In the last edition we were looking forward to an early change in the Council’s Local Plan policies for basements and housing, as well as consolidation of the conservation and design policies saved from the UDP and the 2010 Core Strategy. The Council has deferred submitting these changes to the Planning Inspectorate for examination.
The Society has been pushing hard for a change to the inadequate basement policy since before the ink dried on the 2010 plan, as it allows basements of any size and depth anywhere in Chelsea, except under listed buildings. There was nothing in the plan that limited the number of levels or the extent of the site coverage, regardless of the size of the garden. In revising the 2010 policy, the Council commissioned consultants to research the issue, conducted surveys of both applicants and neighbours and held several rounds of detailed consultation with residents, applicants, architects and contractors.
The Council consulted extensively on their final version of the revised analysis and policies between July and September, after which the intention was to send this version to the Planning Inspectorate for an Examination in the New Year.
Both before and during the consultation period the basement contractors ran a campaign both to drum up applications to get them in before the shutters came down and to generate objections to the Council’s revised policy.
The Society supported the Council’s revised policy which would limit the number of basement storeys to one, reduced the size of basements to cover no more than 50% of the garden, except for listed buildings where no basements would be allowed under the gardens – meaning no basements as existing policy rules out basements under listed buildings. Greater emphasis would be put on retaining trees and on reducing the impact of the construction process on residents by reducing the scale of basements. The main point of difference between the Society and the Council, however, was that we object to any basements under gardens, as most gardens in Chelsea are small yet make a large contribution to the amenity of the area.
The Society’s experience of working with the residents of Markham Square on a neighbourhood plan has convinced us of the inappropriateness of basements and basement developments in Chelsea.
The Council has decided to defer the Examination of the basement policy pending further work which will strengthen their case. The Examination could now be put off to next summer. Whilst this should enable the Council to enhance its case, it does mean that there will be no change from the current policy until the end of 2014 at the earliest. Meanwhile the applications are still pouring in at an alarming rate including some multi-storey basements – the horses may well all have bolted before we can close the stable door!
The Society’s main concern is the mix of types and sizes of housing being produced – or rather the lack of it, even though the declared aim of the Council is to achieve “a diversity of housing in mixed communities, to reduce the potential of further polarisation”. The Council’s planning policy for market housing is heavily skewed (80%) toward large units (3, 4 or more bedrooms) and has produced ever larger so-called “super-prime” housing, such as flats with as much floorspace as a mansion. For example, the huge Jamahiriya School (former LCC Board School) building off Old Church Street is to be greatly enlarged and converted to just 6 flats each about 600sqm (6,500sqft) when it could have produced a range of sizes and many more flats that might even have been “first” homes for people, rather than investments that would lie empty for most of the year. Our few housing sites should provide housing for Londoners rather than “second” (perhaps fifth) homes for people trying to find a home for their money rather than to live in.
The Council was proposing to secure a better mix of size and types of new housing that would better meet the needs of people who want to live in Chelsea. We strongly support this. Again, the examination of this new policy has been deferred.
The detailed conservation policies from the previous plan had been saved and are operated in tandem with those in the 2010 Core Strategy. The proposed changes seek to consolidate the two documents, but also to strengthen the Council’s approach to such as issues as advertisements.
It is very disappointing that the introduction of all these changes has been set back by six months, but the Society will be supporting the Council to secure greater control over basements and to achieve a better mix of housing at the Examination in Public next year.