Stuck in a hole?

Last Updated on : 11th January 2017

Basement planning policy is always under review, and never more so than following a High Court ruling preventing a single-storey development in London, reports Georgina Blaskey.

th-8If you live in Nappy Valley, chances are you’ve lived through a basement dig out on your road. Grumbling as you hear the ‘beep, beep’ of the skip lorry at 6.45am (you’re sure you were told no noise would start until 8am), it’s all too easy to wish you’d furiously objected instead of absent-mindedly nodding your head all those months ago.

But then you went to look around your neighbour’s newest home addition and found the prospect of digging out you own basement rather appealing. Well if that’s the case, you may want to act now, as a High Court ruling at the end of last year found in favour of a neighbour objecting to a single-storey basement in Kentish Town – and what happens north of the river can have a ripple effect to the south.

While we know many a billionaire’s multi-storey designs involving swimming pools and double-height ballrooms are met with objections, this case was unusual because Camden council had granted a certificate based on the work being within the rights of permitted development. At the time, The Telegraph reported: “There were 15 objections from adjoining occupiers, including a petition with 32 signatories, and the residents were supported by their ward councillor. Among their concerns were the disruption, dirt and noise caused by the construction work, road access, loss of parking – and the risk of instability.”

scgSo what does this mean for homeowners seeking permission for basements in SW London in the future? We spoke to some local experts for guidance. Rob Wood of Simply Construction Group said: “Basements have very little impact visually to properties for the obvious reason that they are subterranean. The main objections from neighbours is the perceived disruption they cause and the worry that if done incorrectly, they can undermine their own property. The planning rules have become more strict, enforcing careful consideration of how the basement dig will be managed and it’s impact through the construction phase. The boroughs are not stopping basements, they are making sure they are better planned, which can only be a good thing. But this does mean it takes longer to gain permission and costs more, which of course people are never going to like. But I wouldn’t think it will stop them being done.”

wcSam Vallings from BTL Property explained: “This feels like an exaggeration. Any basement with a light well would need planning permission. In some cases you could extend an existing cellar under permitted development but at the moment homeowners already jump through more hoops with a basement than, say, an attic. You need drawings from an architect and structural engineer, a soil test, party wall agreements, traffic management plans and flood risk analysis – which is the equivalent to the £8,000 ‘basement tax’ being talked about elsewhere in London. There is a ripple effect. What happens in Kensington and Chelsea might happen in Fulham and Wandsworth. Basements are under greater scrutiny but currently we are not aware of any plans by Wandsworth. However, Hammersmith and Fulham are tightening up on excavations under the front path.”

Wandsworth Council has clear and transparent information on their current planning policy. Here are a few key elements specific to the area that homeowners should consider when designing their basement:

Front gardens: you must ensure that at least 50% of the front garden remains following excavation of a “lightwell”. As many front gardens in the borough are extremely short, to manage the impact on the character on the street scene it recommended that a minimum depth of 2m should remain in front gardens and this is normally a requirement in conservation areas.

Rear gardens: Rear gardens can be affected by a lightwell and by the construction of a basement which runs underneath the rear garden.

Lightwells: The SPD advises that excavation of a lightwell may only be acceptable in private (not shared) gardens, and that the remaining garden meets the minimum garden space standards set out in planning policy (DMPD Policy DMH7: 10 sq ms for 1 and 2 bedroom dwellings and 15 sq ms for 3 or more bedroom dwellings).

Excavations under the garden: The depth of back garden you will need to retain will depend on your property and whether it is located in a conservation area. For most properties in the borough it would be good practice to retain a depth of at least a half of the back garden. Care must be taken not to damage trees and tree roots (including those in neighbouring gardens which are likely to run under your property). It is also good practice to ensure a minimum 1m depth of soil above the basement.

What to know before you start the dig:

  • The planning regime covering the creation of living space in basements is evolving and under review.
  • Converting an existing residential cellar or basement into a living space is in most cases unlikely to require planning permission as long as it is not a separate unit or unless the usage is significantly changed or a light well is added, which alters the external appearance of the property.
  • Excavating to create a new basement which involves major works, a new separate unit of accommodation and/or alters the external appearance of the house, such as adding a light well, is likely to require planning permission.
  • If you live in a listed building you are likely to need consent for internal or external work.


Permissions you definitely need:

  • Planning permission
  • Building control
  • Listed building consent
  • Party Wall Agreement
  • Highway licence
  • Skip licence
  • Parking suspension
  • Streetworks licence
  • Freeholder consent (if you live in a flat or leasehold house)

If you want a basement – but not the hassle – there are some brilliant properties boasting underground living space in Nappy Valley.


Wroughton Road

This property’s expansive basement, part of a total home redesign by Minale + Mann, includes a family/playroom room and a TV/media room along with a utility room, store room and separate wc.



Bolingbroke Grove

The lower ground floor of this substantial property comprises a TV/play room, a utility, wine room, and study/sixth bedroom with en-suite, perfect for teenagers and guests.


The lower ground floor of this interior-designed, split-level flat comprises a large reception area with extra-wide antique flooring leading to a fantastic bespoke Italian fitted kitchen and doors with steps leading up to the communal garden. There is a separate study and downstairs shower room with WC, demonstrating how a basement can transform an ordinary flat in to the extraordinary.


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