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London council imposes tighter basement restrictions amid growing safety concerns

The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea (RBKC) in London plans to tighten regulations for the construction of new basements.

RBKC said that issues raised by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) last year combined with the significant rise in applications for new basement construction had created a need for improved regulation.

The borough reports that it received 256 applications for basement schemes last year, compared with 64 in 2003 and the rate of increase was matched by a rise in complaints from neighbours about projects that had been given the go-ahead.

Borough cabinet member for planning policy Tim Ahern said the new regulations were likely to restrict excavation to just one storey and force residents to apply for planning consent even if the site has permitted development rights. The new planning documents are expected to be drawn up by the end of this year.

But plans to get national guidelines accepted into law under the Subterranean Development Bill look doubtful. The second reading of the Bill in the House of Lords was unopposed, but it looks unlikely to become law as it is a private members’ bill and ministers have said that existing laws give adequate protection.

Presenting the Bill to the Lords, Lord Seldon said that basement developments were most contentious in London – where high property prices made extending downwards more attractive – but there were examples across the country. He was backed by former Conservative cabinet minister Lord Jenkin, who said the impact on residents living next to developments could be “horrendous”.

For the government, Baroness Hanham said most basement extensions left no permanent visual damage in their neighbourhoods.

“We recognise that neighbours and local residents are right to expect effective and responsible management of development and swift action when things do not go the way they should,” she said. “But legislation already provides for most of the solutions to these problems, if it can be and is used in the right way.”

Hanham pointed to the regulations already used by RBKC, as well as those used by the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham as examples of the legislation that can be used to add to existing planning laws in areas where development of basements is a particular issue. She dismissed the need for national legislation


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