells, roof lights, heritage and other planning matters. We also have expertise in permitted development and appeal for basement works. If you have a basement development on which you would like advice, please do not hesitate to contact either Declan Carroll firstname.lastname@example.org or Grant Lock email@example.com.