The package of housing reforms announced last night will probably prove to be narrowly effective, but the Government’s fundamental problems on housing remain. Will the new reforms help, or do they risk a backlash, division in Government, and ushering in a range of new political risks for the coalition?
Just what have they decided, and what does it all mean?
So, bulk buying is off the cards now, right? Yes and no. A certain type of bulk buying, in a certain area, is (or will be shortly). But in other areas, and among certain housing types, it’s still allowed.
First of all, what’s banned now? Almost immediately, two changes will come into effect. Tonight, the Dáil will vote to impose a higher stamp duty of ten per cent on purchases of ten or more houses or duplexes. Apartments are exempt (more on that later).
These stamp reforms are the only taxation element brought to the table by Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe.
Today, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien will send a circular to local authorities mandating that houses and duplexes in new developments must be made available for sale by individual, non-commercial buyers. Again, there are exemptions for social and affordable reasons, and the condition will lapse for any units not sold in two years. It’s understood Ministers were told yesterday that O’Brien is considering, on the advice of the Attorney General, whether additional legislation is needed to “bolster” this guidance – that could be one to watch.
That’s it for now? There’s a second stage to the planning reforms. The Government will introduce amendments to the Affordable Housing Bill, currently working its way through the Oireachtas, over the summer which will mandate local authorities to make a certain percentage of new builds available for purchase by “owner-occupiers”. Originally intended this would apply to first time buyers only, and it’s not clear why this change was introduced at the last minute.
It was originally intended that this would only apply to houses and duplexes, but after Green Ministers raised concerns at cabinet about the exclusion of apartments from the measures, O’Brien has committed to examining whether this could be extended to include apartments.
Will the Government housing plan help you?
So, will it work? It depends what you mean by “work”. From the Government’s point of view, these policies were designed to tackle a very specific problem – the purchase of houses which had been designed for and marketed to owner-occupiers by investment funds. Gazumping, effectively, of punters by funds. And they’ll probably curtail that, but not for a while, as the rules only apply to new planning permissions.
However, that’s only half the story.
What’s the other half? The current debate over funds isn’t really about one transaction, or one particular type of deal. It has reignited and animated the entire political debate about housing, which had lain dormant (to a degree) during the height of the Covid crisis.
The political risk associated with failures in housing policy has crystallised rapidly. The themes of insiders and outsiders, winners and losers, which dominated the last election cycle have returned, and been given a new lease of life, in the form of “funds versus people”. What’s clear from a close reading of the Government decision is that funds are going nowhere. While Government actions might target some aspects of how they work, they’re centrally involved in housing policy – especially for apartments and the private rental sector, a rapidly growing market segment.
Why is that? Apartments are particularly attractive to investment funds, and Ministers were told yesterday that their construction is especially reliant on financing from these funds. “In order for apartment complexes to be built it is necessary in virtually all cases for an institutional investor to commit through a binding contract to purchase all or part of an apartment complex on completion,” a memo for cabinet reads. Ministers were told institutional investors will only fund this development if they can easily sell apartments on, which could be hurt by an extra stamp charge.
Builders say apartment construction is basically non-viable without funds involved.
Ministers were also told that there is a ministerial policy objective to “ensure that own-door housing in lower density housing estates are not bulk-purchased for rental purposes by commercial institutional investors in a manner that causes the displacement of individual household purchasers”.
So these two dynamics – wanting to preserve funding for apartment blocks, and encourage home ownership in less dense areas, were core to Government thinking.
What are the politics of all this? The reforms tackle a specific problem, but critics argue they do nothing to address more endemic problems around affordability, and risk damaging urban sustainability by incentivising renting in city centres and home ownership on the edge of town. They also preserve the role for investment funds in the wider market.
As we’ve seen, that’s basically a government goal, but it means there will be a steady supply of examples where funds purchase homes, which will ram home for some people the idea that the Government is prioritising financial interests over homes for people. There is a huge market for rental investment, as shown by a story in our property pages today about a bidding war for a €1 billion, 2,000 unit private rented sector “platform”.
These reforms, while they may be narrowly successful when viewed on their own terms, leave the Government open to the charge of a missed opportunity. The visible relief of big property companies, expressed in rising stock market prices this morning, won’t help this impression.
The Government will call foul, and argue (with some justification) that things aren’t that simple, pointing to their affordable housing and land development agency bills as evidence they want to solve more systemic problems. But the political risk is in the here and now.
