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London Cracks Down on Dream Digs

Thursday, December 11, 2014

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London's toniest community is going after its icebergs, before the icebergs take down the community.

"Iceberg homes" are part of the growing luxury residential trend sweeping the capital's exclusive Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

Construction involves digging mega-basements three or four stories deep to make room for extra bedrooms, home theaters—and even tennis courts, swimming pools, and car collection showrooms.

©iStock.com / LeeTorrens

Residents in London's wealthy inner boroughs are creating "iceberg homes" by expanding their mansions below ground.

The appeal to carve below the mansions was reportedly prompted by rising property costs and restrictions on above ground construction. Applications for basement construction ballooned more than 20-fold from 2001 to 2007.

Limits Imposed

However, new guidelines, approved Dec. 2 and effective Jan. 21, 2015, will slash the scale of these remodeling projects.

The limits include:

  • A reduction in the maximum extent basements can extend under the garden from 85 percent to 50 percent, with the 50 percent being a single area of space;
  • A restriction limiting basements to a single story in most cases (with the exception for large sites);
  • An outright ban on basement developments under certain buildings; and
  • A requirement for construction traffic management plans to be submitted with planning applications to help protect residents from disturbances caused by these developments.

Neighbor Complaints

For years, the subterranean enclaves have inflamed neighbors in the wealthy neighborhood, home to Kensington Palace and Notting Hill.

The residents have complained to local authorities about construction noise, vibrations, traffic and other disturbances. Many voiced concerns about the structural safety of nearby buildings.

Kensington Palace
© iStock.com / Marcin libera

Kensington and Chelsea is home to Kensington Palace (shown) and Notting Hill. Officials there have put limits on basement construction.

“Basements have been the single greatest planning concern our residents have expressed to us in living memory,” according to Cabinet Member for Planning Policy Cllr. Tim Coleridge.

The number of planning applications for basements grew from 13 in 2001, to 307 in 2012, according to officials in Kensington and Chelsea.

2-Year Process

Coleridge said the council began drafting a policy in 2012 to strike a balance between the residents’ concerns and the genuine need for people to expand their homes.

The process has been rockey, he said: “Basement developers have aggressively opposed us every step of the way."

However, the Government’s Planning Inspector declared the new guidelines sound Dec. 2.

High-End Trend

The demand for luxury living in London is also changing the city’s skyline and igniting additional concerns.

Some 200 new residential high-rises peppered along the south bank of the River Thames have led to fears that London is sacrificing its heritage for the sake of luxury homes, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

London skyline
© iStock.com / FutureLight

The demand for luxury living in London is changing the city’s skyline.

“London is in danger of becoming a sort of Abu Dhabi, a sort of Hong Kong,” Nigel Barker of English Heritage, an organization devoted to protecting the nation’s history, told the news outlet.

Many foreigners are scooping up the shiny new glass and steel residential properties that boast views of the Thames and architectural treasures across the water.

Investment in luxury homes reached 5 billion pounds ($8.3 billion) a year in 2012, according Bloomberg, citing the independent Smith Institute.


Tagged categories: Building codes; Government; Home builders; Housing; Residential Construction

Comment from John Fauth, (12/11/2014, 8:39 AM)

It would be interesting to know what the neighbor concerns were based upon. Some noise and inconvenience is part of any construction site. Buying a home does not buy isolation. Or is there a legitimate (and documented) structural concern with adjacent properties? Or possibly just the extension of envy to that which can't be seen.

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