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08 Feb 2021

London’s ultra-rich ditch basement excavations as they swap the capital for the countryside

The number of applications to convert basements in Westminster has fallen as the wealthy leave for the countryside.

The construction of mega-basement conversions in central London has slumped almost 40 per cent during the pandemic as the ultra-rich flee the capital and buy country homes.

The number of applications to convert basements in Westminster has declined from 99 to just 61 in the year to October, and fallen more than 70 per cent since 2015.

Boodle Hatfield, the wealth management firm that analysed the data, said the fall was partly the result of an increasing number of high net worth individuals moving to the countryside as the requirement to work full time in the office subsided.

The collapse of two multimillion-pound properties in Chelsea last year due to major basement conversion work may deter further construction projects, the company said.

Is it worth it?

John Wevill, construction partner at Boodle Hatfield, said: “Luxury basements were once the must-have in a central London property but many are now reconsidering whether the cost and stress are truly worth it.

“Covid-19 has made converting a basement even less appealing – dealing with the noise and disruption while stuck in a property can be impossible. The option of moving to the country instead is now open to more wealthy people too.”

Due to the complexity of excavation work, neighbours are often subjected to lengthy periods of excessive noise, vibration and disruption.

A number of celebrities have been involved in protracted legal battles with neighbours over basement conversions. Artist Damien Hirst and musicians Robbie Williams and Jimmy Page have been involved in high-profile disputes.

Mega-basements losing popularity

Mr Wevill said: “The risks of digging a mega-basement have also been highlighted by the incident in Chelsea. Collapses like that are rare but the costs can be enormous if anything goes wrong on a project of that level of complexity.”

According to relocation firm Astons, property prices across prime central London postcodes, including Westminster, have fallen 10 per cent in the past year as people sought properties further afield.

Recent luxury basement conversions in central London have included features such as swimming pools, cinemas, wine cellars, libraries and billiard rooms.

This article first appeared in The i Newspaper on 8 February 2021.