Earlier this month, Westminster City Council announced plans to use a new levy on those building new basements to fund a new 'subterranean squad' of basement nuisance busters. Nina Miles is principal planning officer in the authority’s policy strategy team.
Q. How did the idea for this team emerge?
A. Development in and across the borough has been causing significant nuisance to neighbouring sites. We have a construction code from 2008 that currently only applies to the largest sites. It has been working well and when we were reviewing our basements policy we thought it would be a good idea to extend the policy.
Q. How is the charge applied?
A. We have come up with a bespoke mechanism – it is not in the section 106 agreement. On submission of the planning application, a developer of a basement development is required to sign a form saying it will provide the required information – including site management reports, and that they intend to pay such fees that arise.
Q. What are the level of charges?
A. We make the charges on a cost recovery basis and we estimate it will cost around £8,000 on average for a basement development. The developer pays up front based on an estimate and the final bill is decided based on how many inspections and other work is required.
Q. How many people are in the new team?
A. We will have around 15 full time equivalent staff in the team. They will review all details of the submitted paperwork, attend sites to monitor for noise and dust and check compliance with the code. The team will be able to provide a reactive service, taking oversight and control, coordinating deliveries, enforcing working hours and checking that neighbours are kept informed properly.
Q. Do you expect any wider benefits to the planning service at Westminster?
A. Worries about noise and the construction impact are always a big issue when applications are submitted. The planning committee will still be able to put in additional mitigation measures. But we hope the new approach of improving the link between developers and residents will lead to a smoother development control process.