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Tue 12 Jan 2016 10:40 AM

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Saudi ambassador in row over London billionaire’s lavish basement plans

Wealthy Foxton founder Jon Hunt is building a subterranean tennis court, swimming pool and rotating car ‘museum’ next to the diplomat's residence

Saudi ambassador in row over London billionaire’s lavish basement plans
Saudi ambassador Mohammed bin Nawwaf bin Abdulaziz Al Saud lives in the exclusive Kensington Park Gardens in West London, located near to Kensington Palace (pictured above).

The Saudi Arabian and Lebanese ambassadors to the UK are among diplomats fighting to block plans by a billionaire neighbour to build an 82 foot-deep ‘mega basement’ complete with infinity pool, tennis court and classic car museum.

Jon Hunt, founder of upmarket estate agency Foxtons, wants to build a subterranean extension to his home on the exclusive street of Kensington Park Gardens in West London.

The new basement would be 82ft deep and stretch 180ft into the garden. It would include a tennis court housed in a two-storey sports hall that meets guidelines set by the UK’s Lawn Tennis Association, an infinity pool and underground car museum featuring a huge rotating carousel to showcase his collection of vintage cars.

The project is expected to cost up to £100 million ($145 million). Hunt has reportedly already obtained planning permission from local authority the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea.

But ambassadors from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, France, Russia and India, who live in the same street, are fiercely objecting to the plans on the grounds that the construction work would disturb the neighbourhood and “jeopardise diplomatic activities”, according to the UK’s Daily Mail.

In an unprecedented move, the newspaper said, the five diplomats are arguing that the scheme contravenes Article 22 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which requires host countries to protect diplomats’ premises from “intrusion or damage” and enable diplomats to perform their function without the fear of “harassment”.

The diplomats have reportedly written to the street’s freeholder, the Crown Estate, setting out their argument, and copies of the letter were sent to Buckingham Palace and the Foreign Office just before Christmas. 

The fight is being led by French ambassador to the UK, Sylvie Bermann, who lives next door to Hunt’s multimillion-pound Grade II listed home.

A spokesman for the French Embassy was quoted as saying: “The scale of the underground work planned is such that, were work to proceed, it could jeopardise diplomatic activities.”

Last year, the French government lost a High Court case to halt Hunt’s scheme and is planning to appeal, according to reports from the UK. However, construction work is believed to have already started.

Hunt’s lawyer told a judge in November: “[The Hunts] are acting lawfully. They have permission.” He argued that the French government had only launched legal action “because they don’t want Mr Hunt to complete the basement”.

The 62-year-old former Army officer reportedly made £370 million when he sold Foxtons in 2007 just before the property crash, and he is thought to have amassed a fortune of more than £1 billion.

He and his wife Lois bought their eight-bedroom home for a reported £15.75 million in 2005. Their neighbours include steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal, Roman Abramovich, the Sultan of Brunei and Saudi ambassador Mohammed bin Nawwaf bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, a member of the House of Saud.

There have been numerous other disputes in London over wealthy homeowners’ plans to enlarge their properties by developing lavish basements.

Many councils – including Kensington & Chelsea – have tightened their planning rules to restrict the size of such schemes, but Hunt is believed to have obtained consent before the new rules were implemented.

Hunt reportedly declined to comment.

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