With the lack of space in our modern cities homeowners are always looking for ways to improve the size of their homes. Quite often there are largish gardens, at least 20X8, which may be filled with summerhouses, log cabins or garden sheds which don’t always give the benefits the owners are looking for. This means maybe rethinking what to do with the available land and possibly removing or relocating these garden buildings. This can give an opportunity to have an extension to the house. Depending on the situation this could be one or two storeys high creating a massive amount of extra accommodation. Another possibility which has been seen on Grand Designs is to have a basement conversion and this can be quite popular in London. As there are no exterior alterations then planning permission is not normally needed although building regulations is a must. There are many uses for these basement from family rooms, to an extra bedroom or even to use for storage similar to usage as a garden shed, but in my view, would be totally not cost effective and overly expensive. To go down this route you would need a basement already and if your house is Victorian there is very good chance you have one. Hopefully the water table is not too high in your area which will may it easier to waterproof but if you have a basement, certainly worth considering.
However, not everybody is in favour of these types of conversions, whether out of jealousy or concerns about the structure or other environmental issues. A multi million pound redevelopment scheme in Chelsea, London, received accusations that a planned development was totally at kilter to local architecture and would alter the local environment. How this can be so when the conversion is totally out of sight and usually in a basement which is already there is debatable.
This development in Paulton Square had created a living space which was 40ft x 20ft in the terraced house basement, as well as an area 20X8, and extended under the garden, however, the local residents were not happy with this. Robin Lister, the property developer, had purchased the house 2 years beforehand and installed a temporary conveyor belt to take the soil away from the basement whilst the work under the garden went on. He had hoped to sell the property for in excess of £7 million.
However, the Chelsea Society, which exists as a conservation group to protect the historic character of the area were critical of the underground development. The secretary of the society, Terence Bendixson, said that if you dig up the garden and then put in a basement then the ground will not be able to absorb rain water which is a great problem in our cities and suburbs. One of his arguments is that these types of development can affect the London plane trees, also, these conversions upset the traditional use of these grand houses as the cellars used to be for the servants quarters and not for living accommodation. I think they forget that we now live in the 21st century and not the late 19th century. Things have moved on since then and property owners are looking for different things in their homes.
It was suggested that a 20ft x 8ft log cabin or even a state of the art garden shed might be a better idea for his garden. It certainly would be less controversial Who would have thought that a garden shed could be a better proposition that an underground development. Despite my 39 years in making garden and other related garden buildings if it was me I would go for a converted basement every time.
With the present economical climate the British public are struggling to keep their heads above water and items for the garden are often put to one side as a new garden shed or summer house is not top of the list for replacement when there are limited funds available. You will find many garden sheds being converted to run small enterprises with a large range of activities. Certainly buildings 20X8 or 20×6 are ideal for this. Some involve the garden such as gardening, tree or hedge cutting or storage of general handy man tools and equipment. Along with that small offices or craft sheds are quite common. In many jobs expenses were paid to cover the everyday costs incurred in running their activities which makes total sense and is a perfectly valid reason for being paid. The Customs and Excise have quite strict guidelines on expenses stating that expenses have to be ‘by reason of the employment’ and this covers cases where an employee would not have received a benefit unless he was an employee. Employment has to be one of the reasons benefit is granted but does not have to be just this reason however conditions to receiving benefit is an operative cause – clear as mud. I think I will clear off down the shed for a little contemplation.
MP’s were, and still are, of course, in the news in connection with claiming expenses from all manner of things such as gardening works, to second homes and possibly new garden buildings, new kitchens and bathrooms. Quite often claims were made but the money was not actually paid over as the goods were not bought. Now, it’s all well and fine, that expenses should be payable if the case is genuine and we would all like to do so. As they say ‘we are all in it together’ (If you believe that then you are probably in one of the Gentleman’s Clubs in London) but we are not and this claim is total rot.
The good news to come from the enquiry led by Sir Christopher Kelly is that MP’s will be barred from claiming for gardening expenses. This means that the gardener will have to be paid by the MP in question, they won’t be able to buy new garden sheds, fence, summerhouses or garden workshops. They won’t even be able to claim for repairing the garden shed or fence. Which has to be right!! How can you justify a new garden shed or a tidy garden to be an expense in connection with their work? MP’s work mainly in offices and don’t need a garden shed or tidy garden to do their job properly (that’s a novel ideal – an MP doing his job properly) I suppose if a 20 x 8 shed or 20×6 summer building was converted to an office where the MP’s met his constituents then I would think that would be all right.
Some of the more outrageous claims included Douglas Hogg MP whose claim for notoriety was for his claiming for a new 20ft x 8ft duck house, essentially a garden shed for ducks. He was also criticised for claiming for the cleaning cost of his moat. David Heathcoat-Amory MP charged for 500 sacks of manure for his garden and Nick Clegg was asked to pay back £910 for his gardening costs. There were countless more claims involving garden related items.
Sir Christopher Kelly has proposed changes which will prevent MP’s claiming for any further gardening cost, which can only be seen as right. If they want a new shed, summer house, duck house or a tidy garden they should pay for it themselves. Also cleaning expenses were be closely scrutinised to ensure these are valid and fair.