Things are not looking too good in the garden just now. There’s a scaffolding tower blocking the outside staircase down from the ground floor, five feet of our Victorian garden wall has been demolished, the trellis with our laboriously trained trachelospermum has been removed and everything is covered in a thick layer of dust, The noise of drilling and hammering starts at eight and goes on till six; the noise of pumping water up from the basement depths goes on all night.
The roses and agapanthus, the geraniums and anemones, the fuchsias and salvias, the lemons and oleander, the clematis and solanum, the kirengeshoma, the thalictrums and my pretty ferns are all pretty in vain. Nobody’s looking. We don’t even open the door – except to dash to the shrouded greenhouse in hope of a ripe tomato (I picked my first Gardener’s Delight yesterday).
What’s it all about? This is London life in the wake of the Party Wall Act 1996. It’s your property; you can do what you like on it and the neighbours can just grin and bear it.
To do them justice the twenty Bulgarian workmen who assemble every morning at seven in our neighbour’s garden are a cheerful crowd and seem to work as fast and as tidily as they can. What they would do without a pretty big garden as their assembly point, canteen and depot I can’t imagine; there certainly isn’t room in the street.But the rage for basements is out of control. In the next street one terrace house is in a basement sandwich with hoardings up on both sides and lorries queuing to cart off their neighbours’ rubble. The Council? They are hamstrung, they say, by the Party Wall Act. They can’t disallow ‘development’ – or even police it. Not enough enforcement staff…. there are plenty of excuses.
We’ve visited a couple of basement developments. One consisted of eight featureless rooms, all painted this season’s grey, dubbed ‘Media Room’, ‘Gym’, ‘Office’, ‘Bedroom’, ‘Wet Room’, ‘Meditation Area’. Upstairs was a perfectly nice Victorian house – until they took our all the cornices, mouldings and everything that gave it character – and of course painted it all grey. Gardening? The developers opposite used a crane to heave four mature Italian cypresses right over the house to plant then in the diminutive back garden. They died, unwatered, within six weeks. And what happens underground in a power cut?
It’s all justified, it seems, by the price of any space in London. Add 1,000 square feet, even underground, and you’ll be in pocket for more than twice what it costs. Your neighbours can lump it; that’s what the Act says.