OPINION: The Hollowing Out Of London
I’ve got nothing against rich people. I like the rich. We need them. I’m glad so many come to live in our beautiful city of London. I’m glad they bring their families and spend money and employ people and make investments. I don’t believe in ‘punishing the rich’ like the Left.
But I can’t NOT discuss the massive boom in luxury basement building going on in London right now. I know many old houses, especially bigger or ‘posher’ ones often had a basement, maybe a wine cellar or a storage room. But that’s not what I’m referring to. Nor am I talking about your average wealthy person. I’m referring to high-end luxury basements sometimes as deep as five stories (yes 5!) that are being built underneath already fabulously expensive properties in central London by billionaires who have come to live here. It’s a compliment to us they choose to live here I guess.
But up to 5 stories under the ground to accommodate things like gyms, swimming pools, saunas, steam rooms, waterfalls (!), garages for huge luxury vehicles, cinemas, dance floors, and on and on? The list of luxury ‘ necessities’ that are being built underneath these properties is endless. It brings a whole new dimension to what might be underneath you when you are walking along on your way to work in London. I guess you could say well it would look worse if they were building UP, and that is true to an extent, but it doesn’t change the fact that there is endless construction work going on around us in London either way.
There are various reasons the basements are booming and increasing – they are a status symbol for the fabulously wealthy, (every billionaire must have one), it proves how rich you are, they give extra space, yes, but these people often own other properties anyway. One main reason which causes problems for all of us is that they increase the value of the properties immensely, (great for the owner, not so great for us), which has a knock on effect across London, the suburbs and then into the rest of the country. Why? Because the higher property rises in London the less chance there is that ordinary workers can live in London, so we move further out, those areas then increase in value, people have to move further out again, those areas become more desirable, and so on, and the whole pattern repeats.
The wealthy have always been able to afford to live in London of course. But they were the English wealthy, the landed gentry if you like, the professionals, and those with inherited wealth. But even the children of these can no longer afford to live in London, they are moving further out and thereby making what used to be less expensive areas become highly desirable and we are again in an ever-increasing circle. So even the wealthy of old are now being affected and driven out by the billionaire basement builders. Something we probably never thought would happen not so long ago. The status quo is changing dramatically. Does fabulous wealth have to mean the constant acquisition of bigger and bigger things? Whatever happened to noblesse oblige…
I could be cynical and mention that in many boroughs across London if you dare to ask for permission even to build a garden shed or an extension you may be slapped down. But a billionaire basement for your waterfall and private cinema – no problem? Ordinary people who would find it more affordable to extend slightly rather than trying to upscale to a bigger house often come up against a brick wall (excuse the pun).
Or I could mention that in a time when billionaires arrive in their droves and build bigger and bigger luxury basements across London, ordinary people are living in smaller and smaller spaces, more and more built up areas, face overcrowding everywhere we go – trains, buses, roads, doctors, schools, hospitals, shops, in fact in every aspect of our lives.
And perhaps the most relevant of all, new builds are smaller than they have ever been. Anyone buying new properties will often find them smaller than the properties perhaps first time buyers would have been able to choose from a generation or two ago. Living rooms are now one third smaller than in the 70s! (And yet social housing is on the decrease, but that’s another story). Living in flats rather than houses is becoming increasingly the norm. We are in fact going backwards. Unless you are a billionaire of course.
Even the ‘ordinary’ rich are complaining about the basement building – the noise, the disruption, the pollution. Basement wars apparently! But is it safe to dig so deep? What about flooding? What about sinkholes? What if the whole lot just caved in? How do we really know what people are keeping down there?? Only time will tell I guess. And how about the 1000 JCBs buried underground after jobs are finished because it’s cheaper than bringing them back up! The words decadence and waste come to mind.
Some councils have tried to curb the basement building by insisting on planning permission being sought now, and it has slowed slightly, but in the last decade, 4650 basements have been approved in London including 122 mega basements. The combined depth of just these waiting to be built is 50,000ft. At the moment it seems some of our laws are too antiquated or geared to ordinary domestic building works to be able to cope with all this. New rules are due soon.
It seems to me, that the growing hollowness underneath our feet caused by the billionaire basement boom, represents the total hollowing out of London of ordinary working people who will soon have no place, space or capability to live or even exist here. And that, as they say, would be the end of that!