Neighbours launch bid to stop celebrity architect building futuristic underground house

Wealthy neighbours have launched a Court of Appeal bid to stop a celebrity architect from building a futuristic house in Kensington’s millionaires row.

Sophie Hicks, former Tatler fashion editor and mother of models Edie and Olympia Campbell, had hoped to build a cutting-edge underground house in Holland Park. 

However she faced opposition from seven neighbours who claimed the plans should be rejected on ‘aesthetic’ grounds due to the building’s proposed glass entrance hall. 

In the planning row, spearheaded by Maria Letemendia, 70, the neighbours’ lawyers told London‘s High Court they wanted to block the building for ‘aesthetic’ reasons, stating: ‘We do not all want to live next door to the creative and interesting.’

But Judge Mark Pelling QC ruled last year their objections on grounds of taste were ‘unreasonable’ and ordered them to pay legal costs of approximately £1 million.     

The neighbours, who live in a Victorian townhouse next to the proposed site, have now asked Court of Appeal judges to reverse the ruling and give them the right to stop the ‘unique and unconventional’ development.

Pictured: Neighbour Maria Letemendia

Pictured: Sophie Hicks and her daughter Olympia outside London's High Court

Former Tatler fashion editor Sophie Hicks (right with daughter Olympia) had hoped to build a cutting-edge underground house in Holland Park, but the development was contested by seven neighbours led by Maria Letemendia (left)

Neighbours living in the Victorian townhouse next door have asked the Court of Appeal to reverse the ruling and give them the right to stop the 'unique and unconventional' development on their doorstep

Neighbours living in the Victorian townhouse next door have asked the Court of Appeal to reverse the ruling and give them the right to stop the ‘unique and unconventional’ development on their doorstep

A street view design of the property shows how the entrance hall would be shaded by a tree

A street view design of the property shows how the entrance hall would be shaded by a tree

Award-winning architect Ms Hicks bought the land at auction in 2011 for £880,000 and her plans received approval from Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council in 2015.

She had hoped to live in the house with other members of her extended family, but the face-off with her would-be neighbours meant work could not commence. 

Residents of the ‘millionaires’ row’ neighbourhood include the Beckhams, Elton John and Robbie Williams – and mansions can change hands for up to £30million.

Ms Letemendia is one of seven leaseholders in the Grade-II listed villa next to the site who own the freehold through a management company.  

They believed they had the power to stop the proposal due to small print in a contract from when the site was first sold in the 1960s. 

But in an earlier court clash between the neighbours and Ms Hicks in 2013, a judge ruled that their power as owners of the freehold must only be exercised ‘reasonably’.  

Ms Hicks with model daughter Edie Campbell

Ms Hicks with daughter Olympia

Sophie Hicks is the former Tatler fashion editor and mother of models Edie (left) and Olympia Campbell (right)

Ms Hicks bought the land (pictured) at auction in 2011 for £880,000 and her plans received approval from Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council in 2015

Ms Hicks bought the land (pictured) at auction in 2011 for £880,000 and her plans received approval from Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council in 2015

Judge Pelling found the company through which the neighbours owned the freehold did not have rights which would ‘entitle it to refuse approval based on aesthetics.’     

Appealing the ruling in the Court of Appeal last week, the neighbours’ barrister John McGhee QC said Judge Pelling ought to have found the firm ‘reasonably’ refused consent.

He argued Judge Pelling had been wrong in holding that the right of veto protected the company’s interests and not those of the neighbours as individuals.   

The clause itself had been drawn up in part to protect the interests of long leaseholders like the neighbours, he said. 

Mr McGhee added the judge was wrong in holding that the ‘aesthetic impact’ of the house could not be taken into account when deciding whether or not to block the development.  

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

The house on the wedge-shaped land will be split into three floors, pictured, with two of them built underground

Ms Hicks’s model daughters Edie (left) and Olympia (right) pictured at a party in 2017 in Northamptonshire, while plans for the development are also shown 

This picture shows the disputed land in Holland Park as it is now and Ms Hicks has already been given planning permission by the council to develop it

This picture shows the disputed land in Holland Park as it is now and Ms Hicks has already been given planning permission by the council to develop it

His ruling was also ‘inconsistent’ with earlier findings made by a judge during the 2013 case, he argued.

Philip Rainey QC, for Ms Hicks, however insisted Judge Pelling had ‘rightly held that these were not good reasons for the appellant to refuse to approve the plans.’  

‘What the appellant means by “aesthetic considerations” is that some of the lessees say that, even though the proposed house has no effect on the value of their interests in the building, they happen not to like the look of it,’ he told the court.

‘A company cannot have a view on that sort of aesthetic issue… This type of aesthetic consideration, which is incapable of being objectively assessed, was rightly rejected.

‘The judge was right. The court is respectfully asked to dismiss the appeal with costs.’   

This image shows the street view of the new building, centre, with neighbours describing the entrance hall as a 'glowing glass box'

This image shows the street view of the new building, centre, with neighbours describing the entrance hall as a ‘glowing glass box’

This image shows the layout of the home underground and how only the entrance hall will be above ground

This image shows the layout of the home underground and how only the entrance hall will be above ground

Former fashion editor and esteemed British architect: The career of Sophie Hicks 

Sophie Hicks, 59, began a career in fashion at 17 – when she was hired as a guest editor for the first teenage issue of Harper’s & Queens. 

She remained in fashion for more than 10 years, during which time she acted as fashion editor for Tatler and British Vogue.

At 28, Hicks returned to education and studied to become an architect at the Architectural Association in London. 

She qualified as a chartered architect in 1994, and has since designed prominent buildings such as Paul Smith’s flagship store in London.

Hicks went on to design buildings for Yohji Yamamoto, Chloe and The Royal Academy of Arts.  

She was Vice President of the Architectural Association Council from 1997 to 1999.    

Last year, Hicks was awarded a RIBA London Award for a new build house in the Earls Court conservation area of central London.

Hicks has built a series of other contemporary homes across the capital, including in Regent Square. 

Mr Rainey also pointed out that plans for a house which were approved by the original owner in 1968 ‘were for a large and uncompromisingly modern brick house that would today be regarded as an eyesore.’ 

He added that ‘the site was a piece of weed-choked wasteground that had been left derelict and overgrown for decades’ by the time Ms Hicks bought it.

‘On aesthetics, the objection was that the lessees did not want any modern architecture near … Holland Park,’ he said.

‘This was despite the fact that the house approved under the 1968 deed was a modern – and very ugly – house, and was despite the fact that [the Victorian townhouse] was already next door to a ten-story tower block from the 1960s.’ 

Appeal judges Lord Justice Lewison, Lord Justice Flaux and Lord Justice Holroyde reserved their decision on the case, which they will give at a later date.

During the trial last year, Jonathan Karas QC, representing the neighbours, told Judge Pelling that an objection on grounds of aesthetic taste was entirely reasonable.

Ms Hicks’ house design ‘is modern and shares none of the design language of the listed buildings of Holland Park’, he said.

The architect had described her design for the house as ‘creative and interesting, unique, imaginative, unconventional, a bespoke and contemporary house,’ said the QC.

Mr Karas said: ‘We do not all want to live next door to the creative and interesting, or to the unique or to the contemporary or the unconventional, or next to buildings which share none of the design language of the building in which one lives, nor next to gently glowing boxes.

‘Every time one approaches or leaves [the house], one will see the glass box.

‘One can reasonably take exception to what one sees as one leaves and approaches one’s home.’ 

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