Celebrity architect’s plan for house foiled by her wealthy neighbours

Celebrity architect is locked in High Court battle after plans for her futuristic underground house in Kensington’s ‘millionaires’ row’ to share with her model daughters is blocked by wealthy neighbours

  • Sophie Hicks. 58, wants to build the futuristic home in Kensington, West London
  • Wealthy local residents include Beckhams and mansions can sell for £30million
  • Her plan has been approved by planners, but is being blocked by neighbours
  • They claim it would be ‘out of keeping’ with the 150-year-old Italianate villas

Sophie Hicks, 58, who wants to build the new home, outside London’s High Court yesterday

A celebrity architect’s plan to build an underground dream home for her family is being foiled by her neighbours and four self-seeded sycamore trees.

Sophie Hicks, 58, a fashionista turned architect and mother of model Edie Campbell, wants to build the futuristic home in Kensington, West London.

Wealthy residents of the exclusive ‘millionaires’ row’ neighbourhood include the Beckhams, Elton John and Robbie Williams – and mansions can change hands for more than £30million.

Her plan was approved by planners at Kensington and Chelsea Council, but is being blocked by the owners of the Grade II-listed Victorian townhouse next to the proposed building site.

They say the new house would be ‘out of keeping’ with the 150-year-old Italianate villas locally, and claim four ‘valued’ sycamore trees which have sprung up around the site would have to be felled.

Ms Hicks is now suing the tenant-owned company which owns the freehold of the neighbouring house, claiming that blocking her from building her underground dream home is ‘unreasonable’. But the management firm is resisting, insisting the proposed house would ‘harm the setting’ of the exclusive area.

The council had given permission subject to the management firm’s approval, but the firm has refused to give this – and Ms Hicks is therefore taking it to court. 

The plot in Kensington, West London, where Ms Hicks wants to build the underground house

A former fashion editor at Vogue and Tatler, Ms Hicks began working as an architect in 1994. 

Her daughter is Vogue cover girl Edie Campbell – whose sister Olympia is also a model – and her mother, Joan Hicks, was a successful model in the 1950s.

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Ms Hicks bought the wedge-shaped parcel of land she wants to build on at auction, for £880,000, in 2011.

She later submitted plans for a four-bedroom house, with two floors beneath ground level, a lift and a swimming pool.

The design leaves only a ‘glazed cube’ made of translucent glass with a bronze anodised aluminium frame and a ‘carefully designed roof garden’ visible from ground level.

Neighbours say the new house would be ‘out of keeping’ with the 150-year-old Italianate villas. The plot where Ms Hicks wants to build is to the left of the buildings above, in Kensington

She says in her planning application the proposed house ‘allows the two adult generations of my family to live together with some privacy’.

Ms Hicks’s daughters Edie (left) and Olympia (right) at a party in 2017 in Northamptonshire

But she has run into problems with the owners of the neighbouring property, a large Victorian villa which has been divided into flats.

That house and the proposed building plot were once both owned by the same man.

When the plot was sold around 50 years ago, a clause in the title deeds gave the freehold owner of the neighbouring house power to veto the design of any house that may be built on the land.

That power of veto is limited however, in that it must be applied ‘reasonably’.

Ms Hicks is now suing the management of the neighbouring building – who have refused to give the green light to her house design – claiming that refusal is ‘unreasonable’.

In documents lodged at the High Court, her barrister Mark Sefton says complaints the new house would be ‘aesthetically out of keeping with the adjoining building’ because it ‘is modern in its design rather than a Victorian pastiche’ are ‘not a good reason for the refusal of approval’.

‘The small glazed entrance pavilion is modest and recessive; it would be barely noticeable from all but direct frontal views; and even then it would be a relatively unobtrusive feature,’ he says.

Ms Hicks (centre left) with her daughters Edie Campbell (left), Olympia Campbell (right) and ex-husband Roddy Campbell (centre right) at Moretti Fine Art in London in September 2013

‘Any attempt to mimic the design style of the adjoining building would not be more in keeping with the Victorian architecture of the adjoining building, but would instead undermine it,’ Mr Sefton adds.

Ms Hicks’s daughters Edie and Olympia Campbell at the same party in London in 2013

Saving the sycamore trees, which have sprung up on and around the site since the 1960s and which the barrister said the neighbours ‘claim to value’ was also ‘not a good reason for refusal,’ he insists.

He says ‘removal of those trees would not have an adverse effect on the character or appearance of the area’.

In her planning application to the council, Ms Hicks describes the trees as having ‘suffered from poor quality and ill-informed pruning’, adding: ‘These trees offer limited visual amenity.’

The barrister says the trees would be replaced by a new birch tree if the planned building went ahead.

Mr Sefton also claims that concerns over the development causing structural damage to the neighbouring property were ‘not a good reason for refusal’.

‘No reasonable person, in the defendant’s position, would regard the alleged concerns about the construction methodology as a reason for an outright refusal of consent,’ he says.

The plans for a four-bedroom house include two floors beneath ground level and a lift

But lawyers for the neighbours’ company say it is ‘reasonable’ for them to resist the proposed underground house.

Ms Hicks’s daughter is Vogue cover girl Edie Campbell. They are pictured at an Azzedine Alaia store launch party in London last April

‘The purpose of the covenant was to protect the adjoining site and each and every part of it,’ says Jonathan Karas QC in the defence to the action.

‘The decision to refuse consent was made by the board, following consultation with the shareholder lessees. The shareholders are the long lessees of the flats. Four of the five shareholder lesees indicated that consent should be refused,’ he adds.

‘The refusal letter makes clear that the application is being refused for aesthetic reasons and because of loss of amenity of the trees, and had consent not been withheld on these grounds, consent would have been withheld until the defendant’s concerns about construction methodology/engineering had been answered,’ he continues.

‘A reasonable person in the same circumstances and with the same knowledge as the defendant could properly conclude that the harm caused by the removal of the sycamores was sufficient to justify refusal, either on its own or together with the other reasons for refusal,’ the barrister concludes.

Ms Hicks has spent four years developing the plans for the 2,200 sq ft house. In her planning proposal she says: ‘Sophie Hicks is a world-renowned architect.

The new house is pictured to the left in this drawing. Ms Hicks says the proposed property ‘allows the two adult generations of my family to live together with some privacy’

‘In this instance, she will also be the end user of the development and The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea should have every confidence that the building will be designed and developed to the highest standard.

‘The site presents an opportunity for a unique and attractive residential dwelling to be positioned carefully within the site and beneath tree canopies.’

The area was recently the site of another high-profile neighbours’ spat over underground development, when Robbie Williams clashed with his neighbour Jimmy Page over Williams’s plans for a basement swimming pool and gym at his £17million mansion.

The case was in court for a brief pre-trial review, pending a full hearing next month.

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