Planning policies in the borough and major developments

In June the Council proposed new policies to control the size of developments above and below ground and to increase the supply of affordable homes.  Cllr Nick Paget-Brown, Leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea explains the thinking.

Wealthy people from all over the world want to own property in Kensington and Chelsea and that’s no bad thing.  It’s good for our shops, good for our restaurants, good for employment and it’s good for the Exchequer too.  But as with so much else, it’s a question of balance.
Getting the balance right between the sorts of development favoured by some high-net-worth-individuals and the more traditional forms of development isn’t easy but after long consultation we have come to the view that some adjustments are needed.

That’s why we are proposing new policies designed to reduce the scale of subterranean developments and control the growth of very large properties.
And by very large I mean units of 350 sq m or more which is several times bigger than even quite generously sized homes.

What we definitely do not want to do is put a stop to such developments altogether, not least because the supply of very large homes plays a role in maintaining London’s status as a prosperous world city.  Instead we are simply proposing to restrict the size of very large residential units in a scheme to 25 per cent of the overall floor space.  And we have also suggested restrictions on creating very large units by amalgamating existing properties, except where this restores a house to a single unit, which had been previously split into flats.

The number of applications for subterranean development has also been rising steeply.
Last year we had about 300 and the scale of some of them has been awesome with two and three storeys not uncommon.  Our proposals include a reduction in the extent basements can intrude into the garden, from 85 per cent to 50 per cent; a restriction to a single storey in most cases and a presumption against basement developments under or in the gardens of listed buildings or where basements already exist.

Again we are not trying to impose a ban, only seeking a better balance between basement developments and the amenity of our other residents.  If the cumulative impact of scores of schemes that take months and even years to complete is to damage the wider quality of life in our borough I believe we have a duty to take that into account.

Just as important, we want to retain our soak away areas and preserve our garden space in its green, flowering and arboreal form so our proposals include a requirement for at least a metre of soil above the development.

And there is also the heritage issue: Kensington and Chelsea has thousands of listed buildings.  It is increasingly clear that major basement developments can be structurally very challenging.  Because of that increased risk to the fabric of our precious heritage assets, we think it right to adopt the precautionary principle.

At the same time, as trying to better control basement excavations and very large homes, we are also proposing measures to stimulate an increase in affordable housing.
By doubling the threshold where affordable housing should be built on site to 2,400 sq m, we believe it will be more realistic for developers to build affordable homes as part of new developments instead of off-site.
We will also be requiring developers to make a financial contribution towards affordable housing on all schemes below the 2,400 sq m threshold.  This will be charged per square metre and on the entire floor space.  The previous 800 sq m contribution free element is being abolished.  Our hope is that we will see an increase in high quality affordable housing as a result.

Our long-standing ambition for Kensington and Chelsea is for it to remain a diverse residential borough.  That is what these policy proposals are all about.  But before we can implement our new policies there is more work to do.  The next stage will be a public examination conducted by an independent planning inspector.  His or her decision will probably be in early 2014.
Before then I’d like to know whether you think our proposals are the right ones?  Do they go far enough, or too far?  Do you fear that limiting very large developments above and below ground will harm our economy or that failing to do so will damage our community?

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15 thoughts on “Planning policies in the borough and major developments

  1. Better late than never that our Council has decided to behave more responsibily and limit the subterranean excavations, as other Councils have done before! It is not only a question of the terrible disturbance to residents through the noise and pollution of these excavations, the dangers through heavy lorries and cranes in ordinary streets, and the destruction of gardens, but also the question mark about the long-term effects. No one can be sure about the impact on the water level in certain areas etc. You also overestimate the contribution to our community of some of those who build subterranean squash courts, cinemas, swimming pools etc and then only live in the houses for a couple of months in the year or do the whole operation to make a financial killing. Let us hope the independent planning inspector will make his or her decision in our favour as soon as possible – and yes, please let there be more affordable housing for the many who help others in jobs which do not bring high monetary rewards.

