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Get in the zone! How to make more of your garden this summer

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Gardens have become highly desirable and have had to work hard at increasingly being the centre of our lives, as people make the most of their outdoor space amid the pandemic.

Figures from GoCompare reveal that 47 per cent of households have spent money on garden improvements during lockdown, with a total of £25.9billion spent on enhancing our ‘outdoor rooms’ with lighting, furniture, canopies, pizza ovens, hot tubs and more.

Those lucky enough to have gardens have been using them extensively during the past year. Gardens have become places to exercise, play, eat, entertain, grow food and relax away from the confines of the same four walls day-in and day-out.

With so many diverse needs to serve, some are turning to garden zoning to help make the most of their outdoor space.

Dividing your garden into zones can help to make the most of the outdoor space available

Dividing your garden into zones can help to make the most of the outdoor space available 

It is important to zone your planting areas, just as you would with other areas of your garden

It is important to zone your planting areas, just as you would with other areas of your garden

An outdoor kitchen is perfect for everything from socialising outside to relaxed family meals, and can feel like an extension of your home

An outdoor kitchen is perfect for everything from socialising outside to relaxed family meals, and can feel like an extension of your home

Jack Simpson, of Nomad Developments, explained: ‘Garden zoning means you can make the most of the space available.’

His garden at West Hill Place, in London’s Putney, features distinct zones for its heated pool, bar area with seating, outdoor cooking and dining area and lawn. There are also areas for established bushes and mature trees, as well as easy-to-maintain plants.

‘Look at the space you’ve got and think creatively about how you want to use it,’ he said. 

‘But also think practically. If you don’t want to dedicate time maintaining a lawn, for example, opt for artificial grass. And if you’re installing an outdoor kitchen, think about storage, power, plumbing and the durability of the materials you’re going to use.’

Dining and cooking area

If you’re refreshing the look of your garden for the summer, an outdoor kitchen could be just what you desire.

An outdoor kitchen is perfect for everything from socialising outside to relaxed family meals, and can feel like an extension to your home.

The same can be said of outdoor bar zones. Whether it is a quiet, after-work cocktail to decompress, or a few beers in the sunshine when socialising outside, having a bar in the garden can prove a big attraction.

There are various designs depending on your budget – and you’re not excluded from having an outdoor kitchen area if your finances only stretch to £100 and you’re willing to build it yourself

The creator of this outdoor pizza kitchen – Wayne Perrey – insists that the design is simple enough that anyone with basic carpentry skills can build it – and he has provided a worksheet and a YouTube video to guide people through the build process.

It could equally double as a cheap way to build a bar or a worktop area to combine with a barbecue for an outdoor kitchen feel. 

The creator of this outdoor pizza kitchen - Wayne Perrey - insists that the design is simple enough that anyone with basic carpentry skills can build it

The creator of this outdoor pizza kitchen – Wayne Perrey – insists that the design is simple enough that anyone with basic carpentry skills can build it

Planting areas

Greenery is also key to creating the ultimate summer garden space. Landscape architect Matt Keighley, of Rosebank Landscaping, advises focusing on this from the outset when designing a garden.

He said: ‘Once you’ve decided where you want your outdoor kitchen zone, your seating areas, your lawn and so forth, think about plants before you dash straight out to buy furniture.

‘It’s important to zone your planting areas, just as it is the other areas of your garden. Areas of dense shrubbery and mature trees are ideal for wildlife and also for promoting a sense of peace and connection with nature.’

He suggested considering the planting palette as the glue for your garden that threads all your zones together, adding depth, texture, colour and interest throughout.

The pandemic has prompted many families to try their hand at growing their own produce for the first time, according to Keighley. Zones for herb gardens and raised beds for vegetables have proved popular.

Many gardeners are also doing their bit for the bees, with bee-friendly flowers and bee hotels featuring strongly. And bee-friendly zones are well worth building into even small outdoor spaces.

Break convention by introducing multiple seating areas, using spaces to lounge, dine and generally relax in

Break convention by introducing multiple seating areas, using spaces to lounge, dine and generally relax in

Seating areas

Another important zone is a seating area. Keightley said: ‘Opting for different seating areas in sunnier and shadier parts of the garden provides plenty of versatility, so don’t limit yourself to just the one seating zone if you have the space for more. 

‘Think how the seating placement will work with your other zones, as well. If you’re skittish about insects, for example, don’t put your relaxed seating zone next to your bee-friendly flowers.’

And break convention by introducing multiple seating areas, using spaces to lounge, dine and generally relax in. 

The more positions for seating, the more you can use every inch of space and appreciate a garden. 

The more areas for seating, the more you can use every inch of space and appreciate a garden

The more areas for seating, the more you can use every inch of space and appreciate a garden

City gardens generally take advantage of part-sun, part -hade, which is something that lends itself perfectly to interesting seating locations through the day.

