The Independent London Newspaper
19th May 2019

Anger as couple tell inspector that basement next to Air Studios could be dug out during orchestra breaks

    Musicians at Air Studios are worried recording work will be brought to a halt by noisy construction, with Brian May among the opponents [Pics: Marcen27 and Paul Capeville]

    Published: 12 January, 2017

    A COUPLE in a long-running battle to dig out a new basement at their home next to the world-famous Air Studios have suggested doing some of the work while orchestras are on their lunch breaks.

    The suggestion comes with a bid to begin work at the house in Rosslyn Hill, Hampstead, unresolved nearly two years after Andrew and Elizabeth Jeffreys first approached the council seeking planning consent for their upgrade. 

    They have now successfully applied for the case to be judged by a planning inspector instead, after claiming the Town Hall delays were unfair. 

    Camden Council has been deluged with thousands of pleas from musicians and music fans who claim that noisy excavations will make it impossible to work at the studios, where the soundtracks for blockbuster movies are regularly recorded.

    Queen guitarist Brian May, actress Joanna Lumley and the late Wham! singer George Michael all raised objections to the work after the case was first revealed by the New Journal in April 2015.

    The dispute has attracted widespread media attention since, with a queue of famous faces warning that it would be catastrophic for the studios and the industry in the UK if recording work was brought to a standstill.

    The couple, however, have rarely spoken publicly about their side of the story, with lawyers and planning consultants representing them in the face of the backlash to their proposals.

    Paperwork filed with the inspector who will finally rule on the project, however, outlines their argument. It includes the claim that Air Studios cannot expect an absolute “no development” zone around its main hall, formerly known as Lyndhurst Hall.

    In an appeal document, Tim Miles, a town planner with Montagu Evans, said the couple had “expended significant resources” to provide technical details and had voluntarily agreed to drop part of the basement development.

    Both sides met last summer, Mr Miles said, with each hiring sound technicians. He added: “It is one part of the overall studio that may be affected, for a short length of time, during certain times of the day, which is subject to regular and scheduled breaks. 

    “Our client would be more than happy to attempt to work with the studio to do this. For instance, working hours could be limited or scheduled around breaks etc.”

    But he warned: “It is not appropriate that an area around a noise-sensitive use becomes a sterile ‘no-development’ zone due to potential impact from construction noise. 

    “Development is permitted adjacent to schools, libraries and hospitals on the basis that disturbance can be minimised with careful management. To refuse all development within a radius of an existing business in a dense urban location, especially when the impacts of construction are largely conjectural, would be wholly inappropriate.”

    The case has had so much scrutiny that former culture secretary John Whittingdale wrote to the council to ask planners to step carefully in a letter which highlighted the economic contribution made by the studios to the film industry. 

    Supporters of the studios have regularly warned that disturbance could shut down one of only two recording spaces large enough for orchestras, and risk harming London’s leading reputation as a place to record film scores. 

    One musician threatened to sue Camden Council for loss of earnings if it approved the plans and work at the studios was disrupted. The council has now said it would have rejected the work if the decision had not been transferred to an inspector.

    In a comment left on the New Journal's website, the studios director Paul Woolf said: "The idea that our neighbours are being thoughtful in dropping part of the application is misleading. Air has rights of açcess to our neighbours garden and the previous application would have infringed these rights. I suggest that everyone reads Air's objections to the Appeal and those filed by Camden."



    I am a violinist who works

    I am a violinist who works regularly at Air Studios, London.
    With reference to the article in this week’s Camden New Journal about
    the Jefferies plans and grounds of their appeal to the Inspectorate:
    The actual reason the Jefferies dropped half of their development was
    because of a Deed of Easement which prevented them from building where
    they originally intended. So this was a mandatory prohibition on them .
    It is also absolutely untrue, as the Jefferies suggest that they can
    develop and carry out works in orchestra breaks. Being a regular user
    of Air Studios, I know and have explained to the Camden planning officer
    that total flexibility of schedule is needed when recording in the
    studios. Breaks in the studio are often used for recording other
    combinations of musicians and decisions are made ongoingly in response
    to the recording work at the time and can not be planned in advance.
    There was an incident a few months ago when Air had actually discussed
    and agreed the timing for a some exploratory excavating work to be done
    to check foundation levels The agreement was breached and a digger was
    brought on site at a time which was not agreed. This caused undue
    disruption which was not acceptable.
    Fenella Barton
    *Fenella Barton- violinist*


    with all respect to the studio and to music, those people have a right to build what they want, sorry, relocate temporary somwhere.

    Scheduled breaks?

    As a musician who regularly works at Air Studios, I can attest that breaks are not scheduled in the way that Mr Miles suggests. Breaks are usually limited to 15 minutes per three-hour recording session, and the music director is free to take that break at an appropriate point in the recording rather than at a set time. Schools, libraries and hospitals do not lose business if they are subject to noise disturbance, which Air clearly will.

    Poor understanding

    "Development is permitted adjacent to schools, libraries and hospitals on the basis that disturbance can be minimised with careful management." Yes, because these places do not require silence to continue operating. If there's a bit of drilling going on next to a hospital, it doesn't render all their antibiotics useless, does it? On a recording however, background noise like that DOES make the resulting record unusable, especially when it is for large-budget films and records.

    Also, breaks in the music business can be short and unpredictable. What could a team of contractors realistically expect to get done in 10-15 minutes, at any point in the day? Such a suggestion is ludicrous, and shows poor understanding of how recording studios operate.

    The arguments that are raised

    The arguments that are raised by those supporting development show a lack of understanding as to how the recording business operates. If a session goes well, the break might occur later to keep the good quality going. Equally breaks might come earlier if a track or patch is short and the next one long. Plus breaks are short, fifteen to twenty minutes.

    It is a poor argument to say development is permitted near schools, hospitals and libraries. Whilst quiet is of value in those environments, absolute quiet is not a prerequisite to the actual business operating at all.

    The Jeffreys knew the environment in which they were buying their house. If it does not suit them, perhaps they should not have made their original purchase. The solution is simple. Sell up and move to a property that satisfies them or can be developed without risking the destruction of a major national asset.


    Air Studios

    I have read with astonishment your article suggesting that major works by our neighbours could be done in orchestra breaks. This shows a total lack of understanding of the recording process. Also when previously our neighbours agreed not to make noise when digging a trial put they brought in a digger in contravention of the agreement. Also the idea that our neighbours are being thoughtful in dropping part of the application is misleading. Air has rights of açcess to our neighbours garden and the previous application would have infringed these rights! I suggest that everyone reads Air's objections to the Appeal and those filed by Camden.

    Paul Woolf


    Air Studios


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