London Basements: The Good News and Bad

Friday, December 12, 2014

Last month, Oliver wrote about the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s plans to restrict basement development and why we think it’s a short-sighted and counterproductive knee-jerk reaction.

Long story short: basements provide an uninstrusive and convenient increase of floorspace and value, while – thanks to advances in technology and design – being just as comfortable as the floors above them. Dense urban areas with few options for above ground expansion don’t just benefit from them, they need them.

Despite this, the situation hasn’t improved. RBKC’s freeze on 120 applications escalated to an outright ban on basements extending two or more storeys below ground and pressure’s mounting on surrounding boroughs to follow suite.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that, in the face of unprecedented adversity, we’ve pushed approval through for a state of the art double basement just around the corner from the iconic Abbey Road Crossing in St. John’s Wood.

A new build in a strict conservation area was never going to be an easy win. We thoroughly justified every aspect of the design that would cause objection but couldn’t have anticipated this newfound objection to basements taking hold in Westminster.

It was a no compromise situation for our clients and we represented them wholeheartedly. As a couple of successful work from home professionals, the basement space would allow them to separate their home and work lives to the benefit of both.

This subterranean space provides much more than luxury (though there is plenty, with its underground swimming pool and sauna), it provides the ability to invest fully into their work without sacrificing the home life it sustains.

We argued the above and much, much more to the committee deciding the fate of the build. Two councillors were lobbying for its rejection so they could get a head start on legislation but ultimately the committee voted for the good of our clients, their property and their lives.

While we hope our success sets a precedent against the tide of anti-basement sentiment, the reality looks bleak. Our approval was hard won and less experienced and established architects will find themselves in deep water in the coming months.

RBKC was the first to act and we’ve now experienced first hand the same prejudice in Westminster. The rejections are likely to spread, so if you have plans for a basement development you need to act quickly.

At DGA, we’re going to keep pushing for architecture we believe in. If you also see the benefits and beauty of basement developments, we may be your best chance for approval in London.

By John Dyer-Grimes