When it comes to furnishing your new outdoor space, Rachel Clark of Alexander James Interiors, explained: ‘Introduce a range of furniture – a lounge area with rattan sofas and tables, a dining area with rattan chairs and an opulent rattan lounge bed for those much-needed snoozes in the sun. 

‘Opt for furniture that makes you feel like you’re on that beach holiday you may have missed recently, incorporating stylish retro style loungers to relax in.’

Clark points out the value of stylish lighting, creating a garden sanctuary that maximises outdoor living.

‘Make the most of your garden lighting using lanterns, wall lights and pendant lights to create atmosphere during long summer evenings,’ she said. ‘Garden mirrors are the perfect way to add a stylish edge to your garden design and are perfect for smaller outdoor areas to create an illusion of space.’

And finally, if you have the space, she suggested adding a quirky feel by hanging hammocks and swing chairs from the trees – perfect family space for fun and relaxation.

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Darlington is cheapest for homes, London’s Kensington most expensive

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We all know about the North-South divide. We all know about the Prime Minister’s attempt at ‘levelling up’. We all know about the crumbling Red Wall.

But when it comes to property, the facts of the matter tell their own story. According to Churchill Home Insurance, Darlington in County Durham is the cheapest place to buy a property in the country, at just £58 per square foot.

Which is staggering when you compare it to the most expensive — Kensington in central London, where the average price per square foot stands at £1,721. 

Imposing: The Clock Tower in Darlington, County Durham - the cheapest place to buy a property in the country, at just £58 per square foot

Imposing: The Clock Tower in Darlington, County Durham – the cheapest place to buy a property in the country, at just £58 per square foot

Music giants Robbie Williams and Eric Clapton have homes in this exclusive royal borough home, as do entrepreneurs Sir Richard Branson and Sir James Dyson.

But here’s the twist: anyone looking to take advantage of Darlington’s prices might have to move fast because there are plans to turn this market town into the hottest property in the north.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is opening up a smart new division of the Treasury there over the next five years, moving about a quarter of the department. 

That’s about 400 people, many of whom will be local recruits. ‘We’re giving talented people in the North-East the opportunity to work in the heart of Government, making decisions on important issues for our country,’ explains Sunak.

So what are the draws of these polar-opposite locations?

Kensington is one of the crown jewels of London neighbourhoods featuring not just top museums but also a host of chic cafes, boutique shops, and even Kensington Palace, where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge live with their children.

There are three Zone 1 underground stations and several independent schools, and you’re a stroll away from the West End. 

Upmarket: A terrace in Kensington, London, where the average price per square foot stands at £1,721

Upmarket: A terrace in Kensington, London, where the average price per square foot stands at £1,721

Top restaurants include Daphne’s and Launceston Place — both favourites of the late Princess Diana — and the iconic Bibendum with two Michelin stars.

There’s no surprises when it comes to property values in this area; they’re stellar. The cheapest property in Kensington for sale on Rightmove in the middle of October was priced at £40,000 and that was just a space in a car park. 

The most expensive listing, by contrast, was a seven- bedroom semi, with an eye-watering asking price of £30 million.

Of just over 510 property sales in the past year, the average price was a slightly more modest £2,169,235, according to Zoopla, but that’s after prices took a 4 per cent knock as fewer people bought in London during the pandemic.

It’s a different story in Darlington, which has a modest average property price of £172,724, according to Zoopla. 

But things are changing; there have been more than 1,600 property sales in the past 12 months and prices have gently risen 4.5 per cent. The most expensive home on sale is a four-bedroom detached house with grounds, for £700,000.

However that’s still an exception, with many more at the other end of the scale, where there are several two-bedroom terrace houses for sale at £45,000.

If you’re moving in, bone up on railway history — the world’s first steam train service began here almost 200 years ago. 

Otherwise, look out for a twice-weekly street market, the revamped Hippodrome theatre and the odd tribute to comic Vic Reeves and businessman Duncan Bannatyne, both brought up in the town.

Darlington is brimming with well-preserved Victorian buildings while you can stroll in the beautiful South Park. If you’re after the best of local food, the two-Michelin starred Raby Hunt Restaurant is the place to go.

The town has the buzz of a place on the move — there are modernisations under way at both the railway station (2 ½ hours to London, 30 minutes to Newcastle) and the indoor market.

Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak’s Treasury initiative is already putting Darlington on the map. ‘I know of several people from London who have moved here thanks to working remotely,’ says estate agent Henry Carver of Carver Residential. 

On the market: North-South divide 

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Facebook admits high-profile users are treated differently

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Facebook’s oversight board said the social media company hadn’t been “fully forthcoming” about internal rules that allowed some high-profile users to be exempt from content restrictions and said it will make recommendations on how to change the system.

