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From Grand Designs to disaster: The TV property show’s big dreams that turned to dust

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Blind faith and bottomless money pits have kept viewers glued to Grand Designs for 21 years, as presenter Kevin McCloud has followed the progress of countless courageous (or is that crazy?) constructors for the Channel 4 show.

But while some properties have netted their owners a fortune, not all have turned out quite as planned. 

This week, it emerged that the show’s ‘saddest ever’ Grand Design — a lighthouse-style property that cost its owner his marriage and bills of £6 million — is yet to be finished, ten years on.

From shipping containers to crumbling castles, ANTONIA HOYLE reveals Grand Designs’ greatest winners and losers.

No winners emerged with this North Korean missile bunker

Chesil Cliff House in Devon 

THE PLAN: The brainchild of music company director Edward Short, an audacious extravaganza with circular tower, glass edge infinity swimming pool and 25 steel beams drilled into the bedrock below to keep the house aloft as coastal erosion destroyed the land underneath.

MONEY SPENT: Edward and wife Hazel paid £1.4 million for the plot with existing property and raised another £1.8 million to build their new home. In 2016, they were forced to borrow a further £2.5 million.

So grey: Chesil Cliff House in Devon was the brainchild of music company director Edward Short

So grey: Chesil Cliff House in Devon was the brainchild of music company director Edward Short

SMOOTH SAILING? No. It turned out the rock was almost un-drillable and cost an extra £1 million to excavate, while a ‘floating drive’ required five lorryfuls of concrete and an unexpected £250,000. Despite starting the project in 2011, it is still far from completed.

WOW FACTOR: Floor-to-ceiling panoramic views of some of the best English beaches would have been delightful.

EMOTIONAL COST: Edward was determined to keep borrowing. But an initially-enthusiastic Hazel described the project as a ‘nightmare’. The couple, whose two daughters are grown up, split in 2018, with Edward admitting his ‘ambition and vanity has probably collapsed the marriage’.

MONEY PIT OT MADE A PACKET? Misery-inducer, more like. When McCloud visited the property in 2019 he described it as a ‘desolate carcass’, while one grumpy local likened it to a ‘North Korean missile bunker’. Having spent £6 million, Edward has vowed to finish it, although he will need to sell it to pay off his massive debts.

The audacious extravaganza had a circular tower, glass edge infinity swimming pool and 25 steel beams drilled into the bedrock below. Pictured: artist's impression during plans

The audacious extravaganza had a circular tower, glass edge infinity swimming pool and 25 steel beams drilled into the bedrock below. Pictured: artist’s impression during plans

Happy homeowner but two heart attacks 

St Martin’s Church in Tipton, West Midlands

THE PLAN: Builder Dean Marks converted an 18th-century church into a modern five bedroom home with indoor swimming pool, gym and library for his daughter and wife Hilary.

SPEND: £12,750 to buy the church in 1999, and a further £110,000 on renovating the property, which appeared on Grand Designs in 2007.

SMOOTH SAILING? Hardly. Planning permission alone took more than four years, the property was repeatedly targeted by vandals during renovation and McCloud was hardly the motivational cheerleader.

St Martin’s Church in Tipton, West Midlands: Builder Dean Marks converted an 18th-century church into a modern five bedroom home

St Martin’s Church in Tipton, West Midlands: Builder Dean Marks converted an 18th-century church into a modern five bedroom home

‘Kevin McCloud and I had a few disagreements at first,’ says Dean. ‘He was saying I should use an architect but I pointed out that I was a working-class guy on a budget and that it would cost too much.’

McCloud said that, while he admired Dean’s commitment, ‘it broke my heart to see so much of the character, the integrity of this place disappear, to be replaced by some pretty hideous features and a rather clunky layout’.

WOW FACTOR: Original stained-glass windows were restored and a glass observatory was built at the top, providing panoramic views stretching for as much as 14 miles.