  2. Dear Mr Paget-Brown
    Next door to me planning permission has been given already for 2 storeys down under the house, front and back garden and cottage and one on roof. New rules fine but too late! Work starts end of August with 2 year contract. Dreading it – can nothing be done?
    Henrietta Phipps

  3. In the cul de sac where I live, 4 out of l4 houses are excavating under basements, this means numerous lorries all day long and earth being removed from these houses which have no foundations. Added to which the works take more than a year to complete,, in a house in Victoria Road the work took over two years of drilling and noise.. I wish the council would oversee the work going on on these houses as I suspect that sometimes the plastic sheeting hides iregularitiesand does not comply with the planning permission. As most of the houses being excavated under basements are foreign owned the feeling of community in Kensington has completely disappeared unfortunately.

  4. It is partly because of the disruption these developments cause and the effect they have on the local community that we are seeking to limit the scale of basement developments. We are looking to achieve a balance but our proposals will be tested against the current, permissive planning law by the Planning Inspectorate. That is why it is helpful to get as many of your views as possible before we make the submission.

    Cllr Nick Paget Brown, Leader.

    • I have already commented on the enormous disruption these underground developments have on neighbours and for such a length of time, also the residents parking spaces being suspended for many months and sometimes years,

  5. Both Sarah Curtis and Anne Woodward Fisher have made valuable and pertinent points. I would like to add that from a larger viewpoint, in the past months I have been watching in horror as one large development after another take shape within the Royal Borough – namely the McAlpine development opposite Kensington Gdns at the top of Palace Gate, the development just before the bridge at Olympia and a further development about to begin on Shepherds Bush roundabout. I question how an ever- increasing number of cars will be integrated into the already seriously congested traffic. We are still suffering several months increased traffic on Holland Rd due to the mishap at Notting Hill and no doubt the works due to take place at Shep. Bush will mean lorry loads of materials coming and going as the building is erected.
    I strongly believe that failing to limit these large developments above ground is damaging to the community…. where are the schools to accommodate the children ?

    Basements are even more important in that they affect the soundness of the very ground on which buildings stand. Already in some cities in India I hear the ground is collapsing due to the weight of buildings on it and with the additional weakness due to material excavated from below the surface for a variety of reasons. Basements it would seem are often used to accommodate luxuries or to increase the value of already over-priced properties.

    Governments and councils should be thinking of the health of their residents before their wealth and seeking to maintain communities which are a pleasure to live in for all concerned.

    from a concerned resident in Holland Road

  6. This consultation seems to be going on for ever. Residents and residents’ associations such as ours (Dovehouse Street) gave their strong opinions on this many ,any months ago. Although it is a bit like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, we do wish you would just get on with it !!!!!!!!
    Gillespie Robertson

  7. I don’t see what the big deal is with *modest* garden basements – there is a limited amount of space available in the city and these basements allow for additional space. Sure, limiting basements to one story seems reasonable, but why arbitrarily reduce the garden digging to 50% for everyone? When I thought about doing a basement, i was thinking of digging only in the garden to avoid disturbing under the house – doesn’t that make sense? I certainly agree that there should be some limits to the depth, but the problem to me isn’t in the gardens as much as it is when people put basements under one house in a row, thus fixing that house at the expense of its neighbouring houses. Digging an extra room in the garden doesn’t have that effect. There is a tendency in our society to use bombastic language like ‘enormous disruption’ and ‘horror’ when describing something we don’t agree with. All construction creates some disruption and there is no doubt that huge basement digs create a lot of it, so let’s reduce those, but not all basements in the process. This issue is more nuanced than that – there is not one size fits all policy. So you reduce the footprint of basements for large houses at the expense of middle sized flats that can only expand downwards? Is that fair? I hope the council does place some limits numbers of subterranean floors, but equally I hope that you do not seek to arbitrarily reduce the size of the footprint to 50%. In this case, if you do, it will be at the expense of those people who are seeking to extend their houses in a reasonable way to support their family’s growth and its not a fair policy as result.

  8. Dear Nick,

    As Chairman of the Old Church Street Association here in Chelsea, I’d suggest the local attitude towards basement projects is a little more nuanced than many assume.

