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Consulting Engineers

Is this a dangerous precedent?

It was recently reported in the press that a wealthy City headhunter was accused of treating Kensington like the Wild West by “trampling over” planning rules to build a mega-basement under his £5 million home.

Ex trader Stephen Fairholme was given permission for a modest extension with a reception, bathroom, cinema and shower directly beneath the four storey house in March 2013. But the following year he applied for a much larger dig – adding a playroom, utility room, gym, study and two bathrooms to the basement – which would have involved more than 50% of the garden.

By then Kensington & Chelsea council had introduced controls on basement extensions, limiting the size to less than half the size of the garden, and the application was rejected. When construction began, the neighbours became suspicious at the scale of the project. Their fears were confirmed when council planning officers visited the site. The officers served an enforcement notice on the owner. But they also suggested that he lodge a retrospective application for the bigger extension, slightly smaller than the banned scheme, to conform to the new guidelines. Council officers have now recommended approval for the application. This will be decided shortly.

Is this now potentially setting a dangerous precedent for developers and owners wanting to build mega-basements? Is it giving them a clear signal that if a particular large basement proposal is not approved, they can go ahead and build it and the planning authority will just approve it retrospectively? This will make a mockery of planning rules when someone can just do what they want without any consequences. If this continues, developers and owners of large properties will just keep pushing the boundaries with unlawful developments, knowing that they will get away with it.

What do we as professionals, Architects and Structural Engineers, do if we come across this happening on one of our projects? While we are employed by the client, we do all have a professional responsibility to notify the client that what is being done does not conform to the approved scheme and report it to the relevant authorities. What do you think? I would be interested to hear if anyone has had any experience with this and how they handled it, while protecting the identities of any parties.

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