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Judge tells Town Hall it was wrong over Quadrant Grove basement dig

Neighbour successfully challenges fast-track consent for excavation

08 December, 2016 — By Ella Jessel

Camden Council passed the scheme under ‘permitted development’ rules

A HIGH COURT judge has quashed a Town Hall decision that allowed a homeowner to dig out a basement under his Victorian cottage without planning permission.

Mr Justice Cranston ruled that Camden Council should not have let illustrator James Ireland extend his house in Quadrant Grove, Gospel Oak, under “permitted development” rules – the fast-track process introduced by the government to speed up building projects.

The challenge was brought by neighbour Michael Eatherley, who said the plans should not have received a “lawful development certificate” as the excavation works required “substantial engineering”.

Mr Justice Cranston ruled that the council’s planning committee should have considered engineering aspects of the scheme in what had been billed as a test case over whether some basement extensions simply need rubber-stamping at the Town Hall and, controversially, without considering how the works will affect neighbours.

The judge said: “The council needed to address the nature of the excavation and removal of the ground and soil, and the works of structural support to create the space for the basement.”

While his decision was greeted as an important precedent by some, the ruling did not state that all basement developments should be excluded from the “permitted development” system as others had hoped.

The popularity of digging down as a means to extend properties has escalated across Hampstead and Highgate over the past five years.

Mr Eatherley said he was glad the three-year dispute had come to an end, adding: “It is saying that, for the council to be able to make the judgment they made, they needed to have all the engineering information presented to them. I don’t have any personal problems with the neighbours, we just think they got it wrong and were badly advised.”

Mr Eatherley said basement developments should not be covered under permitted developments, adding: “I think it’s inappropriate. They have such a major impact – not just on immediate neighbours, but on the whole street.”

Jayesh Kunwardia, a partner at law firm Hodge Jones & Allen, acting on behalf of Mr Eatherley, said: “It didn’t go as far as it hoped, but it is still very significant. It will affect every future basement. It requires authorities to consider the engineering aspects of such developments as a separate activity.

“I don’t think they [councils] will just rubber-stamp. They will think twice now before they put through permitted development without a thorough consideration of engineering aspects and the impact it would have on the wider community.”

In September the council introduced an “Article 4 Direction”, meaning that all basement developments will need planning permission before excavation works.

A council spokesman said: “We understand resident concerns about the impact of basement development. Central government regulations on basement permitted development rights are not drafted clearly and are open to different interpretations. The council’s original decision in this case reflected our understanding (based on detailed QC’s advice) of the correct legal interpretation of these regulations and we therefore had little option but to allow these issues to be tested in court.

“However, we welcome the fact that this decision provides an insight into how the government’s rules apply to basement development.”

Lawyer Ian Trehearne, speaking for Mr Ireland at an earlier hearing, said: “The basement will lie well within the footprint of the house. This is not within a conservation area, and cannot be seen from the street. If this has to go to a judicial review, so be it.”

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