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Saturday, 16 January 2016


Ex City trader, now headhunter, Stephen Fairholme, likes a punch up, but maybe he's met his match in Kevin o' Connor, the tough boss of Cranbrook Basements.

Two years ago Fairholme applied for permission to dig a vast basement under his house, 32 Abingdon Villas. This was thrown out by the Council and a scaled back project approved. Mr Fairholme went ahead and built the big basement anyway. Now it's completed he has employed Savills to apply for retrospective approval. Savills cozied up to the planning Officers in Hornton Street for a "pre-approval consultation" and got the green light. Officers have now recommended approval of the scheme that they turned down in the first place!!
The case will be considered by the Planning Committee at its meeting on Tuesday 26th January. How will the Councillors vote? Will they put officers back in their box, or be their usual servile selves?

The Kensington Society has opposed the Officers recommendation in a furious riposte, with all guns blazing. You can read it HERE
But then that's to be expected. The KS is one of the few RA's that do a proper job of defending members.

M Fairhome's attitude to rules, conventions and the law became clear during his basement construction. He appointed construction company Cranbrook as main contractor but fired them after nine months when they refused to carry out what they considered illegal work. 
The story is told in an incredible letter from the Managing Director of Cranbrook.

The Dame reproduces here the Cranbrook the Irish say, "Fighting Talk"!

