India has joined four countries in backing France in its dispute over a property magnate’s plans for a multi-storey basement in his house at Kensington Palace Gardens -- London’s most expensive address -- where the envoys have their residences.
Better known as “billionaires row”, the street is home to steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, several billionaires and senior diplomats of several countries, including the Indian high commissioner. Property on the street -- when available -- is among the world’s costliest.
The dispute arose when French ambassador Sylvie Bermann took legal action last year against her neighbour, Jon Hunt, the multi-millionaire founder of a prominent estate agent. She lost the case in the high court in November and is now taking it to the Court of Appeal.
Hunt’s multi-storey basement plans for his house on the street west of Kensington Gardens reportedly include a car lift and a swimming pool. The scale of the work is such that the French embassy says it could “jeopardise diplomatic activities”.
It emerged this week that, invoking the Vienna Convention, the diplomats of France, India, Russia, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon have written a protest letter to the Crown Estate, the property company owned by Queen Elizabeth, and the freeholder of the land.
In the letter copied to Buckingham Palace and the Foreign Office, the diplomats called on the Crown Estate to “protect the integrity of our residences”, and cited diplomatic rights guaranteed under the 1961 convention.
They invoked Article 22 of the convention, which obliges the host state to protect the premises of diplomats against “intrusion or damage” and prevent “disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity”.
In a statement, the French embassy said it “remains committed to engaging in a constructive consultation process” but “the scale of the underground work planned is such that, were work to proceed, it could jeopardise diplomatic activities”.