Within the coalition, the apartment exemptions are causing particular problems among the Greens. Sources in the party say that there was an agreed position among some members of the parliamentary party, that densities or housing types – such as apartments – could not be excluded from the reforms. It seems these concerns were raised by ministers, but for whatever reason, the Greens lost the argument around the cabinet table. However, as comments from MEP Ciarán Cuffe this morning show, there is a sizable rump of dissatisfaction within the party over how things have played out. Mr Cuffe said he is “disappointed” with the reforms, and that he understands “several of my parliamentary colleagues in the Oireachtas are of a similar view”.
It’s not confined to the Greens, either. James Geoghegan, the Fine Gael candidate in Dublin Bay South, put down a motion supported by party colleagues last week arguing the concentration of build-to-let is “distorting competition, inflating rents and locking a generation away from home ownership”. He said on Wednesday he supports the Government policy, but that he would like to see a “rebalancing” to include apartments to some extent in rules curtailing bulk purchase. He said the market needs to be “rebalanced… either through planning or legislation, because the only way a citizen can be protected against that amount of finance is to legislate for it”.
A breathtaking and, it has to be said, physically punishing game, which ebbed and flowed from first to last, ended with Leinster getting more than they needed and Munster coming up short of their targets. Well, to a point.
Munster went into the last game requiring at least two match points for a home quarter-final and a bonus point for the additional carrot of a potential home semi-final.
In the end, they came up with zero, which was perhaps preferable in that it earned them an away quarter-final against Ulster rather than against the Bulls. Even so, the winners of that Irish derby in a fortnight will be away in the semi-finals against the Stormers or Edinburgh.
In the other half of the draw Leinster will host Glasgow in the quarter-finals, and the winners of that tie will have home advantage in the semi-finals.
The mix of requirements made for a thrilling game. Leinster were ultimately the more accurate and pacier side, epitomised by the jet-heeled Jordan Larmour, who made everyone else look like they were being towed and his counterattacking and running led to two of Leinster’s four tries. It was a timely reminder of his abilities, and might well earn him a place on the bench in the Champions Cup final against La Rochelle, who themselves welcomed back Will Skelton off the bench against Stade Francais on Saturday.
Munster’s game didn’t lack for ambition at all, and their similar mix featured classy performances by Thomas Ahern, Alex Kendellen, Jack O’Donoghue and Conor Murray. But they weren’t as accurate or quite as pacey.
This hungry Leinster mix of young and experienced were not in a remotely charitable mood, and shot out of the traps. Harry Byrne’s perfect kick-off was reclaimed by the recalled Ryan Baird and inside 80 seconds Leinster had scored without Munster touching the ball.
Generating trademark quick ball, with Baird making one big carry and Scott Penny a couple, before Ciarán Frawley used an advantage to crosskick perfectly for Penny to gather and use his footwork to step Joey Carbery and finish in the corner.
Harry Byrne didn’t land the difficult conversion, but added a penalty before offloads by Kendellen and Ahern and a couple of nicely weighted grubbers to the edges by Murray and Carbery earned an attacking lineout. The first scrap followed too. Yep, derby on.
Attacking wide and through phases, Munster used an advantage when Carbery pulled the ball back as Keith Earls worked across from his wing and flung a peach of a left-hander for O’Donoghue to take Cormac Foley’s tackle and finish well in the corner.
Next, after Frawley’s spillage, the recalled Andrew Conway chased Murray’s perfectly weighted kick to prevent Larmour gathering, Niall Scannell’s gallop earning another attacking lineout.
Again Munster engineered another free play, and after a strong carry by Kendellen from Murray’s pass behind his back, Mike Haley was sharply on hand to pick up and dive over under the posts.
The force was with Munster, all the more so after Conway cleanly reclaimed another box kick by Murray. But when Kendellen kicked through Larmour beat the flanker’s follow-up tackle and left a trail of four more forwards in his wake before being tackled by Murray. From the recycle, Jamie Osborne stepped and Frawley took a superb line on to his short pass for a clean break and had Foley in support. The 22-year-old showed the quickness from his formative years as a centre with St Gerard’s to complete his first Leinster try on his home debut, and some try too.
The game’s first scrums provided an almost welcome breather. Frawley, after his two sumptuous try assists, had to depart for one of several failed HIAs in the game, and didn’t return.
The lively Earls then countered with Haley, Carbery and Kendellen before Rob Russell’s deliberate knock-on prevented the ball reaching three unmarked players and earning him a yellow card. But Baird spoiled the Munster lineout to protect his side’s 15-12 lead until the interval.
But on the resumption Munster struck. Haley chased his own kick, preventing Osborne from gathering cleanly and Murray was sharply on to the loose ball to skip away from Foley’s tackle and score.
Harry Byrne brought it back to a one-point game after Foley’s high tackle on Josh Murphy, and although Munster were clearly now mindful of the chance for a fourth try when going to the corner, before accepting a tap over penalty to push them four points ahead.