In the first of its quarterly transparency reports published Thursday, the board said that on some occasions, Facebook “failed to provide relevant information to the board,” and in other instances the information it did provide was incomplete.

For example, when Facebook referred the case involving former US president Donald Trump to the board, it didn’t mention its internal “cross-check system” that allowed for a different set of rules for high-profile users.

Facebook only mentioned cross-check, or XCheck, to the board when asked whether Trump’s page or account had been subject to ordinary content moderation processes.

The cross-check system was disclosed in recent reporting by the Wall Street Journal, based in part on documents from a whistle-blower.

The journal described how the cross-check system, originally intended to be a quality-control measure for a select few high-profile users and designed to avoid public relations backlash over famous people who mistakenly have their posts taken down, had ballooned to include millions of accounts.

The oversight board said it will undertake a review of the cross-check system and make suggestions on how to improve it.

As part of the process, Facebook has agreed to share with the board relevant documents about the cross-check system as reported in the Wall Street Journal. – Bloomberg

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Green mortgages may leave owners of older homes unable to sell

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Estate agents warn owners of older homes, rural houses and listed properties could struggle to sell under green mortgage plans

  • Boris Johnson has unveiled his plans for turning Britain green by 2050 
  • The plans include proposals on how to make the housing stock greener 
  • The plans would see lenders disclose the energy performance of properties










Homeowners living in older, rural and even listed properties risk being unable to sell if strict green finance targets are introduced, estate agents have warned.

The warning comes after Boris Johnson unveiled his plan for turning Britain green by 2050 this week, with mortgage lenders having targets for the energy performance of properties in their portfolio.

A body that represents estate agents across Britain claimed that the property market could be distorted as a result of the measures and called for Britain’s historic housing stock to be taken into account.

Boris Johnson revealed proposals on how to make the housing stock greener this week

Boris Johnson revealed proposals on how to make the housing stock greener this week

Timothy Douglas, of Propertymark, said: ‘Incentivising green improvements to properties via lending creates risks of trapping homeowners with older properties, those who live in rural areas, listed buildings or conservation areas, making their homes difficult to sell and therefore reducing the value.’

Propertymark said that those living in older properties could be left with homes that they could not sell if buyers were unable to secure finance on them due to their lower energy efficiencies.

The effect would be likely to be felt more by less wealthy owners, as deep-pocketed buyers would be more able to overlook mortgage restrictions and high-end older homes would continue to be desirable.

Mr Douglas said: ‘The use of targets could distort the market and sway lenders towards preferential, newer homes in order to improve the rating of their portfolio.

‘Stopping a large portion of housing stock from being able to enter the market could cause havoc for home buying and selling as well as the wider economy.’ 

He added that improving the energy efficiency of homes should be reliant on consumer choice and not something enforced by mortgage lenders, with all the knock-on effects this could entail.

He said: ‘We would be concerned if lenders raise rates and limit products because fundamentally, improving the energy performance of a property is reliant on consumer choice and it is not the core business of mortgage lenders.’

Mark Harris, of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, said: ‘The green agenda is not new but there is increasing impetus behind it. There are more green mortgage products aimed at those purchasing more energy-efficient properties – A-C rated, and not just from specialist lenders but the high street banks too.

‘However, there is a real danger that green initiatives could create the next round of mortgage prisoners if homeowners are trapped in older homes that can’t be improved, so they can’t move because they can’t sell them on.

‘Without changes or improvements, lenders may restrict lending to lower loan-to-values, higher pricing, or not lend at all. This could penalise those who are unable to adapt to or adopt new efficient technologies economically.’

A UK Finance spokesperson said: ‘Greening our housing stock is vital if we are to meet our climate change obligations and banks and finance providers are committed to helping achieve this goal and making sure consumers are not left behind.’

Ways to boost energy efficiency  

Propertymark recommends three measures to improve the energy efficiency of homes without negatively impacting the housing market.

1. Improvements linked to an EPC

These include linking a plan for energy efficiency improvements to the recommendations on a property’s Energy Performance Certificate.

It could demonstrate the ‘most suitable route’ to a warmer home, regulatory compliance and zero carbon, according to Propertymark.

2. Tax breaks

It also recommends using tax breaks to incentivise homeowners to finance energy efficiency improvements.

For example, these could include making energy improvements exempt from VAT or offering lower rates of council tax for homes that have been made more energy efficient.

3. Adjustable tax rates

An adjustable rate of property tax that is tied to energy performance is also being recommended by Propertymark.

This could be done in two ways, it suggested. First, by applying the adjustment as a reduction on more energy-efficient properties. And second by offering rebates to buyers if energy efficiency improvements are made to less efficient properties within a certain time period after purchase.

Propertymark said that by linking energy performance with property taxes, this could help introduce increased saleability for more energy-efficient properties. In addition, it suggested that improvements would become standard for homeowners seeking costs and improve the desirability of their homes.

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