Basement Developments in St. John's Wood
The Society’s planning committee is fully committed to doing all we can to preserve the character, gardens and historic buildings of the St John’s Wood Conservation Area. We are, however, constantly thwarted by the lack of adequate planning policies to support our objections to excessive basement applications which are submitted, more often than not, by developers who have little or no interest in the area. The Society and residents have consistently raised strong objections to unacceptably excessive basement developments but Westminster Council has granted planning permission for over thirty such developments within our Conservation Area in the last year. Unfortunately current planning policy does not provide case officers with robust grounds for refusal which can be successfully upheld on appeal. Not only do these works take a very long time to carry out but on Acacia Road and Hamilton Terrace in particular, several schemes are being developed either simultaneously or consecutively and the situation has become intolerable for an ever increasing number of SJW residents. We are not against anyone improving and extending their homes in the traditional manner such as modest rear extensions which are not disproportionate to the existing building, but the new brand of home extension in the shape of vast excavation work needs addressing urgently. Extensive garden excavations mean that the opportunity for mature tree planting is lost forever. The installation of the major plant required to heat swimming pools, ventilate and air-condition large underground rooms is unsustainable and fails to comply with current government policy on sustainability. The removal and dumping of tons of spoil is also unsustainable and it is impossible to assess the long term impact these excavations will have on the water table and drainage.
As mentioned in previous newsletter reports (see link), the Society has taken every opportunity to try to effect change to existing basement policy and we are grateful for the interest and support of our MP Karen Buck in this matter. We are also currently supporting the efforts of Dr James Thompson chairman of the “Considerate Basement Development Group”, a collective group of residents’ associations, property owners and Councillors in the City of Westminster and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
The number of applications for basement developments has increased significantly in the last year. During the period October 2010 to September 2011 the Society’s Planning Committee reviewed 86 applications for basement developments. Although some of these applications are resubmissions for the same property and some are reasonable developments under the footprint of the house or modest extensions to an existing basement, a substantial number are for excessive basement excavations which represent an unacceptable overdevelopment of the site and loss of garden and trees. For a list of basement applications reviewed by the Society’s Planning Committee (see link).