• Kevin Murphy

London and the Iceberg Basement

LONDON - A property phenomenon in Londons most exclusive residential districts are the additions of subterranean basements better known as ‘Iceberg Basements’. Its been given this name as much of an iceberg is under water and cannot be seen. They are particularly popular in Chelsea, Mayfair and Knightsbridge where building ‘up’ is not an option because of local building restrictions and rules on listed buildings but rather you have to build ‘down’. In Kensington almost 800 of these building extensions have been built for residences.

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This trend by wealthy home owners is not new and dates back to the early 1990’s. The new underground additions are hardly modest in their amenities and design and can span over a number of underground levels.


Requests to developers for these below ground hideaways include swimming pools, theatres, saunas, fitness centres and wine cellars.


Robert Wilson, the director of Granit Architects, told Business Insider: "We've heard of requests for rifle ranges, full fashion runways, and there's a trend, or so I've heard, where people like to swap their artwork ... and if they have a large piece, they often need an elevator to transport it to their basement gallery."


Mr. Granite also stated that the property construction projects now account for almost half of company’s residential build projects. For the borough of Kensington and Chelsea it was reported that 450 applications for iceberg basements were applied solely for 2013.


A single level basement can cost well over £100, 000 and take four to six months to complete but it can be lucrative for a future sell of the property as it adds enormous value to the price. Larger and more sophisticated ‘icebergs’ can run into the millions of pounds in costs.


One well known property located on Primrose Hill and owned by billionaire Robert Beechum was demolished and rebuilt to on a new 200 foot basement featuring a 65 foot swimming pool, wine cellar, banquet hall that can accommodate up to 80 people and a Turkish bath. The house originally was valued at £15million but will now number go much higher.


Also jumping on the iceberg bandwagon are Kate Middleton and Prince William at Kensington Palace.

The Duke and Duchess are planning to move this August and officials from Historic Royal Palaces which maintains Grade I-listed Kensington Palace has asked for approval to build a £24million, two-storey 50 metre long basement to accommodate staff, office space and house ceremonial dresses from the royal collection.


Neighbours Gone Mad

For neighbours who must endure the weeks of noise and other intrusive construction of iceberg basements the situation can be hard on one’s patience. The removal of tonnes of soil and worries of structural damage to their property has left many angry at these additions. One neighbour complained of falling bricks when an adjacent basement project caused the ceiling of his £1.5million flat to nearly cave-in.


Matthew Bell, of British society magazine Tatler when interviewed by the Daily Beast: “As a Londoner you are used to noise, but it’s relentless drilling. You can’t hear yourself think, it’s really intrusive. And the irony is that a lot of the basements actually go unused. They are dark and dingy and oppressive and you would not want to spend a lot of time down there. A lot of it is willy-waving–‘mine is bigger than yours.’


One neighbour who has had enough of the iceberg basement trend is Queen guitarist Brian May who told the Daily Mail in an interview that : ‘...building of multi- level 'iceberg basements' is turning Kensington, west London, into a 'hellhole'.


In fiscal year 2015/2016 it is reported that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council gave permission for 362 of the basements.


May who has lived in the area for 15 years says of the noise and inconvenience: ‘But we are now forced to move - the noise, disruption and pollution from these works at two houses at once directly opposite our home will be way beyond endurance.'

'

We’ve been fighting these selfish basement building b******s for years, and it has already massively impacted our whole lives. All of us feel helpless and full of anger.'


Attempts have been made by Kensington and Chelsea and other local councils to try and reduce the noise and size of these iceberg projects with strict rules on multi-level basements additions.


The Sub Squad

In 2016 the Westminster council approved a ‘basement tax’ in an effort to slow the growth of the basements. Residents are required to pay an average of £8,000 to get permission for planning approval. The tax cost collected by the local council can vary depending on the scale of the project.


The money from the tax will be used to compensate a team of officials or ‘sub squads’ whose role is to monitor the construction of the projects and make sure rules are being adhered to when it comes to noise, hours of work and equipment use.


In an interview in The Telegraph last year Robert Davis, Westminster City Council deputy leader and cabinet member for the Built Environment, said:

“We are sticking up for local residents, many of whom have found the explosion of basement development in recent years hellish.’


Followed by:

“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.”




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