From Kevin o'Connor
Sent: Tuesday, August 11, 2015 5:12 AM
Subject: Proposed Basement - 32 Abingdon Villa's W8
Good morning Stephen
For reasons that are not entirely clear, you appear intent (via Ridge) on creating some type of contractual dispute where none need exist
The letters and general correspondence from Ridge attempts to provide a framework for some later claim against our Company this posturing and manipulative behaviour is neither helpful nor productive and if this matter proceeds to Litigation your behaviour through Ridge will be understood by the Court for what it is.
To be clear we have, at all times sought to assist you in finding solutions to the difficulties that this complex project has encountered but to a large extent the problems that you face are of your own making you simply cannot attempt to circumvent the rules that exist to protect both you and the adjoining landowners
For our part We remain ready, willing and able to fulfil all of our Contractual Obligations and will continue to do so
Your Engineers propose a total redesign of the underpinning to 40 Abingdon Villas They have issued modified drawings that you instruct should be followed you do not have Party Wall consent for the redesigned foundations
We have encountered enormous quantities of water within the excavation and have professionally drawn this fact to your attention but you simply wish to ignore the consequences of foundation construction below water and will not consult with the adjoining owners who have a legal right under the Party Wall Act to be notified that the Party Wall Award in place should be modified by addendum Award
We have advised you and your Structural Engineers that the forced removal of water can lead to withdrawal of fines from foundations below not only the Party Walls but also other local properties this can very well damage the foundations but you refuse to consider this point and simply insist that we proceed to remove the vast quantities of water that exist
You gave an undertaking within the Party Wall Award that you would arrange for movement monitoring to take place on a weekly basis for 6 weeks prior to excavation but we now understand that contrary to your promise you did not carry out the monitoring that was required under the terms of the Party Wall Agreement
You promised that you would arrange for weekly monitoring of level and potential movement at the subject and adjacent properties but we now understand that despite your promise you have not arranged for the monitoring to take place in line with the agreed schedule in fact you have issued instructions to your monitoring contractor not to attend site for periods approaching 2 months
This behaviour is totally unacceptable and wholly unprofessional
We will have no part in this flagrant disregard of legal requirements we are astonished that your Professional Advisors are not insisting that you proceed in accordance with the requirements of the Law
Your advisors Ridge have asked that we set out the questions that we have
1.       Please confirm that you have obtained consent from the adjoining owners to implement the redesigned foundations
2.       Please confirm that you have Party Wall Agreement for the modified Foundation Design
3.       Please provide a copy of the signed Party Wall Agreement that allows the redesigned foundations to be constructed
4.       Please confirm that the agreed plans contained within the Party Wall Awards have received Planning Consent from RBKC
5.       Please confirm that the engineering design plans contained within the signed Party Wall Awards relate to a Planning Approved basement scheme
6.       Please confirm that the Plans you have issued to Cranbrook Basements and that are referred to within the signed Contract have received Planning Permission from RBKC
7.       Please advise why you have failed to carry out movement monitoring in line with your Party Wall Award undertaking
8.       Please advise on how you intend to address the lack of baseline preconstruction level readings that you failed to take over the 6 week period prescribed within the Party Wall Award
9.       Please confirm that you will carry out movement monitoring in line with the promise that you made within the Party Wall Award
10.   Please confirm that you have advised the adjoining owners of your decision not to carry out Movement Monitoring in line with the requirements of the Party Wall Award
11.   Please provide a copy of the Geotechnical Report relating to works on site that precisely identifies soil type
12.   Please provide a copy of Laboratory test results for subsoil
13.   Please provide a copy of Structural Engineers calculations that prove there will be no settlement following potential removal of fines from granular subsoil
14.   Please provide a copy of Structural Engineers advice that water may be aggressively pumped from below the adjacent building foundations without damage to the Foundation of any local structure
15.   Please confirm that agree that Cranbrook Basements will have no responsibility for the effects of aggressively pumping water from below the adjacent buildings Cranbrook have previously stated that this is likely to lead to damage to local structures due to removal of fines
16.   To control the substantial quantities of water that are present within the excavation zone it will be necessary to pump permeation grout into the subsoil below the adjacent buildings please provide a copy of the consent document that has been signed by the adjoining owners for this trespass onto their land
17.   Alistair Redler the 3rd Surveyor has stated unequivocally that permeation grouting below an adjacent building for water control is not a right under the Party Wall Act Please confirm that you have discussed this issue with the adjoining owners and received written consent
18.   Please confirm that you have consulted with the adjoining owners to agree the greater depth of excavation below their buildings that is contained on the redesigned Foundation plans that you have issued note that this redesigned excavated depth is greater than that permitted within the current Party Wall Award
19.   Please confirm that you have obtained consent from the adjoining owners to cut away and remove the foundation that exists below their building please note that the wall in question is not necessarily a Party wall and specific consent is required
20.   Please confirm that you will follow the professional advice issue by Christopher Barber FRICS that an addendum Party Wall Agreement is required see attached email dated 15th May 2015
As you will no doubt appreciate we have very significant concerns that you have entered into a Basement Party Wall Award referring to  plans and drawings that do not have Planning Consent please clarify this point as a matter of urgency
For the record both you and your advisors continue to insist that we implement a totally redesigned foundation design under totally different site conditions where you have no legal right to place these modified foundations and associated devices onto the adjoining owners land
What is most concerning is that you and your advisors are fully aware that a revised Party Wall Award is required
Christopher Barber wrote formally to you and your Structural Engineers making the following statement
Chris Barber :-  I would suggest that this detail (redesigned foundation) is added to the Award (revised) which will need to go out on Monday 18th May 2015 as this indicates a considerable variation to the structural information issued to the AOP surveyor at 40 AV to date. Alistair Redler has asked for the relevant details to be attached to the award which should include this revision based upon more detailed investigations completed by Cranbrook Basements….    (brackets and underlining added for clarity)
This is of course a most serious situation and we will not allow your behaviour to be linked with our Company we will continue to uphold the standards of total transparency and clarity whilst operating within the legal framework of the Party Wall Act and the Town and Country Planning Act
Please provide the information requested above at your earliest convenience
For the avoidance of doubt we are experiencing delays on site
Kind regards
Kevin OConnor


  1. Control of basements is a new council policy. This case shows an individual squaring up to the council in the belief that he can do whatever he wants, regardless of laws and regulations. Will the councillors cave in or stick to their guns?

