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Bars and restaurants are being unfairly singled out

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After Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting wherein Ministers considered the National Public Health Emergency Team’s advice on the next phase of easing of Covid-related restrictions, the Taoiseach told us, “We must double down collectively, as a society, in terms of protecting ourselves.”

His announcement comes after a weekend when both customers and friends remarked to me that it feels like we are all just going through the motions as regards Covid protocols.

Of course we are going through the motions, but that is habit for you.

It is human nature to form habits, and to get into routines. Although I think our restaurant manager’s skin has turned a whiter shade of pale from constant sanitising, which might be taking a good habit too far. Maybe, to a certain extent, it feels like we are going through the motions because we are developing subconscious responses. Like not crossing your hands on the wheel when learning to drive. Developing that muscle memory, learning new behaviour, is an effort that is exhausting at first. We must motor perfectly to pass the test, then it becomes about getting from A to B.

It is also human nature to cut corners.

While we have begun to form good habits around Covid protocols, we are not perfectionists. As a society we are a laid-back folk, running to lax. Like road users, if our behaviour is not policed then we will dabble in double-parking here, break a speed limit there, jaywalk almost anywhere. Remember that old chestnut, adaptability? We adapt to ways around regulations as quickly as to the regulations themselves.

Cup of tea

Without strict enforcement, which we’ve all agreed is not our cup of tea, our adherence to rules and the malleability of our behaviour is directly connected to our skin in the game. As the threat to the lives of our parents, our grannies, and ourselves recedes, our watchfulness wanes, our guard comes down.

For restaurants and bars checking certs and taking details for contact tracing is a damned time-consuming exercise. In terms of staff, it requires the equivalent of a full-time function for a member of our short-staffed team. Do we still do it? Absolutely! Is it still workable? For our business, for the very short term and with wage subsidies, just about.

But during his announcement, the Taoiseach also said that there would be anomalies in the rules applicable to different sectors. For me, this is the heart of the problem we are facing now, a threat greater than habituation, because anomalies generate a sense of unfairness that seriously undermines people’s commitment to being on their best behaviour.

My problem is when the requirement for vaccine passports and other protocols is  limited to restaurants and bars (and now clubs)

I don’t object, as others might, to differentiation between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated (which could be covered off with antigen testing). My problem is when the requirement for vaccine passports and other protocols is  limited to restaurants and bars (and now clubs).

We have over 90 per cent of the adult population vaccinated. What an incredible achievement. What about the remainder? They do not appear to dine indoors. Maybe they go to gyms and hairdressers, to hotels, to work and to football matches.

Level playing field

Speaking of matches, can we please have a level playing field? I note that capacity limits at outdoor sports are to be removed altogether, yet one doesn’t need a Covid cert to get into one.

I object to bars and restaurants (and clubs) being singled out for extra requirements, meanwhile that section of hospitality still shoulders the blame for the spread of the virus.

Since the reopening of indoor dining for hospitality near the end of the summer, we have had several customers ask about whether all of our staff have been vaccinated. Our appalled response: we can’t ask them that! And if we could, we certainly couldn’t tell you! But secretly, for the sake of our team, it’s exactly what we want to know. We’ve also had several job applicants proffer, along with letters of recommendation and manual handling certs, their proof of vaccination. Our grateful response: thanks but we can’t ask you for that.

We can ask our customers, but not my team. I have to say, “Can I just see your Covid cert and some ID” dozens of times every day, so why shouldn’t my hairdresser? (Please don’t take this sentiment out on my locks, Andrea. )

Meanwhile we continue to wear our face masks every minute of the day, and to tackle non-face mask-wearing customers (but I’m just going to the toilet) to the ground. In fact I’m writing a short story, My Face Mask and Me, about our love/hate journey through the pandemic. Stockholm syndrome aside, I’m glad the face mask-wearing mandate is to be continued. No doubt they’re being as habitually employed in offices across the country as they are in our restaurants!

Angela Ruttledge is a restaurateur. She co-owns Monck’s Green and Olive’s Room

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Happy in Hexham: We visit the Northumberland town voted the jolliest place to live

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Driving into Hexham, I cross a sturdy stone bridge spanning the Tyne. The satnav is set for the Market Place, but forget about parking there or in the short-stay.

