Taking a stand against basement development could cost you just �15
Your readers may be interested to know that Camden could put a stop to dangerous basements in Hampstead and Highgate tonight (February 4) shortly after 7pm, when there is a committee hearing on 94 South Hill Park. What is more, they have two perfectly go
Your readers may be interested to know that Camden could put a stop to dangerous basements in Hampstead and Highgate tonight (February 4) shortly after 7pm, when there is a committee hearing on 94 South Hill Park.
What is more, they have two perfectly good legal tools to do this with. They could follow clear Government guidelines and the Mayor's London Plan by applying their own excellent draft Development Policy 27 limiting the size and depth of new basements.
They could equally apply Government measures known as PPG 14 introduced in the 1990s to prevent developers from destabilising neighbours' property by digging into potentially unstable land.
The first route is a lot easier, but up to now Camden believes that they are under instructions from Whitehall to ignore one of their own draft policies, which has been fully consulted on and formally adopted, but awaits enactment.
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We say that civil servants cannot legally ignore well established Government guidelines and that by law, Camden councillors must take into consideration good and relevant "emerging policies'' when deciding on basement applications.
To get one's head around the second route, you will need a PhD in a rather specialist discipline, which could be called "Planning Law and Hydro-geological Technical Studies".
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Camden has not quite got there yet, but we believe it is their duty either to get there or to postpone making potentially dangerous decisions until they are satisfied they can objectively and properly assess the geotechnical risks from deep basements in the unique and unpredictable geology of North West London.
If 94 South Hill Park gets the go ahead tonight, despite the serious flooding risks which we and the City of London believe will result, it will mean that there is a nine to12 month window while someone may try to excavate a big basement very near you.
Residents of Hampstead and Highgate would be well advised to buttonhole every local councillor and remind each one of them personally to get a grip of the local planning approval process. More seriously, you will need to start reaching for your cheque book.
To challenge a well-healed developer successfully, you will probably need to instruct a structural engineer to assess the probable damage to your property from the excavation next door.
You will also be well advised to instruct some consultants who can challenge the often specious or at best superficial geo and hydro-technical reports which developers hand to Camden to give the authorities the impression that we all live on London Clay, which we don't, and that if (as has sadly happened in a number of cases locally) the next door property collapses, cracks or floods, it's nothing to do with the big hole they just dug.
By the time you have, in addition, got some legal advice on planning and tort options, you can be looking at bills well into the thousands of pounds.
To challenge a decision of Camden, when you think the planning officer has misdirected the development committee, you must resort to judicial review, and you should be pretty confident of the strength of your case, because one side or the other could find the ultimate cost is well over �50,000.
And of course you can always hedge your bets a little by supporting the Heath & Hampstead Society in this noble cause. Membership application details can be found on this page, but for just �15per annum you help us get the best experts to advise us and keep up the pressure on both developers and the planning authority. A specific donation could be earmarked and set aside for "basements", if you feel very strongly.
Tony Hillier, chairman of the Heath & Hampstead Society