    1. stick to their guns? Highly unlikely....

  2. Retired Chief Executive16 January 2016 at 23:28

    It is outrageous the way paid consultants like Savills can find their way into the Planning Department of Hornton Street for "private talks" that can lead to a U turn by Officers of a plan that they initially rejected.

    In my organisation such practices would immediately attract a corruption probe.

    1. My Mate The Builder16 January 2016 at 23:30

      Without these practices mate, I would be out of work

    2. Savuills used to be a respected Estate Agent. They should not get involved in attempts to subvert public policy.

    3. Critics of the planning system should examine the Savills "deal" in detail. An unofficial proposal was put forward to Officers in the secret pre application stage that included the illegal basement and an outrageous skylight. The "plea bargain" was "withdraw the skylight and we can recommend the basement".

      For good measure, to look good, Officers also insisted that an impartial Chartered Engineer should be appointed by the owner to monitor the work. Reads well, doesn't it????? Except that the basement construction is finished and there is nothing to monitor.

      Why do Officers assume that all residents are Muppets?

    4. The Dames Investigator18 January 2016 at 08:46

      The "consultant" at Savills is Mr S Wallis who works in their Margaret Street office. He has reached an understanding with Senior Planning Officer of the Royal Borough, Mr D Massey. The tip of the iceberg is clearly visible in Mr Massey's letter to Mr Wallis, dated 12th November 2015

    5. Before Mr Fairholme fired Cranbrook he lined up a firm of East European decorators (Moonbeam Builders, or some such name)to complete his basement. As soon as they got the contract they added a section to their website promoting themselves as "basement experts".

      A condition precedent of the original planning permission from the Council was that the contractor should belong to the Considerate Contractor Scheme ie an element of quality control. But like so much else in the Rotten Borough, this is just lip service.

    6. Moonbeam prices are cannot be bettered

  3. More evidence that the Rotten Borough has become a "permissions for sale" Council.

    1. The letter of objection from the Kensington Society is a devastating analysis of a total of 19 planning applications that Mr Fairholme has made for this project in an attempt to manipulate the planning process. Amanda Frame, Chairman of the Kensington Society, takes apart the recommendation of Officers in forensic detail and calls for immediate reinstatement.

      A Residents Association at its best. A bench mark for the others.

  4. Time for Stallwood to show whether he is on side of the angels....or greedy rogues.

    1. The Dames Investigator17 January 2016 at 09:16

      Planning permissions are sent to developers with the words "The development shall not be carried out except in complete accordance with details shown in submitted plans". These words are written on the official headed paper of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and personally signed by the Director of Planning, Graham Stallwood.

      Mr Stallwood knew in July 2015 that Mr Fairholme was building an illegal basement. He should have instructed the enforcement team to intervene and halt building operations. Instead, he did nothing.

      Freedom of Information shows that there was a secret meeting and site visit by Daniel Massey (Senior Planning Officer) and Savills in a "pre application meeting". Mr Massey wrote to Savills on 19th October to report "I support the proposal".

      In November, when the illegal basement construction was complete, Savills applied for retrospective planning permission.

      The Case Officer, Alison Long, is a teenager with tunnel vision who enjoys ticking boxes, shuffling paper and scribbling. To any resident who dares to question her decisions she chirps on the phone "I interpret the law"

      This is a picture of systemic and endemic corruption

    2. Retired Chief Executive17 January 2016 at 09:28

      New policies require zero tolerance of abuse. Otherwise they are useless.

    3. The words of the Dame's Investigator are perhaps a little harsh. The truth may have more to do with a failure of leadership by the Director of Planning, Mr Stallwood, and the Cabinet Member for Planning, Cllr Coleridge. Mr Stallwood is a young man who has been promoted too soon. Cllr Coleridge is useless. A nice guy, but thick and useless.

