London's going underground

'Bankers' bunkers' multiply as Londoners search for extra space
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Basement extension
Londoners are searching for extra space instead of moving, so basement extensions are proving more popular
There is such a high demand for extra space from “don’t move improve” Londoners that home-owners are going underground by the hundreds. More than 500 planning applications were made to central London councils for new basement extensions this year.

An audit of the “banker bunker” heartlands of Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, and Camden during the first quarter of the year has found more than 10 requests for the extensions are submitted every week.

Kensington and Chelsea is the most popular borough: during March and April it received some 35 planning applications. Westminster received 27 applications during the same period, mostly in St John’s Wood. Camden received a dozen applications, most in Hampstead and Belsize Park.

John Walker, operational director for development planning at Westminster, said the number of applications had doubled over the last two years.

“It is more affordable than it was a few years ago, there are lots of specialist companies around so the expertise is there,” he said.

“People don’t just want essential living space they now like to have small gyms or a cinema room, and you don’t really need windows for that. But we’ve also had 10-pin bowling alleys and storage for a collection of classic cars.”

Basement extensions routinely attract bitter complaints from neighbours concerned about months of noise and the spectre of subsidence. New permitted development rights granted by the Government last year means permission is not required for smaller extensions which remain within the footprint of the house. And Mr Walker said the council’s experience of rejecting larger schemes has been that the property owner simply appeals - and wins.

Kensington and Chelsea last year agreed tougher rules on basements, including resisting developments beneath listed buildings. It has noticed an “unprecedented” rise in applications, but agrees the Government’s stance makes resistance difficult.

Conservative leader David Cameron was one of the forerunners of the craze for underground extensions, with a project to add an extra floor beneath his North Kensington home.

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