Tip of the iceberg?

The controversy around basement extensions continues. In the same month that barristers’ Chambers Lincolns Inn proposed a subterranean facility and JCB announced a bespoke basements digger, a Private Members’ Bill has been introduced to allow local planning authorities to restrict basement excavations underneath or adjacent to residential properties.

The Bill is being promoted by Karen Buck, MP for Westminster North, to:

  • Alleviate the disruption suffered by neighbours during the construction of so-called “iceberg” basements which according to Buck involve “digging down several levels and hundreds of feet out for home gyms and spas, cinemas and gun rooms, and dance floors and the almost mandatory pools“; and
  • Avoid the effects of poorly designed and constructed basements on surrounding properties, including listed buildings, and streets and pavements, and the water table.

The Bill follows an unsuccessful judicial review of the Royal Borough of Kensington and houseChelsea’s new restrictive basement policy, Ms Buck emphasised the risk to local authorities of expensive appeals against their policies. A recent appeal illustrates the way that the Planning Inspectorate is willing to weigh amenity harm against the long term housing and townscape benefits such projects may bring.

Westminster is already proposing revisions to its January 2014 Basements Development policies with a linked Article 4 Direction to remove permitted development rights for basement extensions.

The Bill is being promoted on the basis that local authorities should not need to go “cap in hand to the Secretary of State” to obtain such powers. It remains to be seen whether going cap in hand to Parliament will work.

Little detail was included in the motion for leave to bring in the Bill, which was summarised as “to restrict the application of permitted development rights; to grant local planning authorities powers to restrict the size and depth of basement excavations underneath or adjacent to residential properties; and for connected purposes“. Such measures may prove controversial, as while some residents in particular areas may seek to carry out basement development, their long suffering neighbours may support greater restrictions.

The Basement Excavation (Restriction of Permitted Development) Bill 2015-16 is yet to be published, and is due to have its second reading in the House of Commons on 29 January 2016.

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Lucy McDonnell

About Lucy McDonnell

Lucy acts for both public and private sector clients in relation to planning, procurement and public law. Planning work includes advising developers, local authorities and community groups.

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