EMOTIONAL COST: Dean had two heart attacks brought on by exhaustion from the build, which also prompted his split with Hilary, who never got to live in the house. He said sacrificing quality time with her was ‘a small price to pay’.

MONEY PIT OR MADE A PACKET? Dean reportedly still lives here but could make a mint if he sold up — even by 2011 it was valued at £1.3 million.

Couple who bought a castle they couldn’t fit their family in 

Dinton Folly, Vale of Aylesbury, Bucks

THE PLAN: Architect Jimmy Fernandez and wife Mimi, a former teacher, transformed a 250-year-old three-storey folly, with no power or water and crumbling walls, into a two-bedroom designer home.

SPEND: £100,000 on the three-acre plot and £300,000 on the build, which appeared on Grand Designs in 2018.

Dinton Folly, Vale of Aylesbury, Bucks: Architect Jimmy Fernandez and wife Mimi, a former teacher, transformed a 250-year-old three-storey folly

Dinton Folly, Vale of Aylesbury, Bucks: Architect Jimmy Fernandez and wife Mimi, a former teacher, transformed a 250-year-old three-storey folly

The couple spent £100,000 on the three-acre plot and £300,000 on the build, which appeared on Grand Designs in 2018

The couple spent £100,000 on the three-acre plot and £300,000 on the build, which appeared on Grand Designs in 2018

SMOOTH SAILING? Nerve-racking, more like. The couple went £100,000 over their budget and building was halted after the discovery of bones, close to a Saxon burial ground. McCloud was sceptical, describing their ‘mini Tudor tower’ as ‘a building that doesn’t want to stand up any more’.

WOW FACTOR: Octagonal-shaped rooms and dramatic outdoor staircase.

EMOTIONAL COST: Claustrophobia soon set in. ‘The project was more transformative than we had anticipated as we had our second child during the house build,’ says Jimmy, who put the property on the market just nine months after moving in because it was too small for their growing family.

MONEY PIT OR MADE A PACKET? On sale for £850,000 in 2019 — over twice the amount the couple had spent on it and perhaps slightly ambitious. The price was reduced to £675,000 last year, and this March was re-advertised for £700,000.

Couple who ended up in deep water

The Medway Eco-barge, Kent

THE PLAN: Social workers Chris Miller and wife Sze Liu Lai planned to turn a decrepit barge into an environmentally-friendly houseboat to bring up their two children.

SPEND: £80,000 on recycled materials to turn the boat into a three-bedroom home.

The Medway Eco-barge, Kent: Social workers Chris Miller and wife Sze Liu Lai planned to turn a decrepit barge into an environmentally-friendly houseboat

The Medway Eco-barge, Kent: Social workers Chris Miller and wife Sze Liu Lai planned to turn a decrepit barge into an environmentally-friendly houseboat

SMOOTH SAILING? Well, it sailed — but McCloud described it as ‘more of a floating Scrapheap Challenge’ than a luxury boat. After running into cash problems, the couple had to moor the boat in the Thames Estuary and abandon plans to live in it.

WOW FACTOR: The fact that it floated would have been triumph enough. Except . . .

EMOTIONAL COST: Four years after they appeared on Grand Designs in 2007, the unfinished barge was found damaged by vandals and washed up in Essex.

MONEY PIT OR MADE A PACKET? The plans ended up all at sea, with Chris — back on land in East London — admitting the damage left their dream financially unviable.

Ploughed on despite health crisis 

The Curve in Brighton

THE PLAN: A four-storey concrete, steel and glass mansion for Barry Surtees, wife Julie and their son, shaped to ‘follow the natural contours of the surroundings’, says Barry, a milkman-turned-builder and artist.

SPEND: £625,000 on the plot of land in 2007 and £1.2 million building the property.

The Curve in Brighton, a four-storey concrete, steel and glass mansion for Barry Surtees, wife Julie and their son

The Curve in Brighton, a four-storey concrete, steel and glass mansion for Barry Surtees, wife Julie and their son

SMOOTH SAILING? Yes, until the project became derailed by its ambitious glass front, with Barry unable to find the 360 ft of 10 ft-tall curved glass. He ended up using flat panes instead.

