Could the ground beneath our feet be a goldmine – or is it just property market madness that led a woman to spend £150,000 on a plot of land beneath a 1930s Bloomsbury apartment block?
It is, essentially, nothing more than a compacted collection of mud, rocks and debris from down the ages.
But in a further sign of the madness of the febrile London property market, a prospective developer has just paid £150,000 – simply for the ground beneath an existing property.
And there is speculation that with the demand on both space and housing in the capital showing no signs of easing, buying the ground beneath other buildings in order to build down could just become a trend – lending an entirely new meaning to the expression ‘sitting on a gold mine’.
The 1,975 sq ft plot of ground beneath Queen Court, a 1930s apartment block in Queen Square, Bloomsbury, central London, was bought by an unnamed woman for £30,000 more than the reserve price.
The extraordinary offer of a solid, ‘unexcavated basement space’ came up at auction with the freeholder’s consent to develop.
As an indication of property prices in the area apartments in the block, close to Great Ormond Street Hospital, cost around £650,000, while the average value of residential property in Bloomsbury has reached £768,669, up by 15.8 per cent over the last year alone.
Although no planning permission had yet been approved by the local council, the purchase raises the novel prospect of the new owner creating a basement dwelling by building down into the ground.
This might seem attractive in a city where millionaire property owners in districts such as Westminster and Kensington have taken to building controversial mega – or iceberg – basements.
Only last month the owner of the Monsoon and Accessorize chain of shops become the latest millionaire to fall out with his neighbours over plans to build a huge basement beneath his home.
Peter Simon, who amassed his fortune after setting up Monsoon from a stall selling coats on London’s Portobello Road in 1973, gained planning permission to knock five houses into one in order to build a palatial family home on his street in Chelsea.
Beneath the new house Mr Simon plans to build an underground swimming pool, gym, wine cellar and two apartments – at a total construction cost of more than £1 million.
Chris Coleman-Smith, head of Savills auctions, who sold the Bloomsbury plot, said: “You hear about people digging beneath their mansions, so why not on something a bit different. With a shortage of space in London it makes sense.
“This unexcavated basement sparked the imagination of bidders, attracted to its scope for potential development and location in a vibrant enclave of central London.”
Mr Coleman-Smith said it he thought it was the first time the ground beneath an existing property had been sold in this way.
He said: “There’s a shortage of space and property in London and this type of purchase might become more popular in the future.
“It could be dug out into a residential property or offices. There are all sort of uses it could be put to, though admittedly it would be lacking in much natural light.”
He added: “Bloomsbury has already benefited from the substantial regeneration of neighbouring King’s Cross, with further gains possible once the final works are complete in 2020.
“Even if the buyer chooses to do nothing with the land, there is still good potential for further capital growth.”
But property experts have pointed out one crucial difference between London’s mega-basements and the ground beneath the Bloomsbury apartments.
With no access to the flats above, any home built beneath the existing structure would lack all but the most minimal of natural light – making it more of a burrow than a basement family home.