Richard Caring, the billionaire owner of the celebrity hotspot restaurant the Ivy and private members’ club Annabel’s, has won permission to close a main road in South Kensington, central London, in order to have dozens of trees planted in the grounds of his £40m mansion.
Caring, who has built up an estimated personal fortune of more than £1bn from his clubs and restaurants empire, which also includes the Sexy Fish in Mayfair, secured permission from the council to close part of Onslow Square for two weeks in order to install a crane to carry the mature trees over a row of neighbouring terraced houses.
David Erb, who lives on Onslow Square in a property overlooking Caring’s mansion, said it was outrageous that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea was “acquiescing to the whims of a billionaire who wants a nice garden”.
“It is absolutely wrong that a single man, with a huge fortune is able to disrupt the lives of thousands of people,” Erb, a software developer, told the Guardian as one of the trees, estimated to weigh more than five tonnes, was lifted over his home. “They often close off the pavement as well and it’s beginning to feel a bit like we live behind a barricade.”
The road closure is the latest chapter in a five-year battle between Caring and some of the approximately 500 people who live in properties adjacent to his Park House mansion.
Designs for the house, which replaces a 19th-century cottage previously owned by the German industrialist heir Gert-Rudolf Flick, feature a large two-storey basement.
The basement alone contains a swimming pool (that can be converted into a ballroom), a beauty treatment room, steam room and store for summer clothes, according to plans filed with the council.
The council has already issued an enforcement notice on Caring ordering him to remove three “incongruous and dominant” windows, which it said “fail to preserve the character and appearance” of the conservation area.
It said it took breaches of planning rules “very seriously” and it had given Caring six months to comply. A spokesperson said the council “encourage[s] residents to report any concerns they may have so that we can work with landowners to investigate and fix issues quickly”.
Onslow Square, which links South Kensington underground station to Fulham Road, is used by the 14, 49, 345 and 414 bus routes, which have all been placed on diversion. The road is also an important thoroughfare for ambulances carrying patients to the the Royal Marsden and Chelsea and Westminster hospitals. The emergency services had to be informed of the closure.
A spokesperson for the council said it “cannot unreasonably refuse” requests for road closures but added that it appreciated the inconvenience caused.
The council said it asked Caring to delay the road closure until August in order to minimise disruption to neighbours and the emergency services.
“Anyone can apply to us for a road closure, from residents wanting to lift heavy items into their homes to utility companies carrying out repairs and upgrades,” the spokesperson said. “While we cannot unreasonably refuse those requests, we appreciate that closures can be inconvenient and do our best to minimise any disruption.
“In this case, we publicised the closure in local media and on our website several weeks in advance and the applicant hand-delivered a letter to more than 600 homes in the area. We also encouraged the applicant to carry out the work during the school holidays to avoid disrupting school traffic and informed Transport for London and the emergency services of the planned closure.”
Regarding the planning rules breach, which was identified by neighbours in May, the council said: “Planning regulations exist to protect neighbourhoods. We take breaches very seriously and work with landowners to investigate and fix issues quickly.
“We have issued an enforcement notice in this case and this allow six months from the date of issue for the developer to amend their property to comply with the planning consent.”
Flick has described the house as “almost a country house in the middle of London”.
Several spokespeople for Caring and his Caprice Holdings company did not respond to requests for comment.