WOW FACTOR: Elevator, indoor heated swimming pool and home cinema.

EMOTIONAL COST: Shortly after starting the build in 2007, Barry had a heart attack and needed five heart bypasses. Nonetheless, he finished the home in 2010.

MONEY PIT OR MADE A PACKET? On the market for £3.5 million in 2010. Sold in 2012 (price unknown).

Stunning look – but what a cost 

Fairways in Quarr, the Isle of Wight

THE PLAN: To convert a 1970s bungalow into a modernist 7,200 sq ft six-bedroom home for accountant Bram Vis and his wife Lisa.

MONEY SPENT: £935,000 on plot and £2.2 million on the build.

Fairways in Quarr, the Isle of Wight. A 1970s bungalow was converted into a modernist home for accountant Bram Vis and wife Laura

Fairways in Quarr, the Isle of Wight. A 1970s bungalow was converted into a modernist home for accountant Bram Vis and wife Laura

SMOOTH SAILING? No, it went almost three times over the initial £835,000 budget. On Grand Designs in 2015.

WOW FACTOR: Three acres of private beach, heated outdoor swimming pool, music room and gym.

EMOTIONAL COST: The couple remortgaged their Surrey home twice and took out 11 loans to continue building.

MONEY PIT OR MADE A PACKET? In 2019, the couple put the property on the market at £3.95 million. It eventually shifted for £2.74 million.

PS: A home of happiness for just £28,000 

The Woodland House, West Sussex Woods

THE PLAN: Ben Law, who became a woodsman after meeting Amazon forest dwellers, planned a brick-free house.

SPEND: Acquired the plot in 1992 in exchange for labour. Spent just £28,000 on the build.

The Woodland House, West Sussex Woods. Ben Law, who became a woodsman after meeting Amazon forest dwellers, planned a brick-free house

The Woodland House, West Sussex Woods. Ben Law, who became a woodsman after meeting Amazon forest dwellers, planned a brick-free house

SMOOTH SAILING? During the eight-month project shown on Grand Designs in 2003, Ben lived in a caravan.

WOW FACTOR: The fire set in a huge cob chimney and sunken hot tub.

EMOTIONAL COST: ‘Winter here is muddy and quite hard work,’ says Ben.

MONEY PIT OR MADE A PACKET? Ben became a successful author with books including Woodsman.

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How a Dublin house sold for €13.25m but stayed under the radar

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It is often said that things get lost in translation. That’s the beauty of language, that it isn’t linear; but when it comes to illustrating the housing market, a data picture paints a thousand words.

Surveying the property price register, or PPR, is a national pasttime for many. While the Property Services Regulatory Authority has always pointed out that it isn’t a price index, most pedestrian users use it to see what certain homes sold for. Such curiosity gets the better of most of us. Neighbours will always want to know what Mary down the road got for her place. What Mary’s place sold for is in the public domain, if you can find it. And the amount it made might even prompt her neighbours to consider doing likewise.

The register isn’t perfect. Senior economist Siobhán Corcoran, associate director at Sherry FitzGerald, leads a team that spends days per quarter cleaning its data, eliminating the multiple private rental sector and social housing sales to get a clearer picture of the market. She downloads the listings, by either county or city, and has her team go through it to get a clearer picture.

The lists give the address of the property, what it sold for and the property type: a new dwelling house/apartment; second-hand dwelling house/apartment; or the lesser-spotted teach/árasán cónaithe atháimhe. Because the data is entered manually there is the risk of human error, meaning some are logged incorrectly.

It is every citizen’s personal choice to register the sale of their home in either Irish or English. Irish is our first language and has dual status.

And yet while it is our right to log the property in the Irish language, very few sales are actually are registered as Gaeilge.

