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?