Typical of this match, back came Leinster. First Foley executed a 50:22 and despite just changing their frontrow the maul was gathering speed when it collapsed and Frank Murphy adjudged it a penalty try and sinbinned Niall Scannell.
After Max Deegan’s covering tackle on the ever dangerous Chris Farrell into touch, a lovely launch play and a flatish pass by Foley for Joe McCarthy’s carry over the gainline, was the prelude to Leinster reloading right and another slaloming run by Larmour. An offload by McCarty and fine pass by Deegan created the space for Rory O’Loughlin to use a two-on-two and a mismatch with the covering Kenyan Knox to score.
Suddenly it was 32-22 to Leinster.
A spellbinding spell of offloading featuring Murray, Ahern, O’Donoghue and Kendellen ended with Earls finishing off O’Donoghue’s offload, but Murphy adjudged it forward. Instead, Munster had to opt for another Carbery penalty to complete the first task of getting to within one score before chasing a fourth try.
They became over exuberant and conceded penalties, and although Adam Byrne was brilliantly denied by Carbery and Haley, Harry Byrne’s penalty put them 10 ahead, and more relevantly left Munster without anything from the game and looking at a quarter-final away to Ulster.
They had eight minutes or so to do it. They conjured one punishing phased attack, Carbery’s one-handed pick-up and Murray deliberately knocking on with a penalty advantage and then quickly were two of the highlights, but when Carbery prematurely went wide with a looped pass to Jack Daly he was tackled into touch by Osborne.
LEINSTER: Jordan Larmour; Rob Russell, Jamie Osborne, Ciarán Frawley, Rory O’Loughlin; Harry Byrne, Cormac Foley; Ed Byrne (capt), Seán Cronin, Thomas Clarkson; Joe McCarthy, Josh Murphy; Ryan Baird, Scott Penny, Max Deegan.
Replacements: Adam Byrne for Frawley (27 mins), John McKee for Cronin, Peter Dooley for Byrne, Cian Healy for Clarkson (all 49), Devin Toner for J Murphy (55), Ben Murphy for Foley (58), Alex Soroka for McCarthy (66), David Hawkshaw for H Byrne (76).
Sinbinned: Russell (37-47 mins).
MUNSTER: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Dan Goggin, Keith Earls; Joey Carbery, Conor Murray; Josh Wycherley, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Jean Kleyn, Thomas Ahern; Fineen Wycherley, Alex Kendellen, Jack O’Donoghue (capt).
Replacements: Jason Jenkins for Kleyn (49 mins), Keynan Knox for Ryan (54), Jeremy Loughman for J Wycherley, Rory Scannell for Goggin (both 55), Diarmuid Barron for Kendellen (58-61), for Scannell (61), Jack Daly for Ahern, Ben Healy for Carbery (both 64), N Scannell for Kendellen (65), Ahern for Daly, Patrick Patterson for Murray (both 76).
Sinbinned: N Scannell (51-61 mins).
Referee: Frank Murphy (IRFU).
URC quarter-finals (Fri, Jun 3rd & Sat, Jun 4th) 1 Leinster v Glasgow Warriors 2 DHL Stormers v Edinburgh 3 Ulster v Munster 4 Vodacom Bulls v Cell C Sharks
Semi-finals (Fri, June 10th and Sat Jun 11th) Leinster or Glasgow v Bulls or Sharks Stormers or Edinburgh v Ulster or Munster.
Shield winners 2021/22: Irish Shield: Leinster South African Shield: DHL Stormers Welsh Shield: Ospreys Scottish & Italian Shield: Edinburgh
Aparto has unveiled its first student residence in Spain to open in September 2022. Aparto Barcelona Pallars, owned by Commerz Real, is located in the 22@, the city’s innovation district, and accommodates 743 beds covering 26,000m². The cutting-edge facilities at aparto Barcelona Pallars include an external circa 45-metre length infinity pool, a 900 square metre rooftop terrace, 2,500m² of gardens including the Butterfly Garden (named because of the type of plants that attract butterflies), the Smell Garden (due to the mixture of aromatic plants), 1,400m² of amenity space including a gym with a weight, cardio, and yoga studios, two cinema rooms, leisure areas, and a bar offering both food and drink services.
In addition, a central feature of aparto’s offering is its first-class experience with a focus on the arts including an initiative in which street artists will design some of the paintings on the building, and a mental health programme available to all students all year around, strengthened by aparto employees receiving mental health training to identify anyone who may need help.
aparto Barcelona Pallars has been designed by the Catalonian architecture studio Battle i Roig, a pioneer in landscape architecture, interweaving structures with natural spaces like gardens. Upon construction completion, the building will receive the LEED Gold and WELL Platinum Certifications for sustainability.
aparto offers students a unique safe study experience and flexible model offering medium and long-term stays, from a few months to a full year, with all-inclusive rates including cleaning, Wi-Fi connection, linen services, and some additional features related to sports and wellness sessions, cocktail and cooking classes, and a series of entertainment evenings including movie nights, sports matches and tournaments. Aparto’s focus is to create places where students feel at home living within a strong community.
