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Huge surge in basement planning applications

The UK's shortage of housing is not just frustrating those who want to get on the property ladder, but also ensuring that the majority of homeowners are not living in the kind of house they really want. To try to correct this, many people are aiming low.

According to a Halifax survey, only 22 per cent of people are living in what they consider their 'dream' home, and when it comes to the question of what would make their current residence into their desired dwelling, most suggest new or bigger rooms would make all the difference.

The most common feature of the wish list is a new kitchen (cited by 37 per cent), followed by larger rooms (22 per cent), extra bedrooms (19 per cent) and more bathrooms (17 per cent).

Since new and bigger rooms do not just magic themselves into existence, many have sought to carry out extensions to either add the extra rooms they want directly or free up space elsewhere so that an existing room can be converted. 

While this can include extensions and loft conversions - up 49 per cent and 43 per cent respectively since 2012 - basements have been one of the fastest rising areas of attention. Applications to either convert or excavate space for a basement have soared by 183 per cent over the past five years. Suffice to say, basement waterproofing work has seldom been in such demand. 

The greatest demand for basement space has been in London. This may not be a surprise, as the capital has generally seen the highest number of planning applications for the addition of space, up 60 per cent - nearly double the next highest rise of 31 per cent in the East Midlands. While Barnet tops the list of UK local authorities for extension applications, the capital is home to the 16 authorities with the greatest number of basement planning applications.  

Among the reasons for the surge in the popularity of basements is a changing attitude to such spaces. Discussing this, historian and author of House Histories Melanie Backe-Hansen said: "The way we live in our homes is evolving. Take the example of basements and the trend for extending downwards: this is probably down to a lack of space in our cities and towns, and it represents a big shift in the way we think about our homes. 

"If we look back to Georgian and Victorian times, the basement is where you’d have found the kitchen and the servants’ quarters and was certainly not viewed as a space to be used for family life."

Other reasons may be more practical: London was the region where installing a home gym as a means of helping create a 'dream home' was most popular, with a basement being ideal for this purpose, as direct sunlight is not a necessary requirement. 

The desire for expansion will also create plenty of work for insulation fitters and shower waterproofing installers, as Britons continue to try to make more of the properties they own. But basements can bring their own challenges, with some parts of London having the wrong kind of soil to make digging out a basement viable; this could make the ground unstable. South London also has aquifers under the surface, posing an extra hazard. 

These factors mean plenty of good waterproofing will be needed, just as the various tunnels carrying Tube trains, Crossrail and much else under the capital have needed efficient drainage systems and have been built using the 'shield' digging system that inserts waterproof plating in the freshly-dug tunnel walls. This was an innovation that enabled the Underground to have deep tunnels as well as the original 19th century sub-surface lines.