“While many of the housing estates in Ireland have Irish names, the proportion of PPR entries logged with an Irish address in its entirety, including county in the address field is minute, zero point zero zero per cent over the last number of years,” Corcoran explains. “Properties on the register listed as the proportion of PPR entries logged as a ‘teach/árasán cónaithe atháimhe’ have been in single digits over the past number of years.”

When you download the CCV text file for the Dublin listings so far this year, just one abode – in Diswellstown, Baile Átha Cliath 15 – is described thus.

A sale that garnered a lot of attention was Lissadell, number 9 Shrewsbury Road in Dublin 4, which was described in this newspaper as having been purchased by Marlet chief Pat Crean last June, and yet to appear on the register but believed to have sold for in excess of €11 million.

In a letter to the editor of this newspaper on September 20th, Simon Twist helpfully pointed out that the transaction was listed as Uimhi [sic] a Naoi, Botha [sic] Sriusbaire, Dublin 4, and that it sold for €13.25 million on May 19th. The difference is some 17 per cent. (This is the highest price achieved in Dublin, according to the register; in June, Stripe co-founder John Collison paid about €20 million for the Abbey Leix estate, in Co Laois.)

As it is written, the address of Lissadell is near-impossible to find unless you know this exact spelling. It doesn’t come up when you simply search for properties listed in Ballsbridge, for example.

The classifications are often a confusing hybrid of English and Irish. Corcoran says that most of these properties with “full” Irish addresses have not been classified as a “teach/árasán cónaithe atháimhe” in the description field. While the Shrewsbury address “Uimhi a Naoi, Bótha Sriúsbaire” is logged in Irish, it is not classified as a “teach/árasán cónaithe atháimhe”.

Galway-city based conveyancying solicitor Mark Killilea has a suggestion for solving this difficulty. Just go to landdirect.ie, find the relevant folio where the property will be listed as registered. “It’s just another hurdle, but not an insurmountable one,” he says.

But should we have to jump through these hurdles at all? Cork-based software engineer Eddie Long believes it shouldn’t be up to the inputter to decide on what way the address is entered. “At present the freeform index allows whatever they like. Instead the inputter should have to choose from a dropdown menu of addresses, like that used to determine Eircode listings.”

Should these listings be in English or Irish? “Irish is an officially appointed language, so it should in both.”

Citizens are entitled just to list the address in Irish. But the process should be transparent. Ba mhaith linn trédhearcacht.

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Robbie Williams lists sprawling 72-acre country estate for £6.75 million

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Robbie WIlliams has listed his sprawling 72-acre country estate for £6.75 million.

The Take That crooner, 47, used the home as a rural retreat for his wife Ayda Field and their children, having purchased it in 2009 for £8.1 million.

The property is located close to the quaint village of Compton Bassett in Wiltshire about 85 miles from London

Take that! Robbie WIlliams has listed his sprawling 72-acre country estate for £6.75 million

Take that! Robbie WIlliams has listed his sprawling 72-acre country estate for £6.75 million

Ready to move on: The Take That crooner, 47, used the home as a rural retreat for his wife Ayda Field and their children, having purchased it in 2009 for £8.1 million

Big family: Robbie and Ayda, 42, share Theodora, eight, Charlton, six, two-year-old Colette and youngest son Beau, one

Ready to move on: The Take That crooner, 47, used the home as a rural retreat for his wife Ayda Field and their children, having purchased it in 2009 for £8.1 million. Robbie and Ayda, 42, share Theodora, eight, Charlton, six, two-year-old Colette and youngest son Beau, one

Robbie said, via the listing agent Knight Frank: ‘Compton Bassett House has been the perfect escape for our family. The gardens and trees have enchanted us with their magic, and on rainy days – of which there are many in England – we have played and splashed around the indoor pool, much to our delight.’ 

Robbie and Ayda, 42, share Theodora, eight, Charlton, six, two-year-old Colette and youngest son Beau, one.

The property boasts its own parkland and woods, as well as a football pitch, on which soccer-mad Robbie will have no doubt enjoyed honing his ball skills.

