Imagine discovering that you've bought the wrong house. Were it me I'd have preferred to buy the right one rather than hollowing out its bowels to accommodate new features. Great big changes to a house that disturb neighbours (fine it's a house in the middle of nowhere) seems ... well a bit ... y'know, vulgar. Perhaps I'm just a snob.
Basement excavations are tricky things to get right at the best of times but when they go wrong they can really go disastrously wrong. The Health and Safety Executive published a press release (Basement building in London faces safety scrutiny) in March 2015 highlighting that in the preceding ten years 17 construction workers had died and 27 were seriously injured during basement excavation work. I don't know how that compares with other construction work though, but it seems rather a lot.
From the same press release...
"In December 2014, following the death of a labourer in a basement excavation collapse in Fulham, a company director was found guilty of manslaughter offences and jailed."and
"The work is technically challenging and can carry substantial risk. Standards are often poor and often vulnerable sections of the labour market are recruited."There have been a few mentions of the problem of basement excavations aka subterranean development in Parliament (you can search the easy-to-use version of the Hansard reports here) -
"Basements are a real problem. Anybody who lives in an area where basements are spreading will accept that they are a problem. If you talk to people who live next door to where a basement is being dug out, they will tell you, “For heaven’s sake, we have no peace, we cannot sleep”."When these things go well they just make a lot of noise and disturb neighbours and when they go badly they cause a lot of damage and injuries. Since they benefit so few people (well I suppose the contractors still alive at the end of the work benefit too) it seems an odd balance sheet to have.
Lord Dub: https://www.theyworkforyou.com/lords/?id=2016-04-20a.708.0#g725.2
Collapsing buildings, or Einstürzende bauten
- note: this is, by definition, a biased sample of basement excavation stories as it's unlikely that 'home redevelopment passes without incident' would be mentioned in the press. But still, there's an awful lot of this sort of thing. With further (cautious) digging I'm sure I could find more. There are certainly plenty of applications.
"In 2001 the borough of Kensington & Chelsea received 46 planning applications for basements; last year  it received 450." (The Guardian)Some stories refer to other examples so I've tracked back and found others that I'd not been aware of. In a handful of the cases below no damage occurred (or hasn't occurred yet).
- Barnet, January 2017
Basement excavations haven't helped a pub's renovation much (Broken Barnet)
- Blackheath, December, 2016
No problem yet but parents are concerned about a basement development planning application near a school (London News Online)
- Cardiff, October 2016
After a basement extension collapsed the owner was refused further planning permission (Daily Mail)
- Penarth, June 2016
House collapses during basement extension (BBC News Wales)
- Richmond, June 2016
No problem yet but residents surprised that a planning application accepted, and warn of 'iceberg' developments. Similarity to the collapsed building in Barnes in Nov 2015. (Richmond & Twickenham Times)
- Barnes, November 2015
House collapses during basement excavation (BBC News)
- Hackney, November 2015
Ceiling collapsed, attributed to basement work next door (Hackney Citizen)
- Finchley, October 2015
A house split in half when the basement excavation went bad. It took the couple a lot of effort and legal misery to get compensation (Daily Mail)
- Marylebone, April 2014
A burst water main (which had been leaking for 90 years) caused the problem, not the basement excavation itself. When work began the softened ground gave way (Evening Standard)
- Warren Mews, London, August 2013
Basement excavation caused noise misery for nearby residents, and damage to cobblestones but I don't think any buildings fell down, hooray (Fitzrovia News)
- Hampstead, NW3, June 2013
Neighbours express concern about plans for a basement excavation (The Telegraph)
- Kent, January 2011
Worker excavating a basement at Benenden School badly injured (The Construction Index)
- Fulham, December 2010
Builder dies when basement collapses (BBC News).
- Belgravia, October 2010
A skip fell through the road after the basement beneath it was excavated (Evening Standard)
- Camden, March 2010
Basement excavation work carried out without planning permission does enough damage that the nearby homes of two families had to be demolished (BBC News)
- Gateshead, October 2009
Fortunately this garage excavation was nipped in the bud and damage averted (Chronicle Live)