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Kensington and Chelsea Council have recently announced a ban on the construction of ‘iceberg’ basements in the borough as well as a general tightening of planning rules and regulations. The ban follows a raft of criticism from local residents concerned over the disruption caused by the construction of these luxury subterranean extensions.
Applications for underground basement extensions have risen dramatically in recent years, with the majority of applications centred in 4 London boroughs: Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster, Camden, and Hammersmith and Fulham. In 2013 alone, there were 1,709 applications in Kensington and Chelsea, and 1,405 in the City of Westminster from wealthy home-owners looking to bypass above-ground planning regulations and add space and value to their properties.
These mega-basements have been dubbed ‘iceberg’ homes due to the fact that a large proportion of the property cannot be seen from street level as they contain basements dug as much as 3-4 storeys deep. Such extensions are not cheap, and critics have claimed that without tighter regulation, Councils are allowing certain areas to “become a playground for the super-rich”.
image source: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/nov/09/billionaires-basements-london-houses-architecture
There has been cross-party criticism from both Labour and the Lib-Dems following a raft of complaints from residents and constituents. Residents in Bayswater recently staged a street protest where they paraded a 20.5 metre banner (the length of the proposed basement extensions) through the community and a petition has been started that has already collected hundreds of signatures. There have even been calls for Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, whose sister Rachel Johnson has already taken part in a protest in Notting Hill, to get involved in the campaign.
Chelsea and Fulham MP, Greg Hands, has said that disruption from the construction of iceberg homes is now among the top 5 complaints in his constituency.
There have been several famous faces involved in the mega-basement battle including one of the most notorious applications from former Foxtons estate agency owner, Jon Hunt, whose application for a cavernous extension to his Kensington Palace Gardens home included a tennis court and show-room for his Ferrari collection. Footballer Patrick Vierra also came under fire from local residents who claimed they were not properly consulted before construction began on his multi-million pound ice-berg home. Vierra eventually caved to the pressure and agreed to pay £48,000 towards community infrastructure as well as making some minor concessions to the original construction plan.
Ultimately, campaigners argue that this comes down to “putting the interests of long-term residents before those of short-term property speculators”. Having been banned in one of the most affluent areas where they would be most popular (I doubt many 3-bed semis in Hackney will be mourning the loss of their proposed mega-basement), it seems that ambitious home-owners will have to look elsewhere for a new way to extend their properties.