Comment: can Hampstead Brexit from the basement scourge?

Once more unto the polls we go [Photograph by @gerrymc123]

Once more unto the polls we go [Photograph by @gerrymc123] - Credit: Archant

As we head to the polls again tour here’s a petition for Hampstead to ‘do a Brexit’ and seperate from Camden Council. But is isolation enough to keep iceberg basements and other symptoms of a sickening property market at bay?

A vision for Hampstead Parish Council

A vision for Hampstead Parish Council - Credit: Archant

After a whirlwind six weeks Election Day is finally here. But don’t think you can relax once you’ve cast your ballot, perhaps the most important referendum is yet to come. We’ve had Brexit, is it now time for Hampexit?

Yes, Hampstead is making a bid to leave Camden Council behind and launch its solo career. Solicitor Jessica Learmond-Criqui is capitalising on the election fever to launch a petition to create Hampstead Town Council.

Questions about the referendum nitty-gritty aside (would you need a visa to visit the Heath? What flag would fly over Hampstead High Street?), the petition has proved popular, with over 400 of the required 2,000 signatures garnered at the time of writing.

The motion has celebrity support in the form of actor Tom Conti, who hopes the break from the bureaucracy of Camden Council would give Hampstead more discretion when it comes to planning permission.

“Permission is given to build the most outrageous structures,” he told the Ham & High. “Basements, that’s another thing that people really hate, apart from the ones that are building them.”

Ah, basements. With all the kerfuffle over Brussels it’s been ominously quiet on the basement wars front. But is this a sign that the cold war over iceberg basements could be about to heat up once more?

The petition states that the area covered by the proposed Hampstead Town Council would include ‘the block on which Air Studios is positioned’, a music industry icon whose day to day activities are under threat from the not-so-good vibrations of a basement extension next door.

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Stamp duty has temporarily stumped the market in north London, and when it’s so costly to move property owners minds naturally turn to improvements. With the top of the market struggling to make the volume of transactions it once did the proverbial property ladder has become congested. If you can’t move up then perhaps it’s time to dig down.

Carving out an underground lair increases the square footage of your property and can add around 15 per cent to its value, but you’ll find your popularity with the neighbours plunge in an inverse proportion.

Under the surface extensions get under Hampstead Town-ers skins so because they cause a perfect storm of disruption. There’s the immediate noise and vibrations of building works, combined with the shared space taken up by skips and scaffolding.

Shifting all the displaced earth and shipping in the building materials requires heavy goods materials to trundle up and down the roads, congesting already congested roads.

Tinkering with the foundations can cause all sorts of headaches for anyone with an adjoining wall, from cracks to leaks to subsidence. In April a £1 million house in Wimbledon collapsed into a heap of expensive rubble when a basement went wrong. If doesn’t really bear thinking about that happening to one of the lovely properties in the Hampstead Conservation Area.

In areas such as Kensington and Chelsea where basements still cause bother, there’s not the same community spirit to disrupt.

If you’re going ahead with a basement here you should probably ask the architect to reinforce it, bunker-style, to protect you from your infuriated neighbours, although Hampstead residents prefer to put pen to petition rather than lob mouldering vegetables at their enemies.

In a way each basement is a Brexit of its own, the signing away of your neighbourly relations in order to exist in splendid isolation. All metaphors aside, the underlying (pun intended) cause of north London’s skewed property market is a system that serves investors over homeowners, one that has been encouraged for over a decade by successive governments on both sides.

Do we want a city where homes remain something for the few, rather than the many? Who you vote for today decides what happens to our homes tomorrow. Cast wisely.