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Conspiracy theories threaten public health

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We are currently dealing with a huge public health issue in the form of the pandemic, and within that there are multiple other public health issues. From cancer treatment to maternity services, the disruption to our health system has been tremendous.

But there is also another public health concern in Ireland that has been growing steadily yet remains unaddressed, has been exacerbated by the pandemic, and is something about which many people seem to be at a complete loss as to how to make their loved ones better.

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L&G-backed developer Inspired Villages accused of ‘bombarding’ councillor

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A property developer linked to financial giants Legal & General and NatWest has come under fire in claims it was ‘relentlessly bombarding’ a local councillor and ignoring the views of residents in a bid to get planning applications heard.

Inspired Villages, a joint venture backed by Legal & General and NatWest Pension group fund, has recently been looking at several sites, including plans for 160 homes built in a small village on the edge of the Cotswolds and 133 flats on the edge of Sonning Common in the Chilterns. 

The developer says on its website that it is ‘reinventing retirement living with premium properties to purchase or rent, set in beautiful and secure environments, situated in some of the most sought-after locations in the UK’. 

But its approach to building on the site in the village of Freeland, in West Oxfordshire, has been questioned by local Councillor  Merilyn Davies, who described it as ‘pressurised’ and ‘boorish’.  

Areas such as the Cotswolds are desirable places to live, placing huge pressure on them for new homes to be built

Areas such as the Cotswolds are desirable places to live, placing huge pressure on them for new homes to be built

The developer insists its plans have been designed to address the growing shortage of specialist accommodation for older residents, while also delivering a range of new facilities that are all open to local residents.

While the developer said that it was too early to discuss prices for these sites, it said values on its other sites start at £230,000 for a one-bed flat. 

Ms Davies told MailOnline Property: ‘As district councillor on the planning committee, Legal & General’s Inspired Villages relentlessly bombarded me with highly pressurised emails to the extent I had to tell them to stop contacting me.

‘This treatment is the worst I have ever experienced from a developer.

‘These are developers who, even by developer standards, show absolute disregard for not only residents of the existing village but also for those of their proposed village.’

She added: ‘Villages comprise of built up areas in the centre which gradually peter out into the countryside. To build on these outlying areas destroys the village characteristic and risks urbanising a defining part of its identity.’

It follows recent speculation that the Cotswolds could be designated a National Park, which could affect future planning permissions.

The Government said recently that the Cotswolds was not currently being considered for a change in status – although a review of such areas is due to begin shortly.

Meanwhile, developers are ploughing ahead with proposals with more development in the surrounding area.

Councillor Merilyn Davies

Councillor Merilyn Davies

Cllr Davies explained that she has now ‘excused herself’ from any potential planning committee meetings concerning the application, as she ‘cannot remain impartial, as required’ and so that she can ‘campaign openly to stop’ the application in the village of Freeland.

Cllr Davies, of West Oxfordshire district council, is a ward member for Freeland and Hanborough as well as cabinet member for Housing and Communities.

She said: ‘L&G’s Inspired Villages appear to be conducting an attack on local plans and conducting themselves in a boorish manner so as to make their applications appear a given.

‘This ignores the democratic nature of local plans as well as ignoring the housing need identified within it.’

Freeland is already surrounded by development with 3,000 houses being built within a three-mile radius amid plans to double Oxfordshire’s housing by 2050.

Residents believe that the planning application could prove to be a test case as the site is so unsuitable.

Cllr Davies added: ‘Its proposals would see elderly people ghettoised on the edge of a village which already has an older demographic as well as no bus route, no street lighting, and no shop.

Inspired Villages is hoping to get 160 homes built in a small village on the edge of the Cotswolds called Freeland (plans pictured)

Inspired Villages is hoping to get 160 homes built in a small village on the edge of the Cotswolds called Freeland (plans pictured)

Meanwhile, a different councillor resigned amid other plans by Inspired Villages to develop another site in the county, in south Oxfordshire.

Tom Fort was a member of the Sonning Common parish council in south Oxfordshire until the beginning of July.

Tom Fort was a member of the Sonning Common parish council in south Oxfordshire until the beginning of July

Tom Fort was a member of the Sonning Common parish council in south Oxfordshire until the beginning of July

He says that he resigned partially in protest at the decision to allow an appeal by Inspired Villages for a 133 apartment retirement village to be built on part of the Chilterns, on the edge of Sonning Common.

