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€873m to be drawn down by end of 2021

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About 60 per cent of the approved €1.433 billion budget for the National Children’s Hospital (NCH) will have been drawn down by the end of the year, the Dáil’s public spending watchdog has been told.

In a briefing for the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Department of Health Secretary General Robert Watt said any potential future costs outside the approved budget would be “commercially sensitive” and have to “remain confidential”.

However, Mr Watt said that “by the end of this year, it is expected that approximately €873 million of the €1.433 billion capital budget will have been drawn down.”

There has been controversy over the huge project for years amid spiralling costs and delays which means that the hospital will not now open for patients until the second half of 2024.

There is concern the cost of the NCH will be much higher than €1.433 billion when delays – some caused by the Covid-19 pandemic – and other issues like inflation in the cost of construction materials, and Brexit impacting on the supply of goods and services, are factored in.

Mr Watt’s briefing to the PAC comes ahead of an appearance at the committee on Thursday to discuss the Department of Health’s 2020 accounts.

He said an NPHDB analysis on the NCH project “relates to the best way forward on a project that is subject to a live contract, and as such, continues to be commercially sensitive.”

Mr Watt said the analysis “related to the forecasting of critical paths/scenarios for the optimal completion of the project.”

He added: “discussion of costs by officials, however hypothetical or otherwise at this time, may prejudice enforcement of the existing contract, and very likely negatively impact or jeopardise the Development Board in its ongoing engagement with the main contractor, and the Board’s responsibilities for the timely completion of this critical project.”

Mr Watt also said: “As with any capital project, there are residual risks, for which there cannot be cost certainty, including construction inflation, claims, changes in scope/design and certain uncontrollable risks, such as any changes to building regulations, sectoral employment orders and costs relating to Brexit, the pandemic and global supply chain.”

“The NPHDB and its contractors continue to address and mitigate these risks and externalities to the largest extent possible”.

Mr Watt said: “Information on any potential future costs relating to the live contract the NPHDB is enforcing, and which would be outside of the approved budget, would be commercially sensitive and would have to remain confidential.”

Last month Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath told the Committee on Finance that the final bill for the NCH is still “some distance off” because of disputes with the building contractor, BAM, over costs.

BAM has lodged nearly 900 substantiated claims totalling €514 million, said Mr McGrath, but he added that sum was the values determined by the contractor and “those have not been agreed or approved”.

Mr McGrath said 700 of the additional bills had been priced at just €15 million by the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board (NPHDB).

He said those judgments have been contested by BAM, who have referred 650 of them to a dispute management process set out under the contract.

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Lidl to open new store in Billingshurst (GB)

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Dunmoore has signed a forward-funding agreement with CBRE Investment Management for the development of a Lidl supermarket in Billingshurst Business Park, Sussex. CBRE Investment Management is paying €10m (£8.4m) for the 20,451ft² store. Lidl has agreed a 25-year lease at a rent of €430,558 (£360,000) a year with the option to break at years 15 and 20. Development of the store will now commence with a view to opening in June 2022, initiating the second phase of development at the business park that will provide 250,000ft² of industrial and business space accommodation. The superstore will also sit alongside a recently completed petrol filling station and two drive-thru offerings, all providing excellent service for the business park.

 

Jeff Hobby, CEO and owner of Dunmoore, said: “This forward-funding agreement with CBRE Investment Management reflects the strength of the market for long-term, index-linked, blue-chip income. The progress we have made with the development in such challenging times has been excellent and this deal is a testament to our understanding of the ever-changing market and requirements. With continued high levels of demand, we look forward to providing further modern flexible business space for the local area”.

 

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Rents rise at fastest rate on record, says Rightmove

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Rents are rising at the fastest rate on record and now outpace house price increases in most areas of the country, new data has revealed.

It is the latest evidence of challenges people face trying to find somewhere to live. 

High demand among tenants and low supply of good rental homes means there is fierce competition in this part of the property market.

The South West has seen some of the highest rental growth and this four-bed detached house in Frome, Somerset, is for rent for £1,700 a month via Cooper and Tanner letting agents

The South West has seen some of the highest rental growth and this four-bed detached house in Frome, Somerset, is for rent for £1,700 a month via Cooper and Tanner letting agents

Rightmove revealed that rents rose 9.9 per cent to £1,068 a month on average outside of London

Rightmove revealed that rents rose 9.9 per cent to £1,068 a month on average outside of London

Rightmove said that rents had outpaced house price increases in all but three regions in Britain.

It looked at asking rents on its website across Britain and found that they rose 9.9 per cent to reach £1,068 a month on average outside of London.

It is the highest annual jump on record and highlights the recovery in rental growth following a slowdown in the months immediately after the pandemic started.

High demand among tenants and a low supply of rental properties has led to rents outpacing house price increases, Rightmove said in its quarterly report.

