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London Mega Basements

Westminster Council is following Kensington and Chelsea’s lead in cracking down on mega basements being built under houses in its borough.

The trend for building under houses in London has seen a massive surge in recent years, mainly due to extortionate house prices and the need for more space. Some wealthy home owners have put multi-storey basements under the majority of their land, providing such amenities as swimming pools and gym rooms.

There are problems, however, associated with the installation of such mega basements. Neighbours are subjected to noise from construction work, dust, and builder’s vehicles blocking parking spaces, as well as possible damage to property.

Extending an existing basement can be relatively simple provided expert advice is taken and professionals are instructed. Converting an existing cellar beneath a house from a storage area to a habitable living-space involves only a ‘change of use’ and does not usually require planning permission. Reducing the floor level of a cellar to improve the ceiling height will enlarge the volume of the property and may need planning permission.

In certain circumstances, and provided certain specifications are adhered to, some alterations can be carried out without the need to make a formal planning application under what are known as ‘permitted development rights’.

Planning policy on basements can vary depending on the local authority but it can be difficult for a local authority to find reasonable grounds for refusal especially if the work does not significantly alter the building’s appearance. However, local authorities do have special powers to take remedial action and there may be additional legal constraints preventing alterations or causing a nuisance or the property may fall within a conservation area or be listed meaning there are additional planning controls.

In response to a significant increase in the number of residents wanting to expand their properties underground, the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea introduced a basement policy in January 2015. This policy stops basement developments in the borough that exceed 50 per cent of the area of each garden or open part of the site, or involve excavation under a listed building. It also outlaws new light wells and railings to the front or side of a property where one would seriously harm the character and appearance of the locality.

Westminster Council has decided to adopt the same policy and has just introduced rules preventing residents from building huge basements under their properties. All basement applications will now go before the council’s planning department, allowing neighbours and local communities to have their say and for developers to demonstrate they will not cause undue harm to neighbours or the character of the area.

If you are considering a basement extension, or you are having issues with a neighbour’s extension and need legal advice, the expert team of Property Lawyers at Slater and Gordon can help. Call us on freephone 0800 916 9083 or contact us online and we will call you.

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