Comment: The sad solitude of the basement extension

Grove Lodge Hampstead

Grove Lodge Hampstead - Credit: Nigel Sutton

As the battle of the basements reaches new lows in Camden, are the owners of multi-storey underground lairs missing the point of living in the borough?

Forget igloo Airbnb listings, in north London we’re all about the iceberg basement. From Primrose Hill to Highgate, Camden is awash with planning applications for homeowners keen to burrow deep.

It’s so common at the moment that there’s a real danger of this paper turning into little more than a bizarre planning circular.

Leaf through the Ham&High on any given week and the litany of woes from local residents deeply concerned that their peaceful Heath-side retreats, modest mews and historic homes are set to be besieged by HGVs, floods and subsidence will astound. How has it come to this?

Camden council blame central government funding cuts for their decision to relax planning rules around basement extensions, allowing many to sneak through under permitted development but this doesn’t explain why the desire to excavate has become so widespread.

Part of the appeal is clearly financial. Savills estimates that a basement can increase a property’s value by up to 15 per cent.

Soaring house prices have played their part – for those who can’t afford to upsize the only option is to extend.

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Fashion must also shoulder its share of the blame. In previous decades, many of the basement culprits would have been attracted to sprawling detached properties in the outer suburbs or home counties, where they could enjoy space and privacy surrounded by large gardens and off-street parking.

As the property-as-status symbol phenomenon gains momentum though, these same people have been drawn to more central areas, without losing the rapacious desire for spacious accommodation and on-site facilities.

Yet by rendering it unnecessary to ever leave their fortress-like houses, these basement-hungry types are missing one of the nicest things about living in north London: the ability to rub a nonchalant shoulder with the leading lights of London culture at the gym, the hairdresser or the library.

Little surprise that those in the eye of the storm are fed up. So fed up that there is even an independence bid for a new “borough of Hampstead”.

If the trend continues unchecked some of Camden’s most beautiful houses will be little more than embellishments, precariously perched like fascinators atop the underground lairs where the real action happens in splendid isolation.