French embassy, UK tycoon in basement spat

2015-11-11 22:28


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London - A row between the French embassy in London and a wealthy businessman over his plans for a basement to house his vintage car collection on a street nicknamed "Billionaire's Row", reached the High Court on Wednesday.

Jon Hunt - billionaire founder of one of London's best-known real estate agents, Foxtons - lives next door to the French ambassador's official residence on Kensington Palace Gardens, reputedly Britain's most expensive street.

But his plans have drawn frustration from the embassy, which wants to block the works. Its lawyer Alexandre Terrasse said the "over-sized" proposed basement could violate international rules on diplomatic relations.

"Our property is a place of work and it is used extensively to receive officials from all over the world," he said.

"The French embassy in London is not opposing a development at No 10 KPG [an abbreviation of the street name] provided that it is within the remit of what is acceptable and reasonable in the circumstances."

A source close to the case described the scale of the planned works as "pharaonic".

"Iceberg houses" - so called because the basement is larger than the house above it - have become a common feature of London's most exclusive neighbourhoods in recent years as the super-rich have dug down to get more room in cramped and expensive locations.

Kensington and Chelsea, the borough where the buildings are located, tightened the rules on digging big basements in recent years after complaints from neighbours about months of noise, vibration, construction traffic and sometimes subsidence of their own properties.

Hunt gained planning permission for certain excavation works on his property, the former Soviet mission, in 2011, four years after selling Foxtons in 2007 shortly before the credit crunch saw property prices slump.

Representing Hunt and his wife Lois, lawyer Paul Brown said there was no genuine case against them and that the French authorities did not like the idea of the basement.

"They are acting lawfully. They have permission," he added.

Following a two-day hearing, Judge David Holgate said he would deliver a ruling in the case as soon as possible.

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