      Together they have failed to understand that the out of control planning bureaucracy in Hornton Street is part of a democratic process, paid for by residents. Their decisions are open to public scrutiny and it is essential to ensure that these decisions are perceived to be just and coherent. In a complex planning environment this is difficult to achieve and it is why the custodians need to be people of wisdom, skill and goodwill.

      Planning in Hornton Street is currently a very poor benchmark. Stallwood and Coleridge have much to do.

    4. Scribe is too gentle and maybe naïve about the ways of the world. Not so long ago one of the Resident Associations commissioned an investigation of an ex Mayor and ex Chairman of the Planning Committee (a now disgraced and expelled Councillor) who they were suspicious about. The investigator found that this person had three offshore bank accounts, nineteen credit cards and three houses - two in the Royal Borough were hidden in offshore BVI Trusts.

  5. I is appalling that a case has gotten this far, with officers tipping in favour of condoning someone who ignores their own policies. Do they not realize the chaos and lawlessness that will ensue if this happens. The Planning Department will become irrelevant, as Builders and Developers simply do their own thing and pay no heed to what their planning permissions say. Let's hope there is a decent slate of councillors on for Tuesday night who will do the Officers a favour by overruling their short-term ignorance and forcing a proper decision.

    1. Memebers of the Planning Committee arranged for Tuesday 26th January are Cllr Mackover, Cllr Dent Coade, Cllr Rutherford, Cllr Spalding, and Cllr Williams.

  6. City Boy Stephen Fairholme has a big ego and likes people to listen to him. In April 2013 he wrote to the Council to comment on the proposed basement policy. He said

    "There is an anti basement movement in K&C made up of elderly well off residents who live on housing benefit. RBKC is embarking on a huge mistake. On the contrary there should be a policy of more basement development"

    Just to be sure, Mr Fairholme published his opinion on the internet.

    1. From day one of the basement construction, Mr Fairholme illegally refused entry to the site by the neighbouring Party Wall Surveyors. He illegally ordered movement monitoring to stop. It is believed that he illegally encroached into the ground under the neighbouring properties and illegally removed foundations of the neighbouring properties. By digging deeper than permitted, and without soil engineering analysis, he created problems with the water table, serious flooding and risk to the safety of neighbouring properties.

  7. Last tuesdays (Jan.12) Planning Committee passed a basement at 115 Elgin Crescent against its own policies (requiring a metre of soil)... in spite of substantial local opposition (including Julie Mills and Rachel Johnson, both present).
    What hope is left with this council, who endemically fail to protect the treasure of our borough with which they were entrusted....

  8. Savills are advising the Council on their regeneration/social cleansing projects, so no chance here.

    1. Person Familiar With The Situation17 January 2016 at 11:11

      If this is the case, then there is a clear conflict of interest.

      It is understood that the arrangement between Mr Fairholme and Savills includes a success fee if the illegal basement is approved.

      Clle Paget-Brown, Leader of the Council, needs to examine the interplay between Council policy and internal and external advisers. There has been a muddle, conflicts of interest and outright corruption in the Borough for many years and this is another example of a situation that requires urgent action.

    2. Defence Contractor18 January 2016 at 08:42

      This is the same structure that we use to make arms sales. For example, a European ship builder wants to sell an aircraft carrier to a Middle East Government. We appoint an Agent to give expert advice. The Agent approaches the Defence Minister of the target Government who says that he is prepared to sign the purchase order for a consideration of $10 million. The Agent invoices us with his fee for advice of $1 million plus $10 million expenses. It al goes through the books and is entirely above board. And the $11 million is tiny in relation to the contract value.

  9. There is a need for legislation aimed at Local Government that makes it a criminal offence to give or receive bribes

  10. What is needed is a legal fighting fund to force the planning department to decide matters such as these on the basis of what is legal and moral. The facts of this case would surely result in a successful Judicial Review. If the Kensington Society (or someone else) were to coordinate a legal fund, I would certainly be prepared to donate a considerable sum and I would encourage others to do the same. It is a sad day when residents have to bring legal action against their own council to force them to do the right thing but unfortunately that day has long since come.

