by Dove & Hawk

underground plans for house
Patrick Tonkin
Associate Director - Estate Agency

London may be building upwards with planned skyscrapers such as the Aykon building, but its’ residents are building the opposite way. Iceberg basements get their name from their resemblance to icebergs, where much of the building is hidden below the surface. These buildings have grown in both popularity and notoriety throughout the capital.

London’s strict development laws mean that any homes from the Victorian, Edwardian and Georgian era must maintain their original character, so getting planning permission for extensions can be tough. However, residents in Chelsea & Kingston have found a way around this, by going deeper underground. In 2013 there were 450 basement applications made in the Chelsea & Kingston area, a 46% increase from 2012 and a 500% increase from 2003.

Developing below ground has given homeowners space to install cinemas, gyms, wine cellars, parking bays and even bowling alleys under their homes. Iceberg basements may be seen as an eccentric way for London’s super rich to extend their already massive houses but the added leisure isn’t the only benefit. It has been estimated that the inclusion of a basement can increase the value of a London home by 15-20%.

Excavation gives developers more opportunities, an iceberg home was created on Hampstead Heath when a block of garages were purchased. Originally, anything built where the garages once stood couldn’t exceed a height of 8 feet, so building downwards was the only option to build a viable home on the recently acquired land.

However while the subterranean extensions are becoming increasingly popular throughout the capital, not everyone is embracing the idea of building down. Excavating for an iceberg basement is a lengthy process that requires diggers and lots of noise, which has created tension between neighbours.

There are those who believe that the basement excavations are going too far. George Michael and Brian May have both been involved in a petition to stop the construction of a dual iceberg basement that could cause an iconic studio to close down. Even councils have become involved in Kensington & Chelsea, introducing restrictions that limit basement projects to one story while banning them altogether on listed buildings.

Tim Coleridge, Council cabinet member for planning policy explained the need for restrictions:

“Basements have been the single greatest planning concern our residents have expressed to us in living memory. Many have experienced years of misery from noise, vibration, dust and construction traffic."

Alongside the noise and the mess, there are also concerns that the expansions could affect the surrounding foundations. There have even been reports of excavations causing neighbouring houses to sink and leaving piling rigs trapped below the basements.

The addition of iceberg basements can give homeowners the extra room needed for swimming pools and yoga rooms. The extra room for activities is ideal for those who want to move to a bigger house, but can’t afford to due to London’s high property prices. It could help those looking to move to a more expensive home add value to their property and increase their budget.

While an iceberg basement does have plenty of benefits, the projects can take up to two years before they’re completed, so there is always the potential for tension between neighbours. It’s up to homeowners to decide what’s worth more, the basement, or their relationship in the community?