In fact, I’m forced back down the hill to the huge car park by Waitrose. Not many spaces here either. Maybe everyone is flocking to Hexham after the property website Rightmove announced this week that it’s the Happiest Town in Britain.

Or maybe, it’s just a normal weekday: Northumberland is a huge county and this is the only realistic place to do your shopping if you live between Newcastle and Carlisle.

Convivial: Hexham¿s Market Place. The market town was a frontline settlement in the medieval skirmishes and wars between Scotland and England

Convivial: Hexham’s Market Place. The market town was a frontline settlement in the medieval skirmishes and wars between Scotland and England

Fortunately, it’s only a short walk uphill on Hallgate from the car park to the Market Place, enough to establish the demographics of this northern market town. 

Hallgate is a winding row of fine Georgian houses — there’s a memorial mason, chic hairdresser’s, three cafes, four art galleries. And Waitrose.

The huge, impregnable cube of the old gaol in the centre of town is a reminder of a more turbulent history.

This was a frontline settlement in the medieval skirmishes and wars between Scotland and England. 

That noble, heroic William ‘Braveheart’ Wallace terrorised Northumbria in 1297 — something Mel Gibson managed to leave out of his movie — though the monks of Hexham Abbey struck a deal to save the town.

If today’s residents are ecstatic at their Rightmove award, they are hiding it well. The newsagent hasn’t read the newspapers describing Hexham’s triumph.

But at the Grateful Bread artisan baker in Market Street, I’m told: ‘Aye, they’re happy enough around here.’

An informative welcome: Hexham boasts chic shops, a bustling High Street and the ancient kingdom of Northumbria on its doorstep - as well as rows of fine Georgian houses

An informative welcome: Hexham boasts chic shops, a bustling High Street and the ancient kingdom of Northumbria on its doorstep – as well as rows of fine Georgian houses

I buy one of the shop’s fine sourdough loaves, noting that the £4 price tag wouldn’t be out of place in the second happiest town on Rightmove’s list, swanky Richmond in South-West London.

The story that made the biggest difference to the town isn’t the two Rightmove wins (they also won the Happy gong in 2019), but Country Life’s description of Hexham as ‘the best market town in Britain’. That was in 2005.

Some residents describe the property market here as BCL and ACL — Before and After Country Life. 

And the houses on offer are a far cry from the ‘small, spare, dour’ cottage the writer Joan Aiken encountered when she first came here in the 1930s. But like many southerners, she stayed.

I do find some people who aren’t overly happy: estate agents. That might seem odd. After all, a major property website has just given their town a big shot in the arm. 

At Pattinson estate agents, situated on the wonderfully named Priestpopple, manager and senior valuer Marc Hydelman tells me prices ‘have shot up. And as an estate agent I ought to be pleased — we’re up 60 per cent on last year. Crazy.’ He is also happy he moved here from Rickmansworth, in Hertfordshire, 29 years ago.

So why the unhappiness? ‘Supply can’t keep up with demand,’ says Mr Hydelman. As a result, you will struggle to find any properties for sale in Hexham town centre.

‘Lack of supply is hitting both rentals and sales,’ agrees Ed Seymour of Foster Maddison. ‘Some vendors are being aspirational with prices, but good stock is selling fast — often over the asking price. We have had more best and final offers at closing dates than we have ever had — it sounds great, but the volume of sales is still down hugely’.

 Hexham is handsome and agreeable. That said, I can name half a dozen English market towns I’ve visited in the past three years alone that can rival it

Hexham is handsome and agreeable. That said, I can name half a dozen English market towns I’ve visited in the past three years alone that can rival it: Malvern, Tetbury, Shaftesbury, Uppingham, Diss, Market Harborough.

What you don’t get in those towns is an average price of under £300,000 for a house. And you also don’t get the ancient kingdom of Northumbria on your doorstep. 

As the winter light fades, I drive north to a section of Hadrian’s Wall at Carrawburgh. Here, sunken in a farmer’s field, are the remains of a temple dedicated to the Roman god Mithras.

