Daily Archives: November 11, 2011
Former billionaire Sean Quinn today declared himself bankrupt at Belfast’s High Court.
It took the County Fermanagh figure, once Ireland’s richest man, 30 years to amass a billion pound fortune in glass, cement, hotels, insurance and a multitude of other business interests after starting out extracting gravel on the family farm in Derrylin in 1973 — and just 15 minutes to go bust this morning.
A court declaration signalled a drastic change in fortune for a renowned figure who was the island’s wealthiest businessman up until just three years ago.
When you borrow £2.8 bn to from Anglo Irish Bank and them use the money to become the largest shareholder of that bank and buy a string of properties around the world you are asking for trouble, especially when that bank collapses under the weight of property debts has to be nationalised render the shares much less than the value of the loan.
Innovations in housing layout are rare and infrequent so it is good to see Richard Murphy Architects with a masterplan from Roger Evansgetting an RIBA award yesterday, indeed one of the very few of the 93 awards awarded to a housing estate rather than an apartment block or single house.
The innovation is to place villa housing perpendicular to the street, with the frontage spaces formed by walls.
The advantages are several fold, almost all houses are south facing, urban spaces are formed at the font yet each house as a garden, the classic English Market town approach, but each house remains detached. Varied urban frontage spaces are formed without being overshadowed in the winter. The blind back wall of each house creates enclosure for a private walled garden for its neighbour. so the garden have a direct relationship to the living space without being overlooked.
The parking spaces remain overlooked from the first floor, indeed uniquely you can keep an eye out both on your garden and on the street. You will note however that the urbanism works much better on the street with more consistent street lines and enclosure.
Today the CBI has published a report, unfreezing the market, saying people should be able to raid their own pension pots to be able to afford house deposits.
Priced out UK has called it ‘ Bonkers & unjust’.
Rumors are the forthcoming UK Housing strategy will propose that local government use its own employees housebuilding to fund housebuilding.
The instant reaction might be that using pensions to leverage debt extension, at the height of a debt crisis, is a Robert Maxwell type move bound to end in tears.
However there are strictly defined cases where it makes investment sense.
If it were just used to enable purchase of land then the rise in land values will swallow up many of the potential welfare gains to society. Similarly if it were not accompanied by an increase in land zoned for housing it would just subsidise a rise in overall house prices.
But in current circumstances if it were just to fund the development financing component of housebuilding, in Homebuy types schemes were housepurchsers gained the appreciation in the bricks and mortar and not the land plot, and it were accompanied by an increase in land zoned for housing then it would be of benefit. The thinking here is that by funding the building work the purchaser could move out of expensive rented property and therefore reduce their overall housing consumption once the house was built. Then they could afford to save more once they had moved in yo the house, rebuilding their pension pot. This would not be borrowing to increase consumption but borrowing to reduce long term consumption and increase saving. That would make perfect economic sense.
This kind of scheme might work best if individuals had a personal savings pot, they invested in that pot and that pot could be used for investments that enhanced it long term risk free value – i.e. not gambling on asset appreciation. It would be this personal pot which owned the home and not the individual, the individual would simply have the right to live in the home. Effectively it would be combining an endowment mortgage and a pension into a single pot.
Strange Beauty from this site of abandonment of american rustbelt cities.
The UK’s highest-profile sustainable developer, BioRegional Quintain, is to be wound up after its parent company, the property developer Quintain, decided to focus on the London market.
BioRegional Quintain, originally set up as a joint venture by the influential environmental charity behind “One Planet Living” and Quintain in 2005, will finish the 80-home first phase of the Middlehaven scheme in Middlesbrough, and then wind itself up.
BioRegional Quintain’s chief executive, Pete Halsall, told this week’s Building magazine: “It is extremely sad but it is part of a wider decision of Quintain’s board to focus on its core business. My understanding is that Quintain wants to be able to express sustainability in its developments in a different way.”
Halsall confirmed that the venture would shut, with the loss of five jobs. It leaves the Homes and Communities Agency’s (HCA) £200m, 750-home Middlehaven scheme without a residential developer for its later phases, raising fears for the project’s green credentials.
BioRegional Quintain will also withdraw from the London Development Agency’s prestigious One Gallions project in east London, where it was selected in 2007 with Crest Nicholson and Southern Housing Group to build a model 260-home environmentally sustainable development.
