First World Problems: Basements

Does anyone actually need to excavate a basement? Despite, or because of, the cheek by jowl impacts on neighbours arising from the construction process and/or concerns as to structural implications, basement excavation does have one benefit – of regularly testing various areas of planning law. 
Permitted development rights
We have yet to see whether Team Javid/Barwell have the same enthusiasm for permitted development rights as Team Pickles/Lewis, with their three tier approach to development management: permitted development rights without the need for prior approval; permitted development rights with the need for prior approval where specific issues arise, and planning permission “for the largest scale development” (budget, 2014). 
Basement development exposes the difficulties with the permitted development process. Indeed the case of Eatherley v London Borough of Camden  (Cranston J, 2 December 2016) has blown a huge hole in the concept of permitted development rights as its conclusions could be applied to all but the most minor forms of development. It will surely have implications for the Government’s more ambitious, but currently stalled permitted development proposals summarised in my 15.6.16 blog post  .
As summarised by Cranston J, the central issue was “a question about the extent to which subterranean development can be carried out relying on the current regime of permitted development rights. The question is of general interest but arises particularly frequently in central London because of economic and social factors, in general terms, the increasing pressure for space. It is a matter of controversy in the planning world and there is a split between local planning authorities as to the correct answer”. 
Class A, Part 1, Schedule 2 of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 grants deemed permission for the “enlargement, improvement or other alteration of a dwellinghouse” subject to defined limitations. 
The judge held that the proposals involved excavation works which, as a matter of fact and degree, constituted “an engineering operation” which did not benefit from any permitted development right:
“In my judgment the planning committee asked itself the wrong question with its focus on the works being “entirely part” of the overall development, which would “by necessity” involve engineering works. It concluded that because this was the case it followed that the works did not constitute a separate activity of substance. That is not the approach laid down in the authorities. The Council’s conclusion that the engineering works were not a separate activity of substance followed from a misdirection. It should not have asked itself whether the engineering works were part and parcel of making a basement but whether they constituted a separate activity of substance. The Council needed to address the nature of the excavation and removal of the ground and soil, and the works of structural support to create the space for the basement.” 
So now, objectors to projects that are being pursued in reliance upon permitted development rights will be alert to elements of the works that can be said to be engineering works that would require a separate planning permission. 
The judgment is topical – in November 2016, DCLG published Basement Developments and the Planning System – Call for Evidence  which “seeks evidence on the number of basement developments being taken forward: how these developments are currently dealt with through the planning system; and whether any adverse impacts of such developments could be further mitigated through the planning process. This review is not considering whether or not basement development should be permitted, but rather how the planning process manages the impacts of that development where it is permitted. ” The deadline for consultation responses is 16 December 2016.
Other uncertainties of the (similarly worded) equivalent part of the predecessor Order were considered in Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea v Secretary of State  (Patterson J, 17 June 2015):
 – whether the limitation in the Order if “the enlarged part of the dwelling house would have more than one storey” is referring to the dwelling house as enlarged by development, i.e. includes the original dwelling house, or whether it is referring to that part of the dwelling house permission for which is given by Class A of the GPDO. The judge held that it was the latter, simply excluding anything more than a single level basement.
– whether the limitation in the Order if “the enlarged part of the dwelling house would be within 7 metres of any boundary of the curtilage of the dwelling house opposite the rear wall of the dwelling house” is referring to the dwelling house being developed, i.e. the application dwelling house, or to another dwelling house opposite the dwelling house being developed”. The judge held that it was the former. 

Article 4 directions
One clear flaw in the Government’s reliance on permitted development rights is the relative ease with which LPAs can disapply the process through Article 4 directions (without giving rise to any rights to compensation if the direction is expressed to come into force at least a year after it is made). In relation to both of the cases referred to above the relevant LPAs have now put directions in place.
On 3 October 2016 the London Borough of Camden confirmed a direction made under Article 4(1) of the GPDO, covering the whole of the borough. From 1 June 2017 planning permission will be required for basements. The direction covers: 
“The enlargement, improvement or other alteration of a dwellinghouse by carrying out below the dwellinghouse or its curtilage of basement or lightwell development integral to and associated with basement development, being development comprised within Class A, Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the Order and not being development comprised within any other Class.” 

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea made an Article 4 direction on 19 March 2015 which came into force a year later.
Restrictive policies
To the extent that planning permission is required, where the proposed works fall outside the scope of permitted development rights, LPAs have been tightening their policies so as to be able to take a more restrictive approach. 
Lisle-Mainwaring v Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea  (Lang J, 24 July 2015) was an application (supported by a basement excavation contractor!) to quash RBKC’s adoption of a revision to its development plan so as to include a basements planning policy  , claiming that the council and the plan inspector “failed to take account of a material consideration, namely the permitted development rights for basement development, and the risk of greater reliance on them if the BPP were adopted, without the benefit of any planning control over construction noise and loss of amenity”, failed to consider “reasonable alternatives” to the policy under the SEA Directive and failed to consult adequately on the new policy. (Ms Lisle-Mainwaring also of course painted her house in candy-cane stripes as part of a bizarre protest against opposition to her proposed three storey basement, thereby creating even more work for the planning bar). 
The 2015 basements policy prevented double basements in most circumstances and restricted the construction of basements under the garden to no more than 50% of the garden area (previously 85%). RBKC has since adopted, on 14 April 2016, a more detailed basements SPD  as well as a code of practice on noise, vibration and dust 
(Of course, policies should not be applied regardless of specific circumstances. By a decision letter dated 18 September 2015  an appeal was allowed for a double basement as part of the redevelopment of the former Kensington Tavern site, albeit partly on the basis of a fallback position by virtue of existing planning permissions). 
First world problems
Celebrity super basements are of course a particular headache for RBKC. 
Brian May continues to lobby  and litigate  against, we have had Jimmy Page reportedly  objecting to a super basement proposal by Robbie Williams, and of course the saga of Foxtons founder’s plans for “new subterranean space for leisure facilities to include a swimming pool and conversion of the existing undercroft into a car museum” at his home in Kensington Palace Gardens, opposed by, amongst others, the French and Japanese embassies and Indian High Commission. 
The dispute as to whether planning permission and listed building consent for the works had been validly implemented and whether lawful development certificates had been lawfully issued came to court in Government of the Republic of France v Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea  (Holgate J, 27 November 2015), with the court finding for Hunt. I believe that the case is now heading to the Court of Appeal.
It all makes for interesting press of course – and certainly interesting law – but would most of us would choose to spend our money three storeys down were we to win life’s lottery? 
Simon Ricketts 5.12.16
Personal views, et cetera

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