Bill to restrict subterranean extensions gets first Commons reading

A bill to give councils stronger powers to block subterranean extension to properties has received its first reading the House of Commons.

Basement excavation, pic courtesy Charlie Dave via Flickr
Basement excavation, pic courtesy Charlie Dave via Flickr

The Permitted Development (Basements) Bill 2013-14, a private member’s bill submitted by Labour MP for Westminster North, Karen Buck, is intended to "regulate the construction of new basements and extensions to basements; and for connected purposes".

Speaking the Commons yesterday, Buck said that changes to the permitted development regime to allow home owners more flexibility to extend their properties have had huge consequences.

"What no one could have foreseen is the impact that that would have in certain neighbourhoods in my constituency, and particularly elsewhere in central London, which is shocking even the most zealous advocates of planning deregulation. The grounds for such deregulation have literally, as well as metaphorically, been cut from underneath the feet of those advocates", she said.

Buck said that in her own borough of Westminster, the number of approvals given for basement excavations "almost trebled between 2010 and 1012, while the number of applications that were refused fell: 518 basement applications have been made in the past four years alone, with only one in seven being refused. My understanding is that the figure for Kensington is closer to 1,000 applications, with 800 accepted".

"We should be in no doubt about the extent to which this trend will ripple outwards, particularly into more affluent communities".

The MP said that councils have found themselves "unable to resist the rising tide of basement development, so now, for or five years in, they are developing local policies to restrict what can and cannot be done".

The London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea approved one such policy in June, although it has yet to come into effect.

But Buck said there is "a real risk" that such policies "will turn out to be unenforceable".

She added: "The fact is that only a change in the law can help local councils do what they want to do to protect their residents.

"They need - our urban neighbourhoods and their residents need - statutory protection to underpin policies that would, for example, limit excavations to one storey and ensure that they are not built under listed buildings, that they do not take up more than 50 per cent of gardens, that traffic management plans are in place, that the amount of space that is taken up is reduced from the current 85 per cent, that they require the compulsory installation of pumps to prevent flooding from sewers, and much more".

The bill is expected to have its second reading debate on 22 November 2013.

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