High Court rejects neighbours' bid to overturn 'pop-up car lift' permission

The High Court has rejected a bid by neighbouring businesses to have planning permission for the construction of two subterranean parking spaces in central London quashed.

London's Royal Courts of Justice.
London's Royal Courts of Justice.

Amberwood Drive Limited owns a private driveway that forms a cul-de-sac off Thurloe Place, in South Kensington. It submitted plans to sink a sophisticated pop-up car lift for two vehicles beneath the road, including a roadside control panel and a ground-level turntable.

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea granted planning permission and listed building consent for the development in September last year. But companies that own Thurloe Lodge, at 17 Thurloe Place and its garage, access to which depends on the driveway, mounted a judicial review challenge to the consent.

Ruling on the case, deputy High Court judge David Elvin QC noted that the driveway forms part of the Thurloe and Smith's Charity Conservation Area and is surrounded by listed buildings and designated and non-designated heritage assets. It is also directly opposite the Grade I listed Victoria and Albert Museum.

Objectors argued, amongst other things, that the "modern, unsightly" development had been wrongly classified as a one-storey basement because the lift automatically pops up above ground level when in use. They said that construction works would last up to two years, causing noise disturbance, greatly restricting access and generally inflicting harm on residents' amenities.

However, in recommending approval of the proposal, a planning officer said the top surface of the car lift would be integrated into the driveway and concealed. When activitated, the lift platform would rise to a height of about 2.5 metres. However, there would be "minimal physical manifestations" of the lift when in the closed position. The fully automated cycle from opening to closure would take about three minutes.

The companies put forward numerous grounds of challenge to the council's decision, but the judge ruled today: "The grounds advanced, albeit skilfully, amount to a concerted effort by the claimants to revisit a series of planning judgment issues and not to reveal errors of law."

Arguments that the council failed to take account of the impact of the control panel at ground level were rejected, as was the companies' plea that a council policy designed to manage the proliferation of basement developments in the area did not apply to a freestanding car park on a communal road.

Although the development would not be "wholly subterranean", rising significantly above ground level when the lift is in operation, the council's view that it was a development to which the basement policy applied was a matter of planning judgment with which the court would not interfere.

Issues concerning noise arising when the lift was in operation had been the subject of voluminous representations and expert reports. However, they had been resolved by a condition attached to the planning permission that the council considered "suitably protected amenity".

The companies had not attacked the council's decision as irrational or perverse and councillors and planning officers were "entitled to form their own judgments" on such issues as visual intrusion and impact on heritage assets.

The companies' challenge was dismissed and they were ordered to pay the council's legal costs of over £28,000.

Have you advised on, or secured, a recent major permission? We want to know about big housing, retail and leisure, and commercial and industrial schemes approved between 1 June - 31 August 2020 for our next Biggest Permissions report. To qualify, schemes should be above the following thresholds: 500 homes; 5,000 square metres of retail or leisure space; or 20,000 square metres of commercial or industrial space. To get involved, or for more details, please email eleanor.kahn@haymarket.com by 10 September.

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