Also outside in the grounds is a helicopter hangar, a walled garden with a pavilion, a tennis court, and paddocks for horses. 

Robbie said, via the listing agent: 'On rainy days - of which there are many in England - we have played and splashed around the indoor pool, much to our delight'

Robbie said, via the listing agent: ‘On rainy days – of which there are many in England – we have played and splashed around the indoor pool, much to our delight’

Sprawling: The floorplan shows the layout of the impressive three-storey mansion

Sprawling: The floorplan shows the layout of the impressive three-storey mansion

Serene: The property boasts a walled garden with a pavilion, a tennis court, and paddocks for horses

Serene: The property boasts a walled garden with a pavilion, a tennis court, and paddocks for horses

Chopper-ready: Also outside in the grounds is a helicopter hangar

Chopper-ready: Also outside in the grounds is a helicopter hangar

The mansion itself is spread across 19,913 square feet, boasting seven bedrooms, and eight bathrooms.

There are five reception rooms and an indoor pool, a gym, a steam room, and a billiards room.

The gourmet chef’s kitchen is an impressive feature of the home with a stunning blue wooden island and a sprawling dining space for large gatherings.

Robbie and American actress Ayda’s quirky tastes are evident throughout – with giant dog sculptures lined around the hardwood floored cooking space. 

Music mogul: Robbie shot to fame as one fifth of 90s boyband Take That [pictured in the early 1990s with Jason Orange, Howard Donald, Gary Barlow and Mark Owen]

At it alone: Robbie has become the only one of the band to carve out a particularly successful solo career, since going on to collaborate with stars such as Nicole Kidman [pictured  in 2001]

Music mogul: Having shot to fame as one fifth of 90s boyband Take That [pictured L in the early 1990s with Jason Orange, Howard Donald, Gary Barlow and Mark Owen] Robbie has become the only one of the band to carve out a particularly successful solo career, since going on to collaborate with stars such as Nicole Kidman [pictured R in 2001] 

Rural retreat: 'Compton Bassett House has been the perfect escape for our family. The gardens and trees have enchanted us with their magic,' Robbie said of the estate

Rural retreat: ‘Compton Bassett House has been the perfect escape for our family. The gardens and trees have enchanted us with their magic,’ Robbie said of the estate

Sweeping: The property is located close to the quaint village of Compton Bassett in Wiltshire

Sweeping: The property is located close to the quaint village of Compton Bassett in Wiltshire

Quirky: The gourmet chef's kitchen is an impressive feature of the home with a stunning blue wooden island and a sprawling dining space for large gatherings

Quirky: The gourmet chef’s kitchen is an impressive feature of the home with a stunning blue wooden island and a sprawling dining space for large gatherings

Extra space: There is also a detached cottage which joins two staff flats to provide extra accommodation for staff or guests

Extra space: There is also a detached cottage which joins two staff flats to provide extra accommodation for staff or guests

The property features modern classical architecture and several stone fireplaces.

There is also a detached cottage which joins two staff flats to provide extra accommodation for staff or guests.

The home features a long stony driveway, rolling up to the impressive 1929 home – previously owned by the famous architect Sir Norman Foster.

Other features include stone mullioned windows, a study and a hidden staircase to the floor above. 

Part-timer: Robbie still dips in and out of performing with Take That [pictured in 2018]

Part-timer: Robbie still dips in and out of performing with Take That [pictured in 2018]

Master suite: The mansion itself is spread across 19,913 square feet, boasting seven bedrooms

Master suite: The mansion itself is spread across 19,913 square feet, boasting seven bedrooms

Modern meets regal: The property features modern classical architecture and several stone fireplaces

Modern meets regal: The property features modern classical architecture and several stone fireplaces

Niche: The décor and accents are a clear nod to their eccentric owners

Niche: The décor and accents are a clear nod to their eccentric owners

‘Although our clients are sad to be leaving, they’re certain that the next owners will love it as much as they have,’ the listing agent said. ‘The house has the benefit of being on the edge of the village but also has beautiful gardens, and grounds surrounding it providing complete privacy and protection.’

