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CHRIS PHILP: The fight against underground movements

PUBLISHED: 16:17 03 September 2008 | UPDATED: 15:22 07 September 2010

My postbag has begun to groan in recent months. More and more of us have been faced with a growing environmental problem: the explosion of basement excavations and garden grabs. This trend started down in Kensington where concerned residents say, only in

My postbag has begun to groan in recent months. More and more of us have been faced with a growing environmental problem: the explosion of basement excavations and garden grabs.

This trend started down in Kensington where concerned residents say, only in part jokingly, that half their borough is now located underground. Green spaces are also under threat from 'garden grab' - building new objects in gardens, where planning laws are less strict than elsewhere.

At a casual first glance, this may not all sound such a bad idea: create more living space without tearing down any of our beautiful existing buildings. However, my groaning postbag tells a different story.

Let's start with the basement exactions. The first problem is with the disruption caused by the excavation itself. Often hundreds of tonnes of soil must be removed, equating to many, many gigantic lorry loads on our quiet streets. The noise, dust and dirt cause neighbours severe stress and disruption. I recently visited a lady on Parliament Hill whose window sill was covered in a thick layer of dirt, even though she had cleaned it just two days before. The health implications cannot be good. Nor can the structural implications. Many of the Victorian and Georgian buildings in our neighbourhood do not have sturdy foundations.

There are also many underground water courses (such as the Fleet) so the danger of water ingress or soil slippage is real. This is especially true in areas like ours where the under-soil base is clay. Some recent basement excavations and underground pools are already showing cracks.

Under current rules, there is little the council's planning committee can do about the basement applications. In the last year, scores of applications have been nodded through, with officials and councillors largely powerless to intervene because of government legislation. Down in Kensington, their council has recently lost a number of appeals against basement applications that they initially threw out.

The same is often true with garden grabs The idea that a beautiful open green space should be turned into flats is terrible. Our green spaces, and the huge mature trees that occupy them, are a crucial part of what makes this part of London so special and we must fight to protect them.

The character and peace of NW3 and NW6 are being threatened, then, by excessive basement excavations and garden grabs. So what should we do? There are three things. Firstly, we must strongly oppose plans that will spoil our area. The recently-defeated Lyndhurst Gardens application is a case in point.

Another example is the Estelle Road case, where local residents and I had to oppose a grossly inappropriate application that was made on six separate occasions, and we won each time!

Secondly, the council should use building control powers to curtail the most disruptive and damaging excavations and insist on positive expert evidence (for example, from hydrologists) before approving basement excavations. I am already discussing these ideas with council officers.

Thirdly, UK law needs to change to give local people and councils more power to protect their areas, rather than allowing inappropriate development to be shoved down our throats.

Let's fight every application that will make our wonderful neighbourhood any less special. This is a battle I'm determined we'll win.

Chris Philp is a local councillor and is the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate

for Hampstead & Kilburn

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