Plague of St John’s Wood basements “blighting neighbourhood”

MP Karen Buck leads parliamentary debate after 86 basement applications received in the area last year

St John’s Wood is well known for its grand villas and impressive architecture.

But a trend for homeowners to enlarge their properties by expanding beneath them has seen the usually tranquil neighbourhood become increasingly blighted for many residents.

In the past year alone, the St John’s Wood Society has been asked to review 86 basement applications including 13 in one road – Hamilton Terrace.

Other streets have been affected almost as severely with nine basement applications in Acacia Road and seven in Carlton Hill.

Such is the extent of the problem that last week saw North Westminster MP Karen Buck lead a parliamentary debate on the issue in the House of Commons.

Speaking during the debate, Ms Buck said it was only when she looked at one of the larger basements in St John’s Wood last month that “it really came home to me just what an extraordinary change we are seeing”.

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Of one basement stretching between Hamilton Terrace and Hamilton Close, she said: “It seemed that the excavation was the size of an aircraft carrier – absolutely vast.

“It was far greater in scale than I had expected. Not only was this enormous excavation going on, but lorries that were turning into the mews to take away the soil were pounding away. There was noise and filth in the air.

“The small mews was already buckled by the pressure of the lorries coming into the street, which was not designed for the kind of traffic that was being imposed on it.

“It was vividly brought home to me how disruptive such basement developments are.”

Ms Buck’s comments are echoed by Hamilton Close resident Sir Hugh Cortazzi whose experience was read out by the MP during the debate.

He said: “The excavation of the basement and garden at an adjoining property has been continuing since September last year and vast quantities of earth have been removed via trucks and skips.

“The pollution and noise are extremely disruptive but they will also cause damage to the environment, alter buildings in a conservation area and could have adverse effects on the water table and drainage in an area built on streams which already suffers from subsidence.”

Calling for tighter regulations, Ms Buck says she has an issue with basement developments that “stretch not just under the footprint of the house” but “through an entire garden” to provide luxuries such as underground cinemas, swimming pools, gymnasiums and gun rooms.

A Westminster Council spokesman said all basement developments must comply with planning legislation and council guidelines.

“While such development is often largely concealed from public view, it is important that it is carefully designed to ensure it causes no harm to the amenity of adjoining occupiers, to biodiversity, heritage assets or the character of the area and that it does not result in drainage, flooding or structural problems.”