A couple of weeks ago I turned on my phone at about seven o’clock and it rang almost immediately. BBC Radio London - had I seen the pictures in the papers of the candy-striped house in Kensington? They gave me a few seconds on air without time to say anything meaningful, but since then there’s been a new twist to the story.
The owner, a property developer called Zipporah Lisle-Mainwaring, found that there had been objections from neighbours to her modest plans to demolish the building and replace it with a five-storey house, including a two-storey basement – nothing much, swimming pool, media centre, that sort of thing.
Planning permission was originally approved but then withdrawn after objections. It is believed that the deck-chair décor was a statement of revenge at this decision. One resident was reported as saying ‘Without sounding very pretentious, it isn’t very Kensington.’
Of course it’s entertaining to hear about squabbles among the Haves, and it did strike me that the house might not look out of place in Amsterdam. Also I’d like to note that the owner didn’t paint her house: she had workers do it for her.
But this story exposes serious issues of ownership and privacy which as a society we struggle to deal with. The first point to make is that if you create the cultural conditions in which houses are treated as commodities, you are going to get people treating houses as commodities. Logically this could mean total disregard for the interests of anyone else in the vicinity. Writing in the Sunday Times(£), India Knight argued that a neighbourhood
‘needs as much, if not more, maintenance than the housing it contains. If you want to live somewhere “nice” – clean, friendly, well-maintained, cheerful – then you need to play a part in making it so.’
What this means is that we need to do away completely with assumptions that the individual owner has the right to do what they like with their house. I’ve discussed this sort of thing before with regard to Christmas decorations and the constraints that home-owner associations can impose on residents. The space around the house affects others in all sorts of ways and their views have to be taken into account when changes are proposed, temporary or not. How we do that is another matter, and from the little I knew at the time of this story I couldn’t see how the authorities could stop or have stopped the resolute Kensington developer from having her house painted whatever colours she chose.
Well it turns out that the house is situated in a conservation area and planning law has something called a Section 215 Notice, tada! One of these has been served (I love the language):
“The owner has the right to appeal the notice by 5 June in the magistrates courts but, if no appeal is forthcoming, the owner must repaint the front elevation white and carry out repairs to the windows by 3 July.
“If the notice is not complied with by 3 July then the council can enter the property and carry out the necessary works. Furthermore the council can charge the owner for the costs in carrying out the works and prosecute them in the magistrates courts.”
Apparently Section 215 can be used ‘when one building affects the tone of the whole neighbourhood.’ Ask yourself how you would describe the tone of your neighbourhood, in a court of law.
Incidentally, in a rather unconvincing way, India Knight suggested in her article that estate agents’ particulars should include details about the neighbours. I’m not sure that would do much more than provide many field days for many legal people, but she’s in the right area: one of the Good Neighbour schemes I’m currently evaluating is cited by estate agents routinely, I’m told, and quite right too.