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Basement ‘sub squad’ introduced in Westminster

Words: Laura Edgar
Basement conversion

Westminster City Council has introduced a new “subterranean squad” for local residents to contact about basement developments.

Launched on 1 September, the service will be funded by a levy on those building new basements, ensuring that the resources are in place to actively monitor and enforce against unneighbourly builders, said the council.

The levy is being drawn as part of the council’s new Code of Construction Practice, which sets out best practice for building sites such as basements.

The code will be rolled out over the coming months to cover larger developments in the city.

Robert Davis, MBE DL, deputy leader and cabinet member for the built environment, Westminster City Council, said: “We are sticking up for local residents, many of whom have found the explosion of basement development in recent years hellish.

“It is right that those who want to build basements should contribute to this new service, which will work to help mitigate the negative impacts.

“Westminster City Council supports the right kind of growth and is not against all basement development, but they must be carried out in a way that is considerate to local residents and the environment.”

According to the council, it has received on average 150 applications a year for basements and has seen a trend towards developments where homeowners dig down two or more storeys.

New rules include planning controls limiting basements to a single storey and not more than 50 per cent of total garden land.

The council said the “sub squad” would take a degree of oversight and control, for example, making sites coordinate deliveries and reduce the cumulative impact on residents.

It will also check that developers are keeping neighbours informed, enforce stricter working hours, provide a point of contact for residents with complains and monitor the level and impact of traffic to sites.

The council could use its powers relating to the duty to keep traffic flowing on the highway, for example, by limiting the number of licences on a street at any one time.

The new powers apply to basements that gained planning permission from August 2016 onwards.

Neil Whittaker, the London and the East representative on RTPI’s National Association for Planning Enforcement Management Committee, said: “Basement extensions are a highly emotive form of development within central London, which generate a significant amount of complaints.

“The proposed charge will help ease the burden placed upon Planning Enforcement Officers, who are usually the first port of call with complainants. Pulling together experts from noise, traffic and planning into a specific team who can work with both the developers and local residents to resolve issues quickly is seen as a positive move.”

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