    1. I support the notion of a legal fighting fund. I, too, would voluntarily contribute. If there is sufficient interest, I would even consider coordinating it. There is simply too much dirty business at the planning department and money is needed to counter the funds put forth by the building community that has made the process corrupt.

    2. I would contribute.

  11. I would contribute. Councillors should know there are residents who are prepared to take legal action to fix this corruption.

  12. Retired Chief Executive (continued)17 January 2016 at 18:45

    From these comments it is clear that the time has come to abandon the pre application meetings in the planning process. The conflicts of interest are too great and the perceived opportunities for corruption are too great. To say nothing of the actual practice of corruption.

    Officers will argue strongly to retain the pre application system because it "speeds up the planning process". Bureaucrats love control and like to create extra work. But the world has moved on since the process was introduced and planning applicants understand that it is a complex process and they need to be well informed. There are enough ex Planning Officers, ex Councillors and others who could form an efficient market to supply expert information to applicants on a paid for basis. This would help to streamline the process and it would help to remove a very strong perception in the resident body that the Hornton Street planning process is corrupt.

    Whether or not the system is corrupt, Cllr Paget-Brown needs to accept that there is a widespread perception in his electorate that it is corrupt. And this is an issue which requires his attention and action. Abandoning the pre application process could be a good start.

  13. I came across Fairholme in the City. Strange cove. He sued his Merchant Bank (Merrill Lynch) for paying him a bonus (£230k) that was too small.

  14. I would certainly contribute too. We've seen enough of the planning department's venal modus, it's time for the residents to stand up and be counted. Otherwise RBKC's planning process will remain a joke, and one in very bad taste if you happen to live near one of these monstrous developments.

    And I must say this appalling story shows what a complete charade the council's endless processes and consultations for last year's new Basements SPD were.

  15. Go to bed with dog. Wake up with fleas.

  16. Totally outrageous - this guy should be prosecuted, As well as obliged to put right this mess.

  17. It seems totally impossible to undo the illegal basement already built - the owner is surely liable to pay damages to his neighbours for ignoring their property rights and also damaging their foundations. But who will take him to court and how will they evaluate the damage he has done?

    RBKC planners should be ashamed of their role in all this and we hope that councillors will do what they still can to reverse this fiasco.

    1. Difficult, but not impossible to reinstate the current basement to the approved dimensions. And essential to send out a message to the other developers that Kensington is not the Wild West and "anything goes". Basement applications are currently running at 487 per year.

      Councillors need to signal to Officers that it is time for corruption to stop and they need to signal to developers that the rules are the rules.

      A tough one for Fairholme. He was unlucky enough to get noticed.

  18. It would cost £300k to reinstate the old basement. The current cowboy builders could not do it. Fairholme would have to re hire a reputable firm of builders like Cranbrook.

    An option for the Council is to fine Fairholme £250k and let him keep his illegal basement.

    1. My Mate The Builder18 January 2016 at 18:22

      I will do the job for £5000. Raise the floor with concrete and build a concrete wall at the back to reduce the current basement to the size that was approved.

  19. The Dame's Investigator18 January 2016 at 18:19

    There is a huge cover up going on by the Officers. Council members of the Planning Committee are not being told the truth.

    The Recommendation to approve from Officers states that there were three previous Planning Applications for this basement. The Kensington Society points out that there have in fact been a total of 23 Planning Applications with three of them withdrawn. FACT: Bare faced lie by Officers.

    One of the neighbours included the Cranbrook letter with his letter of objection and asked for this to be published on the Council website. Officers "redacted" the letter. ie took a decision not to publish. FACT: Officers are concealing the truth.

  20. An investment banker, an estate agent and a local authority planner? Hardly a popularity contest is it?


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