The billionaire founder of the Foxtons estate agency group has won a legal battle with the French government allowing him to press ahead with plans to dig a mega-basement under his London home to house his vintage car collection.
Jon Hunt’s grade II-listed four-storey mansion, once occupied by the Russian embassy, is situated in Kensington Palace Gardens, the most expensive residential address in the UK. It lies next door to the French ambassador’s residence, whose government has been fighting his plans for a vast underground garage under the back lawn, even though it was granted planning consent in 2008.
The 62-year-old property entrepreneur and his wife Lois, whose neighbours include steel billionaire Lakshmi Mittal, Roman Abramovich and the Sultan of Brunei, had already begun work on the property. But the French government challenged the validity of certificates of lawfulness granted by Kensington and Chelsea council, arguing that they compromised its security.
At the high court Robert Griffiths QC, representing the embassy, told Mr Justice Holgate there had been inadequate consultation, and that the excavations already carried out were only repairs required under the terms of the Hunts’ lease, rather than part of the vast underground car showroom planned by the billionaire.
But the judge rejected an application for judicial review on the bulk of the embassy’s complaints, agreeing only that the council had acted unlawfully by failing to enter the certificates on its planning register. The French government will now have to pay the bulk of the council’s costs, estimated to be more than £100,000.
Paul Brown QC, who represented the Hunts, told the judge: “They are acting lawfully. They have permission.” He said the French government had only launched legal action “because they don’t want Mr Hunt to complete the basement”.
Hunt sold the Foxtons chain to the private equity firm BC Partners in 2007 for £370m, just weeks before the credit crunch hit and the property market slumped. He owns an array of other assets, including a restaurant and private members’ club in Kensington, a golf course in Suffolk and a nearby 18th century Grade I-listed country estate, Heveningham Hall.
In 2012 he established Bacchus Partners, which develops derelict buildings and properties in urban areas.
Basement building has become a highly controversial issue in London, where some underground schemes are so cavernous they have been dubbed “iceberg homes” because only a tiny fraction of the property is now visible above ground.
Last December Kensington and Chelsea council won a battle to stop some expansion schemes. Local councillor Tim Coleridge said homes near to big projects “experienced years of misery from noise, vibration, dust and construction traffic.”
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