    The majority of neighbours are concerned about ‘how’ rather than ‘what’. Many of RBKC’s residential properties can be classified into those who have been dug out, those who are being dug out and those who will be dig out. Given the existing planning laws, there is nowhere to go but down. Digging out is also an unintended consequence of the unprecedentedly high rates of stamp duty.

    RBKC is, currently, one of the most desirable places to own a property on the planet and construction work is inevitable; it is also one of the most densely populated. Somehow, these two factors have to be reconciled and it’s good news that the Council is recognising this.

    Noise, vibration, lorries and dust are the major causes of complaint. Existing legislation concerning building control and noise pollution takes no account of the ever-burgeoning number of people, who thanks to the Internet, now work from home. Consequently, even limiting the extent of work in terms of subterranean floors or garden percentages doesn’t wholly address neighbours’ concerns.

    A few suggestions for the Council: limiting the size of those trucks, ensuring they are the quietest and greenest possible; limiting the noisiest work to certain times of the day; banning all Saturday work; beefing up building control and having officers are on standby with noise monitors and other monitoring equipment; routine, random spot checks for all sites; ensuring residents know exactly who to call at the Town Hall if there is cause for complaint; making planning conditional on those neighbours who work from home being offered short-term office space …

    It has been suggested that any dig brings financial rewards. If this is the case, then those undertaking such work will not object paying to ensuring their contractors really are considerate.

    Best

    Sarah Ingham

  9. Dear Cllr Paget-Brown,
    I fully support your proposed new Policies on subterranean development. The world is changing and so is London and I agree a balance must be struck between the freedom of individuals to alter/extend their homes and the rights of other Residents to be considered when developments seriously conflict with their immediate interests. There can be no doubt now that we have reached the point where the current Policy is harming residents and the community in which we live.
    The damage done to some neighbouring properties recently from these developments will, I imagine, lead to claims for compensation? As we all wish to get along with our neighbours this would not be a good start. For this reason I believe many have suffered in silence but of recent times a threshold has been crossed. Residents are now annoyed, very concerned and feel their interests have been ignored.
    Our community has been changing for years as properties are let to professionals from abroad who are here for a few years only. As such they tend to take little or no interest in local affairs. Now we are seeing a proliferation of super houses for the very rich for whom it is often an investment and not a primary home. A result of this will be further damage to our neighbourhood. The number of children in the area will also decline as families are priced out. This is a very sad outcome.
    I believe the case for the proposals you have put forward strike a much better balance and I sincerely hope they will be implemented
    John Russell
    August 22, 2013

  10. Dear Nick
    Hammersmith and Fulham have, as I expect you know, a new basement policy that confines excavation to the footprint of existing buildings. And it has been agreed by the Inspectorate.

    Are the facts so different in Kensington & Chelsea as to justify your proposal to allow the loss of half of gardens that are undeveloped?

    The only difference I can see is that there is more money in the K&C property market. Does that make our peace and quiet less important? Does it mean that you can be more relaxed about the risk of flooding?

    Or to put in official planning language, is the presence of more money in the market a material consideration in planning?

    Yours ever

    Terence Bendixson
    020 7352 3885

    • Residents have told us that very large basements of two storeys or more, and those that extend a long way into the garden, are responsible for causing disproportionate disturbance during construction. Most councils will tell you that noise and disturbance during construction are not planning matters, but we take a different view. If you have several of these developments on the go at the same time over a long period this is the same as having an inappropriate use in a residential street. So we want to make our policy more restrictive, and we want developers to show residents how they are going to deal with the traffic issues during construction. But to change our policy, we are required by law to submit the new policy to one of the Secretary of State’s Planning Inspectors for independent examination, and we must have good evidence to back it up. We have surveyed residents living next to basement schemes, we have commissioned chartered civil engineering consultants to look at subsurface and hydrological issues, we have looked at the pattern of environmental health and highways complaints and have examined the visual effects of basements under gardens. All the evidence we have accumulated points towards a reduction in depth and extent of basement but does not suggest that we should limit development simply to the footprint of the house.