The only regions where rental growth has not outstripped the rise in house prices are the East Midlands, the South West and the South East.

However, the South West is still included in the areas with the biggest rises in rental values, up 11 per cent. There is also Wales, up 12.7 per cent, and the North West, up 12.5 per cent.

The data compared the last three months of last year with the same period a year earlier.

Inner London rents grew at a record 16.2 per cent and this one-bed flat at the Battersea Power Station development is for rent for £2,000 a month via Daniel Ford letting agents

Inner London rents grew at a record 16.2 per cent and this one-bed flat at the Battersea Power Station development is for rent for £2,000 a month via Daniel Ford letting agents

GROWTH IN AVERAGE RENTS IN DIFFERENT REGIONS ACROSS BRITAIN
Average asking rent Q4 2021 Average asking rent Q3 2021 QoQ Average asking rent Q4 2020 YoY
East Midlands £935 £925 1.1% £857 9.0%
East of England £1,313 £1,289 1.9% £1,196 9.7%
London £2,142 £2,019 6.1% £1,932 10.9%
North East £718 £699 2.6% £662 8.4%
North West £924 £899 2.7% £821 12.5%
Scotland £826 £805 2.6% £772 7.0%
South East £1,514 £1,489 1.7% £1,379 9.8%
South West £1,180 £1,154 2.3% £1,063 11.0%
Wales £874 £846 3.3% £775 12.7%
West Midlands £941 £918 2.4% £871 8.1%
Yorkshire and The Humber £830 £812 2.2% £759 9.3%
Source: Rightmove         

London saw record annual growth of 10.9 per cent, with asking rents in the capital standing 3 per cent higher than before the start of the pandemic. It is the first time they have risen beyond pre-pandemic levels.

At the end of 2020, London recorded a near-record 6.4 per cent drop in average asking rents as demand shifted away from the capital during another lockdown.

Tenants looked for more space outside of cities, particularly away from flats, while landlords offered tenants willing to stay cut-price rents.

By the end of 2021, London rents were higher than before the pandemic started, as its popularity returned and landlords were able to negotiate higher rents for the new year.

Inner London rents also grew at a record 16.2 per cent, recovering from its drop of 14 per cent at the beginning of 2021, to also rise just ahead of pre-pandemic levels for the first time.

Pontypool in Monmouthshire, Wales, saw the largest increase in asking rents of any local area, up 20 per cent from £562 a month to £674 a month.

It is followed by Ascot, Berkshire, which is up 18.8 per cent and Littlehampton, West Sussex, up 17.5 per cent.

High rental growth was also seen in the East Midlands and this four-bed house in Leicester is for rent for £1,350 a month via Corley letting agents

High rental growth was also seen in the East Midlands and this four-bed house in Leicester is for rent for £1,350 a month via Corley letting agents

RISE IN AVERAGE HOUSE PRICES IN DIFFERENT REGIONS OF BRITAIN
Region Average asking price % YOY
East Midlands £266,725 10.4%
East of England £396,135 8.4%
London £629,286 4.2%
North East £165,277 6.0%
North West £228,866 8.8%
Scotland £162,415 2.8%
South East £450,918 10.2%
South West £359,201 11.6%
Wales £230,813 9.9%
West Midlands £262,825 7.6%
Yorkshire and The Humber £214,988 6.1%
Source: Rightmove     

The imbalance between high tenant demand and low rental stock has also led to competition between tenants for rental homes nearly doubling, up 94 per cent compared to the same period last year.

Total rental demand is up 32 per cent compared to this time last year, while the number of available rental properties is 51 per cent lower. 

It led to available rental properties being snapped up by tenants, in just 17 days on average.

However, Rightmove went on to say that the number of available rental properties is 7 per cent higher than the same period in December, a sign of availability improving at the start of the year.

Flats have seen the highest increase in competition compared to last year, up 132 per cent, followed by terraced houses, up 40 per cent, and semi-detached homes, up 30 per cent.

Rightmove also revealed that the average rental yield across Britain is 5.5 per cent, which is the highest level since 2016 when it was 5.6 per cent.

The North East and Wales have hit record yields, while yields in London, South West and Yorkshire are at their highest since 2015.

Yields in the East of England and South East are at their highest since 2016.

Rightmove also revealed that the average rental yield across Britain is 5.5 per cent

Rightmove also revealed that the average rental yield across Britain is 5.5 per cent

TOP AVERAGE RENTAL YIELDS IN BRITAIN
Area Region Average yield 2020 Average yield 2021 Difference in yields 2021 vs 2020
Preston North West 6.1% 9.1% 3.1%
Exeter South West 6.0% 8.8% 2.7%
Swansea Wales 9.0% 11.2% 2.2%
Nottingham East Midlands 8.2% 10.3% 2.1%
Rushcliffe East Midlands 5.6% 7.7% 2.1%
Renfrewshire Scotland 8.1% 9.9% 1.8%
Gwynedd Wales 9.3% 11.0% 1.7%
Rhondda Cynon Taf Wales 7.6% 9.1% 1.5%
Warwick West Midlands 5.9% 7.3% 1.5%
East Ayrshire Scotland 8.3% 9.7% 1.4%
Source: Rightmove       

Tim Bannister, from Rightmove, said: ‘The year 2020 was defined by the race for space outside of cities, as tenant priorities changed and many moved further out looking for a larger property with green space, or temporarily moved back in with family. 