At its peak before the downturn, BioRegional had a £350m development pipeline on six sites. Its most successful scheme was the award-winning One Brighton joint venture with Crest Nicholson, which completed last year and included allotment spaces for residents to grow their own food on the roof of the development.
The joint venture was dedicated to the 10 principles espoused by BioRegional Quintain’s “One Planet Living” philosophy, including the need for developments to be zero carbon and zero waste, to use local food, and promote residents’ “health and happiness”.
Wembley developer Quintain bought BioRegional’s share in the joint venture last year. Halsall, who will leave the business, said the move did not mean that the kind of development promoted by BioRegional Quintain was a thing of the past, and that he would shortly be announcing a new venture dedicated to “deep green” developments. “There is still tremendous potential. Quintain has to focus on its primary portfolio right now but this kind of development is absolutely still the future.”
The firm’s demise was lamented by two Stirling prize-winning architects, both of whom have worked with the developer. Peckham Library architectWill Alsop, who was the master planner on Middlehaven, said: “It is very sad news. This was a company very committed to doing things in a more responsible way.”
Peter Clegg, of Feilden Clegg Bradley Architects, which designed One Brighton, called the development a “great shame”.
“It was a joint venture between some of the most conscientious sustainability thinkers of the past 10 years and one of the more significant developers, which had significant resources,” he said.
David Curtis, HCA executive director, said: “While this is disappointing news, we remain firmly committed to Middlehaven. We are in discussions with BioRegional’s parent company, Quintain Estates, to find the best way forward for their work at Middlehaven.”
In a last minute legal challenge Cala Homes is appealing against the refusal last month of its 2,000 unuits scheme at Barton Farm Winchester.
According to Planning Resource one of the 7 grounds was that
“is clear that the emerging core strategy was not even at the relevant consultation stage”, and therefore “there was no credible basis for purporting to rely upon prematurity as a ground of objection if the advice were applied”.
The key issue will be whether the SoS correctly applied his own policy on prematurity in the decision. In three key recent recovered appeals the SoS appears to be following a policy on prematurity well beyond PPS3 following the political backlash against the NPPF which proposed to abolish the prematurity test altogether. The new test appears to be to not permit large urban extensions before alternative sites have been considered through the completion of the core strategy process. Providing LPAs have been making reasonable progress in this regard he has been prepared to refuse schemes.
CALA and Peter Village QC (Masarati Lawyer) appear to have taken the review that the legal process and the redetermined appeal would conclude within the 18 month/2 year ‘transition period’ and even if they failed in the JR it would not prejudice them in the core strategy process. Although as Winchester stands at the intersection of two different housing market areas how you would calculate ‘objectively assessed needs’ or assess the ‘duty to cooperate’ at any scale less than the M3 corridor and the whole of Hampshire is beyond me. I guess CALA must also be thinking ahead to possible legal challenges to the core strategy on the basis of the fundamental vagueness of the NPPF (if it stays as it is).
A flagship government scheme to incentivise councils to build new homes could leave town halls facing costly legal challenges over ‘gifted’ land.
The new homes bonus, which rewards councils that build housing by matching the council tax for the first six years, is subject to state aid rules. This means councils that provide land for developments without putting it out to tender will be vulnerable to litigation.
However, lawyers this week warned that few councils are aware of the threat and are reluctant to spend time and money procuring land they would have previously given to developers for free.
Prior to the introduction of the new homes bonus in April, councils commonly gifted land to developers, including housing associations. The gift would be recorded as land disposal and would not therefore be subject to EU procurement rules.
Rebecca Rees, partner at law firm Trowers & Hamlins, which has been approached by several concerned council clients, said: ‘The new homes bonus muddies the water. If you have to procure land you can’t give it to who you want and it can take a long time.’
‘What local authorities are nervous about is that because the council will receive the new homes bonus for every home built on the land there is a direct economic benefit between the disposal of the land and what is built on it – and that will mean they will have to consider EU procurement law,’ Ms Rees added.
Law firm Eversheds also agreed the procurement issue was a concern for local authorities.
There are now fears that schemes such as Liverpool Council’s plans for a £130 million housing investment scheme in which housing associations will build 2,000 homes on land gifted by the council could be challenged unless the land is procured.
A council source confirmed that, at present, work would not be put out to tender – although legal advice would be taken on this.
Other councils, such as York, operate a similar system in which land is usually allocated to development partners on a flexible ‘turn by turn basis’.
Trowers & Hamlins Ms Rees said she had seen an increase in challenges over tendering decisions. In 2006 only two decisions were challenged and this had increased to more than 30 in 2010.
