In this week’s New Statesman, Ed Smith writes about the absurdity of London’s housing market.
He describes the houses in the city’s most prosperous areas, like Belgravia and Chelsea. London’s strict planning rules restrict building upwards, so digging downwards has been the solution for owners who want to expand their property’s square-footage.
For example, there’s Roman Abramovic’s £150m home, which extends three stories underground.
According to the Daily Mail: “The development, over five storeys above ground and three basement levels, boasts a cinema/entertainment room, an indoor pool, steam room and sauna, as well as a children’s study and entertainment room.”
Anyway, such conversions take massive amounts of work. They require small diggers to bore through, say, the house’s rear garden and sometimes plough straight through the house.
As Smith writes:
The difficulty is in getting the digger out again. To construct a no-expense-spared new basement, the digger has to go so deep into the London earth that it is unable to drive out again. What could be done?
Initially, the developers would often use a large crane to scoop up the digger, which was by now nestled almost out of sight at the bottom of a deep hole.
A new solution emerged: simply bury the digger in its own hole. Given the exceptional profits of London property development, why bother with the expense and hassle of retrieving a used digger – worth only £5,000 or £6,000 – from the back of a house that would soon be sold for several million? The time and money expended on rescuing a digger were better spent moving on to the next big deal.
That’s right. They just poured a whole load of sand and gravel on top of the diggers and left them there.
We don’t know how many diggers there are. It could be up to 1,000, one property developer tells Smith.
In an elegant conclusion to his piece, he imagines an archaeological programme chancing upon the diggers, many years from now:
What will the explanatory caption say? ‘Situated immediately adjacent to the heated underground swimming pool and cinema at the back of the house, no superior London address was complete without one of these highly desirable icons, sometimes nicknamed “the Compact Cat”. This metallic icon was a special sacrificial gesture, a symbol of deep thanks to the most discussed, revered and pre-eminent god of the age, worshipped around the world: London Property.’
The Evening Standard quotes Don O’Sullivan, a director of London developers Galliard, who says the claims make no commercial sense:
“With the basement space worth up to £8,000 per sq ft why would someone leave such valuable space filled with dumped equipment and fill in concrete? Much more valuable to extract and have as sellable space – oligarchs are rich but not stupid.”