      Cllr Nick Paget Brown, Leader.

  11. Dear Cllr. Paget-Brown,
    The proposals are long overdue and very welcome to try to control the level of developments going on in K&C.

    We have suffered these last 18 months with a major development, doubling of house size, lower ground floor kitchen etc with a big swimmingpool under that. Our quality of life has been affected. We were not even able to have a party wall agreement as we were too far away from the digging, however, we have cracks in many rooms from the vibrations, that at times were scary.

    I suggest that on top of other responsibilities for developers an insurance for damage caused to not only close neighbours, but also houses a bit further away should be part of agreements. If we want compensation to fill in cracks and repaint our walls, we will have to take the developer to court, which would cost even more than paying for the repairs ourselves. This is not fair.

    These houses for the mega rich will affect local communities because they will not be part of it, neither may I add will they vote at local elections.

    I presume there will be long term effects to the water table and flash flooding in severe rainstorms. Also worrying for the fire brigade is the prospect of having to enter and fight potential fires several floors below ground with no entry/exit except one.
    Glad you are doing something to improve residents’ life quality.

  12. I am fully in support of the proposed policy changes to basement developments, but I would also like to see the proposals include limits to the timescales of such developments and legislation to force developers to properly indemnify near neighbours.

    Five years ago the owner of the mansion next door to my small house was granted planning consent for a double basement under the two-storey, three-car garage block between his house and mine, and under 85% of his extensive garden. Two years ago he applied for an extension of time, at the same time demolishing the garage block and installing enormous, black site gates. Only now has he started on the excavation and development proper, which is conservatively expected to take at least a year even if the work is continuous, which judging by his record is unlikely.

    So, for five years we have had the prospect of the development hanging over us and for two years our attractive street has been blighted by unsightly site gates and rubble, our security compromised and our previously quiet and peaceful back gardens spoilt by the intrusion of noise from the street. And we have still to put up with at least a further year of noise, vibration and dirt from the development itself. This is too much. Had I wanted, or indeed needed, to sell my home during this time I probably couldn’t do so, or at best at a substantially discounted price.

    Developers should be required to guarantee compensation to neighbours for the loss in value of their homes during the development period and, similar to some road works caused by utility companies, pay a penalty for works which overshoot a pre-agreed timescale. The Party Wall Act did not envisage such industrial-sized developments in residential areas and it provides totally inadequate protection to neighbouring properties. Without the imposition of legally-binding, neighbour-friendly policies, developers can and do ride roughshod over neighbouring owners, showing little consideration or concern for the imposition, inconvenience and often financial loss that they are causing. They must be made to guarantee, and if necessary pay, the full cost.

  13. The Council’s proposals for restricting the size and scale of basement developments are to be welcomed. However, they do not, in my opinion, go nearly far enough. The simple fact is that basement developments in RBKC are an entirely one sided affair: substantial financial gain for the developer and enormous distress for the neighbour(s). No developer lives in his property whilst the work is going on – but the neighbours have little choice other than to stay put and accept the noise, dirt, damage and stress.
    At present, the law appears to allow for no compensation for having to put up with a neighbouring (especially a contiguous) development and, I believe, needs to be changed. It behoves RBKC, with probably the highest incidence of high value basement developments in the entire country, to take a lead by lobbying for such a change. Limiting basement developments to a single level will not remove the fundamental problem of such developments which is their unacceptable impact on neighbours. As an alternative to statutory compensation, developers of terraced houses should be required to reach a satisfactory (financial) settlement with their neighbours without which the development should not be permitted.
    Only two days ago the Council published a planning application by a developer in Kensington Park Road where it appears to have been necessary to rehouse the neighbour as a result of substantial damage to her property caused by the development. This is far from the first time that this has happened in RBKC and I am sure it will not be the last.
    Much greater recognition must be given to neighbours’ rights and proper compensation needs to be introduced if basement developments (especially in terraces) are to be allowed to continue.

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