The Communities and Local Government department said it was up to councils to procure on a ‘case by case basis’.
Downtown Liverpool in Business ‘Dump World Heritage Site’ if it ‘Gets in the Way’ Of Liverpool Waters Enterprize Zone
As Unesco inspectors prepare to visit Liverpool on Monday Downtown in Liverpool Business chairman Frank mc Kenna has called on Liverpool to dump its pierfront UNESCO World Heritage Site status if it threatens the Peel Holdings Liverpool Waters scheme.
“It would be a tragedy for Liverpool’s economic future if the area recently designated as an enterprise zone were to be stymied because of a status that brings little to Liverpool’s reputation or economy.”
He added that the World Heritage status is becoming a barrier to regeneration and the city should have “no hesitation in handing back the status” if it continues.
World Heritage Status is a nice claim to fame – but economically and culturally it’s as useful as a chocolate tea pot.
Peel Holdings developers of the Liverpool Waters Scheme, which makes the Carbuncle Cup winning Salford Media City scheme look positively inspired, became a member of Mr mc Kenna Group last month.
Meanwhile former Party Colleague and friend of Frank Mc Kenna, Liverpool City Council leader Joe Anderson has hit out at English Heritage for its criticism of the Liverpool Waters Scheme.
He said the council was no longer prepared to concede ground to the government-funded commission.
He told the Daily Post: “We have got to be forward thinking. English Heritage is too restrictive over development in Liverpool without a shadow of a doubt and that frustrates me.
“We have to recognise we can restrict investment by being too prescriptive. They have hampered investment already in terms of tall buildings.
Peel’s Liverpool Waters planning application for the city’s north docks was delayed and significantly altered following objections from English Heritage and discussions with council planners.
The scheme was finally submitted this month with fewer high buildings and the landmark Shanghai Tower moved back from the waterfront and reduced in height. Officers are supporting the scheme, which has yet to go to the planning committee.
Cllr Anderson added: “We cannot concede any more ground to English Heritage. We respect its views, but we are not going to let it in any way restrict investment in our future.”
“Every time there is talk of a new building, we have some form of interference by some group of heritage lobbyists.
“The checks and balances have gone too far in their favour and restrict the council trying to create jobs and opportunities.”
A spokeswoman for English Heritage called Cllr Anderson’s criticism “unjustified” and said it was working with the council and Peel Holdings on the Liverpool Waters proposals to realise “the much-needed regeneration of the central docks in a way which does not harm and put at risk the city’s World Heritage Site status”.
The inspectors being sent are Ron van Oers and Patricia Alberth from Unesco – the body which runs World Heritage Sites(WHS) – and Mr Giancarlo Barbato, an Italian Conservation Architect from ICOMOS, the International Committee on Monuments and Statues.
The terms of reference state that the mission will assess the overall state of conservation and factors affecting the outstanding universal value of Liverpool’s WHS.
It will have “particular regard” to the proposed development of Liverpool Waters ,the inspectors will also examine progress that has been made since the 2006 Unesco mission and the city’s overall development strategies, “existing planning procedures and management systems and their effectiveness for the property and its setting”.
The findings of the mission will be reported to the World Heritage Centre by December 23 at the latest in the report not exceeding 10 pages.
Liverpool has delayed making a decision on Peel’s planning application until after the visit.
An independent report by English Heritage has concluded that the Peel Group’s £5.5bn Liverpool Waters scheme, Britain’s biggest planning application, would have “a significant damaging negative impact on the Liverpool world heritage site and its outstanding universal value”.
Wayne Colquhoun, 50, who runs the Liverpool Preservation Trust from his art shop in the India Buildings, the former headquarters of the Blue Funnel Line, warned Unesco in Paris.
He said yesterday: “I have no regrets about causing this trouble. I was compelled to complain. This city is not safe in the hands of its present leaders. English Heritage is supporting me but I fear the people seem to want to turn our wonderful city into Shanghai-on-Mersey at a time when we should be looking to Amsterdam to build an architectural future on the human scale….
The city and Peel have recently been hammered by architectural critics. In 2009, the Merseytravel Pier Head ferry terminal won the Carbuncle Cup awarded by the magazine Building Design for “the ugliest building in the United Kingdom completed in the last 12 months”.
Liverpool’s retiring planning chairwoman, Lady Doreen Jones, said she had felt “blackmailed” into approving a design that looked like “an architectural student’s failed first attempt”…