Barely a week passes without news stories reporting various problems with botched basement digs throughout London. Just recently a Georgian townhouse in Barnes collapsed “like a pack of cards” due to basement work, and similarly a family in Chester Row are still waiting for repairs worth £250,000 to their house after a neighbour’s skip fell into the road during a dig. The Health & Safety Executive reports 50 per cent of basements sites in top London boroughs failed safety inspections in 2015.
Throughout his mayoral campaign, Sadiq Khan promised a ‘crackdown’ on iceberg basements, so we can expect further legalisation to be introduced. Already the first ‘basement tax’ was announced by Westminster City Council in August, and in January last year the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea applied a new planning policy restricting the size of basement excavations.
So what steps should you take when considering applying for a basement conversion?
Find a design team
You need to find a team with a proven track record of providing good quality designs, but also taking proper account of construction operations. Try looking locally first – those in the area will understand the council and any restrictions in place. As Simon Haslam of Basement Force notes, “The design team need to design something that is not only structurally sound, but is also something that can be built efficiently”.
Get the neighbours involved
It is very important to get next door as involved as possible from the beginning. Don’t simply rely on the legal notification via the planning approval phase – have direct contact and explain your plans. Highlight your intention to cause them minimal disruption. A bottle of wine can go a long way!
Get construction insurance
If something does go wrong, you want to be in the best possible position to get the problem remedied. Insurance provides a safety net and is highly recommended given the significant risks in projects of this nature.
Have proper appointment and construction documentation in place
Good forward planning is essential when building a basement, so make sure you have complied with any council document requirements. Having the right construction forms in place means you have peace of mind that if there was to be a problem, someone’s insurance will pay!
Make sure your contractor is in the ASUC
A lot of the recent horror stories in the press have involved contractors who have gone bust following their disastrous work. It is essential to check your contractor is financially stable, and has been for some time. Using a member of ASUC (The Association of Underpinning Contractors) helps ensure this.
Ultimately, achieving as seamless a basement build as possible requires good planning, the best professional teams and, as importantly, keeping in with the neighbours.