‘London was perhaps the biggest example of this, where landlords significantly decreased asking rents by the end of the year to encourage tenants to stay in the capital. 

‘A year on, asking rents have finally risen beyond pre-pandemic levels, a sign that the capital has not lost its pull and popularity with renters as landlords look to renegotiate previous cut-price terms.’

He continued: ‘Tenant demand continues to be really high entering the new year, meaning the imbalance between supply and demand is set to continue until more choice comes onto the market for tenants, which has led to our prediction of a further 5 per cent increase in average asking rents in 2022. 

‘Landlords understand the importance of having a good, long-term tenant, and there is a limit to what renters can afford to pay, which will prevent rents rising at the same rate we’ve seen over the past year.’

Marc von Grundherr, of letting agents Benham and Reeves, said: ‘The London rental market is drastically different to that seen in 2020 when landlords were forced to heavily reduce asking rents to secure a tenant and avoid lengthy void periods due to an exodus of market activity from the capital.

‘In fact, the surplus of available rental stock that accumulated due to the pandemic has now plummeted and this has been driven by a staggered return to the workplace and, in particular, a huge influx of demand from overseas students.

‘We’ve also seen a huge increase in the number of tenancy renewals which have even exceeded 2019 levels and so while some areas are yet to see rental values return to the pre-pandemic norm, it’s only a matter of time as the market looks set to continue to this strong return to form throughout 2022.’

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Taoiseach to attend Bloody Sunday memorial service in Derry

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The Taoiseach is to lay a wreath at the memorial to those killed on Bloody Sunday during a service in Derry to mark the 50th anniversary of the atrocity. Micheál Martin is also expected to meet privately with the families of those killed, The Irish Times understands.

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, is also due to attend the ceremony on Sunday morning, as will other church leaders and politicians including the Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald, vice president and the North’s Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, and the SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.

President Michael D Higgins will deliver a virtual address at an event in Guildhall Square on Sunday afternoon.

Thirteen people died when members of the British Army’s Parachute Regiment opened fire on an anti-internment march in the city on January 30th, 1972. A fourteenth died later.

John Kelly, whose 17-year-old brother Michael was among the victims, said the Taoiseach would be welcomed by the Bloody Sunday families and it “shows the depth of feeling that the Irish Government has for the families who have witnessed and endured the suffering of Bloody Sunday for five decades.

“It’s a nice tribute from the Irish Government and the people of Ireland and certainly will be welcomed by the families and the people of Derry,” he said.

In the House of Commons on Wednesday, Mr Eastwood, the MP for Foyle, condemned the flying of Parachute Regiment flags which have appeared on the outskirts of Derry ahead of the anniversary and asked the Northern Secretary, Brandon Lewis, if he felt the regiment should “apologise for and condemn the actions of their soldiers on Bloody Sunday?”

In a post on social media, the Parachute regiment criticised the flying of the flags, describing it as “totally unacceptable and disrespectful behaviour.”

It has been condemned by both nationalist and unionist politicians and by relatives of the victims. Mr Kelly said they were “offensive to families and offensive to the people of Derry” and he called on community leaders in those areas and on unionist politicians to have them removed.

The DUP Assembly member for Foyle, the junior minister Gary Middleton, said the flags were “unnecessary and designed to be offensive” and the flags should be removed.

Responding to Mr Eastwood in the Commons, Mr Lewis said “we, as the Government, have to accept responsibility for what has happened in the past. When things are wrong we need to be clear about that, as we have been. It’s right that we have apologised for that.

“I’ve added my own personal apology to the government’s,” he said.

In a statement to the Commons earlier Mr Lewis acknowledged the upcoming 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the apology from the then prime minister, David Cameron, and said his “thoughts this weekend will be with all those affected”.

Referring to UK government’s new proposals for dealing with the legacy of the Troubles, he said it was engaging intensively and widely and “reflecting carefully on what we have heard.”

In a statement to The Irish Times on Wednesday, a spokesman for the UK ministry of defence said it did “not condone in any way” the “misuse” of flags, which should be “used only in an official capacity.”

He said that following the publication of the Saville Report into Bloody Sunday in 2010 “the Chief of General Staff (Gen Sir David Richards) fully supported the prime minister’s apology on behalf of the government of the United Kingdom, the army and those involved and this remains the army’s position.”

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