UK Politics

Vast basement developments must be controlled, says MP

"We have been through hell and beyond," constituents complained to the Labour MP for Westminster North. "We are being driven to an early grave."

The cause? A basement development next door to their property.

In a parliamentary debate on Tuesday, Karen Buck told MPs that basements in the more prosperous corners of her constituency were being turned into "underground cinemas, swimming pools, gymnasiums and gun rooms" with scant regard for the "devastating" effect such developments could have on nearby residents.

Excavated caverns seemingly "the size of an aircraft carrier" are sometimes needed to realise homeowners' grand visions for underground development, she said.

"In many cases, basement developments - sometimes double basements going down two levels - stretch not just under the footprint of the house or even one or two thirds beyond the footprint of the building itself, but through an entire garden," Ms Buck asserted.

And the popularity of these schemes appears to be rising fast.

"The sheer scale and number of basement developments means that the noise is incessant, even when builders keep within the considerate builders' code - sometimes they do; sometimes they do not - because the works are so substantial and prolonged," she added.

Flooding

The weight of lorries carrying earth away from construction sites had caused a mews in her constituency to buckle, she claimed. The unfortunate thoroughfare was "not designed for the kind of traffic that was being imposed on it", Ms Buck lamented.

She quoted from an editorial in a local parish magazine: "We must ask ourselves whether those with millions to spend should be allowed to endanger the quality of life for their neighbours by embarking on developments that could damage the area for years to come."

The magazine, by St Mark's Church in Hamilton Terrace, also warned that the digging involved could devastate gardens, damage root systems, and prompt floods.

Mark Field, the Conservative MP for the neighbouring Cities of London and Westminster constituency, also suggested wealthy individuals were ploughing money into basement development schemes.

"Basements are often developed by non-resident, non-UK taxpayers, for the benefit of a single wealthy individual and at significant cost to the environment and community," Mr Field declared, noting that the tab for repairs to damaged roads around the developments was footed by taxpayers.

'Silver bullet'

Calling on local authorities to produce annual reports to make it easy to find out how many planning applications for basement developments are being approved, he added: "There are also concerns about the loss of viable gardens and mature trees because of basement developments, particularly those that go deeper than two storeys."

Ms Buck urged the government to provide clearer guidance to local authorities on how to protect residents from "excessive subterranean developments and the combined impact of multiple developments in a small area".

Replying to the debate for the government, Communities and Local Government Minister Bob Neill said that planning decisions tended to be based on the impact on the surrounding area of the completed project.

"Subterranean developments, once complete, have little visual impact," he observed.

Mr Neill feared he could not offer a "single silver bullet" solution to such a complex problem, but he set out details of legislation that was designed to protect residents from excessive noise, air pollution, and unsafe construction sites.

This may come as cold comfort to the constituents of Ms Buck who had endured "two years of hell".

They report: "Works are now being applied for on the other side."

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