The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) finds itself
time and again in the press, and in and out of courts with the
continuing fall outs between those of its residents who are seeking
to make the most of their property interest, against those seeking
to preserve the status quo. The proposals for 'mega'
basements and 'iceberg' basements continue to occupy
councillors, neighbours, town planners, lawyers and the
Part of the reason why these developments have become so very
popular (other than the financial benefits associated with such
schemes) is that where works are proposed to a listed building, any
significant change above ground level often faces opposition.
Conservators argue that planning permissions should not be granted
as the nature of the listed building would be adversely
Developments below ground mean that any objections to the
planning application arising from any adverse visual impacts is
more difficult to sustain, as very little can be seen of the
changes once works are completed.
As land value has increased exponentially in some parts of
London (RBKC being one of those that has have seen the biggest
increases in land value), basement developments which may have been
too expensive in the past have become more affordable and the
schemes have become bigger and better.
However as more of such schemes come to fruition, neighbouring
residents have become more concerned about the noise, vibration,
disturbance and possible damage to their own buildings
and have begun to exercise their democratic rights of lobbying
their local councils and councillors to secure more protectionist
policies for them.
The billionaire founder of Foxtons, Jon Hunt, finds himself
having benefited from the law as it stood before RBKC introduced
more restrictive policies. The basic facts of his case are as
In 2008, RBKC granted permission for a five-storey basement
extension (which Hunt maintains was implemented, such that the
council cannot stop him completing those works and certificates
confirming the same were issued by RBKC);
In 2016 RBKC refused a more modest scheme for three
subterranean levels (following much lobbying and a change in RBKC
planning policy which now restricts basement extensions to one
storey below ground);
The French ambassador, who resides next door is challenging the
certificates issued confirming the implementation of the 2008
permission to prevent the original scheme from being developed
The French ambassador took the matter to the High Court to argue
that Hunt had not properly implemented the 2008 permissions. His
arguments were on the grounds that the planning permission had not
actually been implemented within the three years allowed and that
any works to the building undertaken within that period had been
done for purposes other than implementing the planning permission.
The challenge was unsuccessful in the High Court but the ambassador
has been granted permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal which
is due to be heard in 2017.
The Court of Appeal will certainly provide interesting insight
into the laws and practicalities of implementing planning
permissions. If the challenge succeeds, Hunt will have to consider
a much reduced scheme in keeping with the council's current
The interplay between the law, regulations, local authority
policy and local authority decision-making against the realities
– both commercial and practical – of delivering
schemes after grant of planning permission, plays out in a very
public way. It is often the case that delays in the grant of
permission or delays caused by challenges in courts can effectively
defeat schemes as investors lose interest, or when financing
One may assume that such hold-ups provide the objectors time to
lobby the owners of the land, Crown Estates, to persuade them to
refuse the landlord's consent for the works. The legalities of
properly implementing planning permissions is a matter of critical
importance, and the value of good legal advice at an early stage
will now be self-evident to those fighting these contentious
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