It’s not the most impressive Roman ruin. But then I gaze north and south and see England’s most magnificent county stretching as far as the eye can see. There’s not a soul in sight. And that makes a lot of people happy. 

On the market… Cheery homes 

Bellingham: There are two bedrooms in this cottage in Bellingham, which is 16 miles north of Hexham and close to the Northumberland National Park. Pattinson, 01434 605 376. £165,000

Hexham: This four-bedroom house is on Laurel Road on the outskirts of the town. There is a single garage and the property is surrounded by woodland. Red Hot Property, 01434 601 800. £375, 000  

Fourstones: The Gables has five bedrooms, sweeping country views and is a ten-minute drive from Hexham. The home is in the village of Fourstones. Finest Properties, 01434 622 234. £565,000

 

 

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Everybody over 16 to get booster shots following Niac recommendations

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Everybody over the age of 16 in the State will now be offered booster shots following a decision by the Department of Health based on advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac).

The booster shot will be offered in order of preference to pregnant women first, then those aged 40 to 49 and finally those aged between 16 and 39 in descending order starting with the oldest first.

They will receive their extra jab in these cohorts at least five months after their last vaccine, but, in the case of those who have been given the one shot Janssen vaccine, the gap will be at least three months.

Those who have had Covid-19 after being fully vaccinated before will have to wait at least six months following infection to receive their dose.

It now means that everybody over the age of 16 will be offered a booster as Niac has already approved the shots for everybody who is 50 or over.

Booster shots were first recommended for those over 80 or those over the age of 65 in nursing homes in September. Last month the programme was extended to 60 to 79 year olds and on November 15th to those between 50 and 59.

This advice received by Niac reflects the recommendations made in respect of booster doses in the latest European Centre of Disease Control (ECDC) rapid risk assessment which recommends that countries should consider a booster dose for all adults with priority being given to people aged 40 years of age and above.

The Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said it will be some time before the new cohorts get their vaccine as they have not reached the recommended gap since the second dose.

“We continue to prioritise boosters because we know that they are having a positive impact on the level of hospitalisation, severe illness and mortality from Covid-19 in those aged over 70,” Mr Donnelly said.

The HSE has started offering walk-in clinics for Covid-19 booster vaccines to people in their 60s and to healthcare workers at designated times through its vaccination centres.

In a speed-up of the booster programme, the walk-in clinics will be available to eligible groups once it has been at least five months since their second dose of a Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca jab in their initial vaccinations, or three months since the individual received the single Janssen vaccine.

The booster rollout will also be accelerated for those who are in their 60s.

Damien McCallion, the HSE’s national lead for vaccinations and testing, said that many of the 470,000 people in their 60s will only become eligible for boosters over the coming weeks.

The walk-in clinics will allow the HSE to administer booster doses more quickly. Details of the times and locations of the walk-in vaccinations are available on the HSE’s website.

“We are very conscious that life has moved on for many people and it isn’t always possible for people to come forward on an appointment basis,” he told the weekly HSE briefing.

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How can I ensure my listed home’s kitchen extension has right approvals? 

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I’m buying a listed property and want to make sure a recent kitchen extension was done with the right approvals. 

How do I check this and protect myself on this front? LP

Before buying a period property, check for the correct consents if any renovation work was carried out

Before buying a period property, check for the correct consents if any renovation work was carried out

MailOnline Property expert Myra Butterworth replies: Before buying a period property with a recent kitchen extension, you will need to check that the relevant consents were sought.

This is because you will inherit the liability for any unauthorised work undertaken by the vendor.

Ultimately, this risk can be removed completely by reversing the works carried out – if that is possible – or by applying retrospectively for consent for the kitchen extension.

There are compromises that can be made, including looking at an indemnity insurance that will cover you and bank against the cost of rectifying unauthorised alterations.

And if you are a cash buyer, then you can decide to proceed on the basis that you will accept the risk for the lack of consent.

Vanessa Rhodes, of law firm Kingsley Napley, said: If you’re looking to buy a house that is listed, it is likely to be a unique and interesting property full of character. You are right that being listed means there are additional controls over any works to the property.

The National Heritage List for England protects buildings of special architectural or historical interest, which are considered to be of national importance. It means listed building consent is required for all works of demolition, alteration or extension to a listed building.