Mr Fort says that a public meeting at the village hall was attended by around 100 local residents who opposed the plans.

He said: ‘Despite being under the umbrella of Legal & General, Inspired Villages is essentially a speculative land development company.

‘It has no interest in the views of local people, or in the Local Plan produced by South Oxfordshire District Council or in the preservation of the highly vulnerable countryside of south Oxfordshire.

‘Their argument is that there is an acute need for assisted living and extra care accommodation which the district council has failed to provide for, and that this highly debatable shortage should enable them to trample on planning policies that have taken years to produce.

‘In doing so they display an unbounded contempt for local democracy and are prepared to go to extreme lengths to exploit the planning inquiry system to their advantage.’

Inspired Villages hopes to build a 133 apartment retirement village in the Chilterns, on the edge of Sonning Common (pictured)

Inspired Villages hopes to build a 133 apartment retirement village in the Chilterns, on the edge of Sonning Common (pictured)

Response from Inspired Villages 

We contacted the developer about the claims and a spokesperson from Inspired Villages said: ‘As a long term developer and operator, we are dedicated to bringing forward schemes which not only address the chronic shortage of housing for older people across the UK, but which are designed and built to respond to local community needs.

‘Our proposals at Freeland have been designed to address the growing shortage of specialist accommodation for older residents in West Oxfordshire, whilst also delivering a range of new facilities including a village club house and shop, wellness centre and transport to surrounding retail and leisure outlets – all open to the local community.

‘As part of our commitment, we are dedicated to enhancing the surrounding ecology for local residents and the scheme at Freeland will achieve a biodiversity net gain, aiming to be carbon net zero to minimise environmental impact.

‘To ensure our proposals best respond to local needs, we have met with local politicians and Parish Councillors to gain feedback and began engaging with Planning Officers at West Oxfordshire District Council in December 2018, making representations to both the Local Plan and Salt Cross Area Action Plan. 

‘We have also undertaken extensive engagement with local residents over the past year to ensure local priorities are reflected in our design.’

They added: ‘Unlike short term developers, whose businesses might be based around ‘buying and flipping’ sites, at Inspired Villages we deliver more than just bricks and mortar. 

‘Our long term developer and operator model, backed by patient pension capital, means that we are long term members of the community. Our business is built around enabling residents to enjoy a mentally, physically and socially active lifestyle thanks to the vibrant communities we create, and ensuring that our villages are integrated into and open to the local community. As such it is our top priority that we actively engage with local stakeholders to ensure our schemes match the enduring local needs and thrive.

‘As with all our developments, our plans in Sonning Common have been designed to address the growing shortage of specialist accommodation for older residents in the Oxfordshire area, which we have identified through extensive research. 

‘Comprehensive engagement included letters to local residents, Parish Councillors and local ward members; a 2-day public consultation and a 10 day public inquiry. Following this, the Secretary-of-State-appointed Planning Inspector was in full agreement that the scheme would address the lack of housing land supply, as well as fulfil the critical need for extra care housing within the district. 

‘It was concluded that this would then, in turn, free up homes for local families and provide health and wellbeing benefits to older people, taking the burden off local health and social care systems. To ensure we are bringing forward schemes which deliver added benefits to local communities, our scheme in Sonning will include a restaurant, café, hairdressers and wellness centre with gym and swimming pool – all open for local residents to enjoy.

‘As a business, we also take environmental issues very seriously and are working to achieve net zero carbon on all our sites by 2030. In Sonning Common, our scheme will plant hundreds of new trees to provide attractive landscaping and improve the ecology benefits to both residents and the wider community.’

It added that while it wouldn’t be able to give exact pricing breakdowns at this early stage in the planning and development process for these sites, it could refer to Inspired Villages’ wider model

The spokesman explained: ‘At Inspired Villages, we aim to give our customers a wide range of choice to suit their individual needs and situation, offering both rental and ownership options across a variety of formats. Our houses start from £230,000 and include 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments and cottages, all carefully designed for the needs of older people and focused on promoting an active lifestyle.

‘Helping our customers to rightsize, this model also frees up many under-occupied former family homes, in turn allowing younger families to move in, which contributes to creating vibrant sustainable communities.’

 

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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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