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Buried diggers: fact or urban legend?

According to a report by New Statesman magazine, a basement redevelopment trend began in London in the 1990s. Owners of the city’s most expensive addresses started digging down to expand their homes due to strict planning rules that prevented them for building upwards.

These jobs were said to be handled by “basement conversion specialists” who would organise for a small excavator or two to be navigated into the house – either through a large window or simply by knocking a hole in the wall – before digging downwards to construct additional subterranean levels that could house pools, personal cinemas and staff quarters.

However, this then presented a problem: how to get the excavator out again. It was reported that developers initially used large cranes to lift the excavators out of these deep holes but that this was found to be uneconomical.

“The time and money expended on rescuing a digger were better spent moving on to the next big deal,” the New Statesman said in its report.

As a result, it was said that developers opted for the cheaper option of simply burying the excavators instead, covering it with “hardcore” – a mixture of sand and gravel – followed by a layer of concrete in a similar way to how boring machines were abandoned beneath the Channel Tunnel during its construction.

“Petrified” diggers “nonsense”

New Statesman reported that property developers had estimated that 500 to 1000 “perfectly functioning and possibly still serviceable” excavators were “petrified” underneath central London. However, a report by the London Evening Standard claimed that property developers had dismissed the digger dumping practice as “total nonsense”.

Don O’Sullivan, a director of London developer Gailliard, told the London Evening Standard: “With the basement space worth up to £8000 per square foot, why would someone leave such valuable space filled with dumped equipment and fill in concrete? [It would be] much more valuable to extract [the excavator] and have a sellable space. Oligarchs are rich but not stupid.”

O’Sullivan added, “The only time equipment is dumped like this is [in] deep and long tunnels such as the Channel Tunnel, Underground tunnel or Crossrail. These are major jobs where it makes economic sense – otherwise no.”

Other developers have backed O’Sullivan, arguing that burying an excavator would also mean the costly loss of expensive equipment, and that few companies would “dare risk breaching important health and safety procedures”.

Source: New Statesman, London Evening Standard

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