Local planning authorities provide approval for works to listed buildings. Where the works have an impact on the external appearance of the building, planning permission may also be required and should be applied for at the same time. 

For example, this may include building an extension or installing new windows and doors. 

Below, Vanessa covers what you need to know: 

How do I check necessary consents were obtained?

Make sure that you instruct a specialist heritage surveyor to review the property and all the planning and listed building consents for the property to verify the corrects consents were obtained.

This can be in addition to having a regular building survey carried out or some surveyors will do both in one survey. 

The heritage survey should make clear whether the kitchen extension was approved, and what to do if it isn’t. 

You can get heritage surveyors that will do both in one survey and charge the same as a standard building survey but frequently, clients will instruct one in addition to the building surveyor and they are usually slightly cheaper.

Heritage surveys also provide historic building and heritage conservation advice to assist buyers who will be responsible for the practical care of historic buildings.

Your solicitor will review the results of the local authority search for the property, which reveals all the permissions obtained from the local planning authority for the property. 

They will also raise enquiries with the seller to find out if the right consents have been obtained and check that any conditions on the listed building consents have been discharged or, if there are on-going conditions that they are being complied with.

Your solicitor and heritage surveyor will also check to see if the work was done before the building was listed. If this is the case, there will be no issue as no listed building consent will have been needed.

Why is checking important?

It is essential to check if the previous owners obtained the relevant consents because you will inherit the liability for any unauthorised work they undertook.

Given there is no time limit on enforcement action, you may be required to reverse the alteration at any time in the future. In effect, therefore you may potentially have to ‘undo’ or alter the kitchen extension if it lacked approval. 

This could be costly and may reduce the value and your enjoyment of the property, so should be carefully considered before proceeding with the purchase.

It is also a criminal offence not to seek listed building consent when it is required. 

The maximum penalty is two years’ imprisonment or an unlimited fine. Not knowing a building is listed, or claiming the works were carried out by a previous owner are not defences to any criminal proceedings.

Your options as a buyer

As the buyer, you need to consider the extent of any liability you might take on before proceeding with the purchase. 

If you find that works have been carried out to the property without the appropriate consents or the listed building consent conditions have been breached, you will need to consider the extent of the breach. 

The heritage surveyor will normally guide you as to whether you will be able to obtain retrospective listed building consent for the breach and which breaches could be problematic.

If the kitchen extension was not approved, there are various things that you can do as part of the conveyancing process to alleviate any stress or anxiety about the consent, and ultimately protect yourself.

The way to remove the risk completely is to reverse the alteration – if possible – or for you or the seller to apply retrospectively for consent for the kitchen extension. 

You may elect to negotiate a conditional contract with the seller, which stipulates that you will only complete the purchase of the property when the seller has obtained retrospective consent for the kitchen extension if it was unapproved.

Most sellers will be reluctant to agree to this approach because if they apply for retrospective consent and are unsuccessful, then it draws the issue to the attention of the local planning authority who are then likely to serve an enforcement notice on the seller in relation to the alterations.

Alternatives include negotiating a price reduction to cover the costs and hassle of obtaining retrospective consent for the extension after completion. 

Any price negotiation should include recognition of the fact that the buyer will be accepting the risk for the lack of consent, and any liability that comes with it.

If you are a cash buyer, then you can decide to proceed on the basis that you will accept the risk for the lack of consent. 

However, if you are using a mortgage, the bank will require you to obtain indemnity insurance, which will cover you and the bank against the cost of rectifying unauthorised alterations. 

You will need to discuss the indemnity insurance policy with your solicitor though as they often include provisions that invalidate the policy if you approach the local planning authority for consent for any works in the future.

For example, if you want to carry out alterations to another part of the property and apply for consent then this could invalidate the policy. 

There are some more bespoke indemnity policies available that might get round this problem but these policies can be costly or have a high excess.

Another factor to bear in mind is that if the kitchen extension was carried out without proper consent, then you, in turn, will have to deal with this problem as part of any future sale of the property unless you and the seller can resolve the issue now, either by removing or adapting the alterations or by obtaining retrospective consent.

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