Ross Clark

The dangers of buying a ‘doer-upper’

  • From Spectator Life
Image: The Old Courthouse, Grand Designs, Channel 4

Is there any television programme as cruel as Grand Designs? At least Jeux Sans Frontieres only offered 15 minutes of humiliation at a time. Grand Designs, by contrast, offers a lifetime’s worth, often with bankruptcy and divorce thrown in. But none have come quite such a cropper as Edward Short who, in 2008, paid £1 million for a building plot on the North Devon coast and has spent the past 13 years – as well as a further £6 million – trying to turn it into a lighthouse-inspired luxury home with infinity pool, home cinema and sauna. What stands there at the moment, however, looks more like the remains of Chernobyl nuclear power station. That Mr Short runs a company called the Department for Good Ideas merely adds to the theatre of cruelty.

Why do building projects so often end up in misery? It is easy to blame amateurism – and certainly wide-eyed private speculators are part of the problem. Yet professionally-managed projects come to grief just as often. If you put, say, HS2 on an episode of Grand Designs it would fit the format perfectly, with its soaring costs and delays. It is just that in that case the mess isn’t left to an anxious-looking couple in hard hats — the reliable old British taxpayer can always be called upon to fill in the gaps. Building and construction in Britain more generally has developed a culture of escalating costs and excruciating delays.

If you want to make some money and enjoy a relaxed lifestyle, don’t renovate or build your own property – just buy someone else’s project

Partly this is to do with standards. Obviously, we need building standards, but the sheer quantity of them, covering every aspect of a building down to the height of letter boxes and electrical sockets, has made any building project a bureaucratic nightmare.

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