Savvy HNW home owners are looking to annex rather than dig down – but they may need to develop elsewhere to keep home numbers buoyant says Rebecca Waterhouse
You've heard of 'iceberg homes' – mysterious mansions that extend storeys below London's pavements into luxuriously renovated mega-basements – but are we about to see the emergence of the iceberg homes' somewhat less enigmatically named successor, the 'laterally amalgamated super-home'?
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has seen a large rise in the number of planning applications for basement extensions since 2001, with 450 made in 2013 alone. In January 2015, concerned about the disruption that basement extensions were causing, RBKC published a new basement planning policy that restricts the creation of further iceberg homes in the borough.
Although the policy suggests that some basement extensions will still be permitted, the new rules restrict how far renovations can extend under a garden, largely limit excavations to a single storey and restrict basement excavations under listed buildings.
With basement extensions off the cards and with planning permission for external extensions in the borough tricky to navigate and development land scarce, it looks likely future renovations may need to be restricted to the existing four walls of the historic homes that line the streets of RBKC.
The solution? The laterally amalgamated super-home. If you can't extend your home (into the basement/the garden/some conveniently located development land), buy next door (and maybe even next door to that) and knock some walls down. Two (or more) smaller houses become one spacious family home.
However, lateral amalgamation may raise eyebrows given London's current housing crisis. London is in the midst of a housing shortage: recent figures suggest that the city needs 63,000 new homes each year, but only a third of these are being built. In the present environment, the amalgamation of the limited homes in the city into fewer, larger, more expensive and more exclusive dwellings may be a hard sell to the planning departments of the London boroughs.
However, Garrett Curran, the chief executive of Credit Suisse's British operations, has submitted a proposal to RBKC's planning department that proposes a novel solution.
As is common across the London boroughs, planning guidelines in RBKC do not support changes that would result in a reduced number of homes. Although Mr Curran's planning application details his proposal to turn three flats on the top two floors of a property in Belgravia into one six-bedroom home, the planning application that has been submitted for the 'lateral amalgamation' also sets out Mr Curran's plans to convert an uninhabitable dilapidated house in West Kensington into four residential units.
The net result of the two developments will be that there will be one more home in the borough once both developments are completed. The proposals even go so far as to suggest that the developments take place simultaneously to ensure the number of houses in RBKC is not diminished even during the period of redevelopment.
RBKC's planning department is due to make a decision on Mr Curran's inventive 'land swap' application by 5 October. If Mr Curran's application is approved, it may be that land swaps of this kind could provide an opportunity for individuals and property developers to continue to create spacious family homes while also providing some of the additional residential units that London so desperately needs.
Rebecca Waterhouse works at boutique private wealth law firm Maurice Turnor Gardner LLP