How £5m of diggers came to reside under London’s most expensive houses

Harriet Green
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Mayor of London Boris Johnson with a digger (Source: Getty)

The only thing possibly bigger and swankier than the biggest and swankiest houses in London is the titanic subterranean lairs underneath them.

With spaces (but not cost) at a premium, more and more owners are expanding downwards, building cinemas, swimming pools, gyms, games rooms and other luxury spaces underneath their visible homes.

And Ed Smith, the former cricket player, has made a fascinating discovery, while investigating the wealthy parts of west London for writing his new book: by the time a digger’s dug the enormous hole for these extensions to fill, it’s actually cheaper to leave it down there than it is to hike it out.

By the time you’ve hired a crane, labour, street closure and complaints from local residents, a quick cost-benefit analysis tells you that it’s cheaper to entomb it in the earth it’s worked to shift. As Smith says, writing in the New Statesman, “it’s dug its own grave.”

Diggers are worth around £5,000 to £6,000 apiece - not a terrible hit for homeowners shelling out on properties that are worth millions.

According to estimates Smith got from city developers, the number of buried machines ranges anywhere from 500 to 1,000.

Even more bizarrely, but inevitably, new extensions ontop of old extensions are happening across relics of past work: the diggers. There’s then the intensified problem of resurfacing a digger that was abandoned on an old build.

In a way it makes sense. As Smith says, something about it’s entirely rational. But still, it’s also rather absurd.

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