Having shot to fame as one fifth of 90s boyband Take That, Robbie has become the only one of the band to carve out a particularly successful solo career.

Despite his wild child younger years, he has recently established himself firmly as a family man, marrying Los Angeles native Ayda in 2010. 

Style secrets: Robbie and American actress Ayda's quirky tastes are evident throughout - with giant dog sculptures lined around the hardwood floored home [pictured in 2018]

Style secrets: Robbie and American actress Ayda’s quirky tastes are evident throughout – with giant dog sculptures lined around the hardwood floored home [pictured in 2018]

Decadent: The home features a whopping eight bathrooms, some with freestanding tubs

Decadent: The home features a whopping eight bathrooms, some with freestanding tubs

Quirky: Robbie and American actress Ayda's quirky tastes are evident throughout - with one poster featuring a play on words from his Let Me Entertain You song - 'Let Me Excavate You'

Quirky: Robbie and American actress Ayda’s quirky tastes are evident throughout – with one poster featuring a play on words from his Let Me Entertain You song – ‘Let Me Excavate You’

60s meets modern: There are five reception rooms and an indoor pool, a gym, a steam room, and a billiards room

60s meets modern: There are five reception rooms and an indoor pool, a gym, a steam room, and a billiards room

Tranquil: The property boasts its own parkland and woods, as well as a football pitch, on which soccer-mad Robbie will have no doubt enjoyed honing his ball skills

Tranquil: The property boasts its own parkland and woods, as well as a football pitch, on which soccer-mad Robbie will have no doubt enjoyed honing his ball skills

Robbie quit Take That in 1995 but returned to the band between 2006-2011, on and off.

He still occasionally performs with them; the group continue on as a three-piece, with Gary Barlow, Howard Donald and Mark Owen. Fifth member Jason Orange quit in 2014.

Robbie’s solo career has seen him collaborate with the likes of Nicole Kidman and Kylie Minogue on tracks, and he has released 12 studio albums to date.

He is said to be worth £195 million, as reported by The Sunday Times in May 2021. 

Out in the sticks: The location is 85 miles away from London

Out in the sticks: The location is 85 miles away from London

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Property investors offended by ‘vulture funds’ label, conference hears

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People in Ireland need to stop calling property investment firms “vulture funds” and development and building rules need to stop changing if the housing crisis is to be solved, property and banking sector representatives have said.

Marie Hunt, executive director of research at real estate firm CBRE, told an Irish Council for Social Housing conference that the “fundamental problem” in the Irish housing market “is a lack of supply”.

She said bureaucracy and regularly changing public policy were also issues, noting the political discussion this week about potentially changing the link between rent and inflation because prices were rising.

Ms Hunt said investors were not going to come into a market where the rules kept changing halfway through the game.

She said that calling investors “vulture funds” was unhelpful and that name calling “in the media” should stop.

“We need that capital and we need that investment.”

She said investors who bought a nursing home or an office block were welcomed but that those who bought housing received very negative publicity “and they don’t need that”.

Take interest elsewhere

Pat O’Sullivan, head of real estate research at AIB, said policy changes were problematic and that the term “vulture fund” was offensive to investors, who could take their interest elsewhere.

He said Ireland isn’t the only economy that requires funding and “we have got to be very careful about the amount of changes we make to policy, how we describe the investment”.

Ms Hunt said that from a developer’s perspective, many housing schemes were not viable due to high construction and “input” costs and “because we have raised the bar so high in terms of the planning regime and design requirements”.

She instanced the judicial review process, which has been used to bring challenges to fast-track strategic planning developments, as another problem. Ms Hunt said “anecdotally” developers were hiring senior counsel and barristers ahead of planners and architects, such was the level of challenges.

The conference continues on Thursday.

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