I expect that you have read about the striped painted house in Kensington, when a lady property developer painted candy stripes on the three storey façade of her terraced home. It is suggested that she had taken this unusual step because her neighbours had objected to her plans to demolish the existing property and replace it with a new one. The local authority served a notice requiring her to paint it all white within twenty-eight days because it was “incongruous with the streetscape…”.

Eventually the case passed from the Magistrates to the Crown Court and then Judicial Review where the Judges decided that the local authority had tried to use a rule designed to deal with disrepair or dilapidation rather than how the property looked. This was despite the fact that the property was in a conservation area. In a nutshell the local authority had used the wrong procedure altogether. Let us charitably call it human nature that had allowed the case to get completely out of any sense of proportion for the money being spent on the argument.


There is a difference between converting an existing residential cellar or basement into a living space and excavating foundations to create a new basement. The conversion is unlikely to require planning permission provided that it is not a separate unit from the house or the usage is changed significantly, or a light well is added which results in an alteration to the external appearance of the property.


From a legal perspective the first thing to consider before any excavations is to check whether there are any limitations in the title to your property which restrict or prevent structural alterations or additions. Come to think of it there might be a restriction as to colour such as striped paint or clashing colours. These limitations are particularly prevalent in long-term leases. They are also often to be found in estate developments which may prohibit such works altogether, or at least require the written consent of the developer of the estate or landlord. Once these points are overcome, we move on to the rules and regulations that are applicable to such conversions.


Excavating a new basement will involve major works, a new separate accommodation and an alteration to the external appearance of the house such as the addition of a light well. In consequence this is likely to require planning permission.


The attraction of this sort of conversion is, of course, that you already own the land where additional living space is being created which will result in a substantial addition to the value of the property and naturally it has become very popular in urban areas. Of course there are numerous rules and regulations to comply with, not least of which is the Party Wall Act.


This particular topic currently is being considered for consultation on the planning laws but councils do have the right to use what is known as an “Article 4 Direction” to remove permitted development rights for basements. Problems have resulted from such conversions leaving the High Court to decide that a basement does not only involve the enlargement and alteration of the dwelling but also the engineering aspects of the excavation and then support of the house itself and neighbouring buildings. This in itself amounts to a “separate activity of substance” as they call it and that does require planning permission.

If you live in a detached house with plenty of room around it then there is probably no need to consider any impact your basement conversion will have on a neighbouring property. However if your home is attached, semi- or terrace, or perhaps a ground floor flat with an existing cellar, the Party Wall Act is likely to apply. It covers work to be carried out to existing party walls at or astride a boundary where there is a proposed excavation within 3-6 metres of the neighbouring structure dependent upon the depth of the hole or proposed foundations. A complex set of rules is in place for the provision of detailed information to your neighbour who is entitled to the protection of the Party Wall Act at your expense – a topic that has been referred to in previous articles in this magazine.


The best advice that can be offered is to consult with a planning expert and your local authority before embarking on such a scheme in order to make sure that it is within permitted development rights and that you are complying with all the rules and regulations which apply to engineering works and to avoid the disastrous collapse not only of your own property but of your neighbour’s.


Apart from your neighbour, who will have to put up with the noise and general disruption of building works, and making sure that you have complied with all the rules and regulations required by the local authority and the Party Wall Act where applicable, you must consider who else has an interest in your property. My advice is to check out the small print in your mortgage terms and conditions whenever any structural works are to be carried out. In addition consult with your insurers and make sure that all work is covered whilst it is being carried out, and in the event that something goes wrong at a later date.


Permitted development rights for pubs and other Class A4 drinking establishments have been removed. Pubs have been disappearing at an alarming rate. They have made a very good bargain for developers looking for a readymade bricks and mortar conversion from a large property into houses and flats and, indeed, other uses such as shops, financial and professional offices, restaurants and cafes. The change of use of A4 buildings which takes in public houses, wine bars and other drinking establishments now require consent.


The idea behind this change is to give local communities the right to have a greater say over the future use of pubs and to prevent developers rushing changes of use or their demolition. Amongst other provisions is that the previous permitted development rights are only saved if an Asset of Community Value Request is made more than fifty-six days prior to the 23 May this year. So it is too late now to avoid a formal application to change a pub use.


It appears that some 21,000 pubs have disappeared in the last 27 years or so, and thousands more are expected to close before this decade is out. There are numerous reasons for this and it seems to me that you cannot force pubs to continue to trade at a loss however much they may be judged to be an “an Asset of Community Value”. The horse has bolted thanks to such matters as the breathalyser, the availability of cheap alcohol from supermarkets, cultural changes and over-burdensome taxation, to say nothing of the smoking ban.


So whether you want to paint stripes on your house façade, build a basement, or buy a closed pub for development, be careful. Planning authorities are wise to the need to preserve the character and amenities in their localities. The do not want get-rich-quick developers making vast profits and leaving behind communities which are the worse for the changes. They do not wish to see neighbouring owners made to suffer unduly by noisy and intrusive building projects. So as time has progressed, the Rules have tightened.


For any help on property matters get in touch with us here at Busbys on 01288 35 9000.

David Helman
Busbys Solicitors
Bude & Holsworthy

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