Banker bunkers under threat

Lavish underground extensions to be restricted by London councils
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Basement extension
Extravagant basement extensions, nicknamed “banker bunkers” by critics, are going to be harder to build as leading councils across central London start to impose rigid new planning guidelines. Basement-mad residents aiming to add value and create space will be devastated by this news, writes Ruth Bloomfield.

Camden council has issued rules for people hoping to extend their properties below ground after a “noticeable increase” in applications. It suggests that all subterranean extensions should be of “modest” size and descend no deeper than three metres.

That policy will be tested later this month when the council rules on plans for a 35ft double-height project in King’s Street, Primrose Hill. The local conservation area advisory group “objects strongly” to the plans, citing fears about the risk of subsidence to neighbouring properties.

'We are seeing a major trend towards
more basement developments'

The bunker backlash extends to Westminster, where Philip Green’s stepdaughter, Stasha Palos, has had an ambitious project turned down by Westminster council.

She had hoped to create a U-shaped basement to wrap around the property in St John’s Wood, with a tunnel leading to an underground swimming pool and gym. Planners rejected the proposals and heard objections from the London and Middlesex Architectural Society. which claimed the excavation could cause subsidence.

However, an alternative scheme for a more modest basement extension to the property was approved.

A council spokesman said officers were drawing up guidelines to restrict underground developments after losing a series of appeals against planning refusals. “We are seeing a major trend towards more basement developments, and at the moment we are finding them very difficult to resist,” he said.

Kensington & Chelsea council has commissioned Ove Arup, the design and business consultancy, to look into the implications of underground development, particularly beneath listed buildings. Conservative leader David Cameron blazed the trail for underground expansions at his North Kensington home. Other enthusiasts include Ricky Gervais, who horrified his neighbours with plans for an underground pool at his home in Hampstead.

It took hedge fund millionaire Chris Rokos 18 months to win permission for a lavish subterranean extension to the house he is redeveloping in Kensington Square. He had to give Kensington & Chelsea council a £500,000 donation towards affordable housing as part of the deal to excavate more than 60ft and build an underground swimming pool and plunge pool beneath the back garden.

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