Tom Rix, director of operations at aparto, UK, commented: “With Aparto Barcelona Pallars, Hines is introducing first-class student housing in Spain. Pallars mirrors what today’s students want in terms of facilities, amenities, community engagement, and wellbeing programmes. We have already successfully demonstrated that this innovative model is in high demand in Italy, Ireland, and the UK and we anticipate the same success here in Spain and can’t wait to welcome students to Barcelona.”
Crossrail may be billions of pounds over budget and three-and-a-half years late but it’s finally ready to roll.
This extraordinary feat of engineering is due to be put into service on Tuesday, when it will adopt its correct title of the Elizabeth Line.
The Queen made a surprise visit to Paddington station this week and officially opened the line.
On the line: The Thames flows through Maidenhead, which will now enjoy a direct link to Central London thanks to its new Crossrail station
Linking Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east with Heathrow and Reading to the west of the capital, it will bind together existing commuter railways, accelerating cross-city travel and relieving overcrowding on the London Underground — particularly the often hellish Central Line.
Commuters’ journey times will be slashed; Reading to London Liverpool Street, for example, will take under an hour.
When fully operational it will increase London’s rail capacity by 10 per cent, making it the largest single expansion of the city’s transport network in more than 70 years.
There are still a few glitches to be ironed out. Initially passengers travelling from Reading in the west to Abbey Wood and beyond will have to change at Paddington or Liverpool Street mainline stations.
Also Bond Street is three months behind schedule. Trains will not call there until later in the year. Yet these delays pale into insignificance when you consider how the Elizabeth Line will transform rail travel in the capital.
Cross town: The Elizabeth line will run east to west across London, starting in Berkshire and ending in Essex
The new station at Paddington, for example, is the size of three Wembley football pitches, with natural light as far as the platform entry from a nearly 400ft-long glass canopy.
More than £1 billion has been spent on upgrading 31 existing stations and tracks. Spacious tunnels will lead to airy 600 ft platforms, with glass screens at the edge of the tracks, making it impossible to fall under a train.
Step-free access from street to train will make the service accessible to wheelchairs.
The nine-car, air-conditioned trains will have colourful bench seats and open interiors with full-width walk-through connections between cars. It will be a world away from today’s cramped, cluttered carriages.
Few engineering projects change the way we live but The Elizabeth Line promises to do just that. People are already flocking to the new stations.
Research from Savills last year found that, over the past five years, homes within 0.6 mile of about half of the stations on the line have increased in price by 25 per cent or more.
It follows that when the sleek and airy new trains come into service, delivering people to their workplaces in double quick time, we can expect a migration to the west of London.
Here are the hotspots:
Outlay: More than £1bn has been spent on upgrading 31 existing stations and tracks
Not so long ago Reading was best known for its brewery and its biscuit factory — not any more.
International companies, including Amazon UK, Virgin Media and KPMG have moved there and with reasonably priced homes, compared to London, the town is already popular with commuters.
‘I recently dealt with a young woman who sold her 750 sq ft flat in London for £600,000 and bought a 1,750 ft duplex in Reading for £650,000,’ says James Hathaway, of Winkworth estate agents.
The town has lots of green space, riverside walks, the Grade II-listed Thames Lido and great shopping, notably in Broad Street and the Oracle centre. The average price of a home sold in Reading was £384,000 last year.
Compare that to the £512,000 average price in, say, East London and you will see why an exodus from the capital is forecast when the Elizabeth Line makes commuting a doddle.
Maidenhead marches on
This Berkshire town is keen to attract the City bankers who had previously been put off living there by having to trek across the capital’s underground system to get to work.
‘The Elizabeth Line changes all that and buyer enquiries have already started booming,’ says Dawn Carritt at Jackson-Stops estate agents.
‘The prospect of living near the river in Maidenhead or in nearby villages such as Sonning and Bray is appealing.’
Maidenhead (with Theresa May as its MP) is on the cusp of a revival. Its 1960s shopping centre is to be transformed into The Nicholson Quarter, a swish mixed-use centre.
The area by the river is being developed and trendy cocktail bars and restaurants such as Coppa Club are thriving — a sure sign of a town on the up.
Ricky Gervais did Slough no favours when he set The Office there. Yet the town has a lot going for it. It is well located for travel, nestling between the M4 and the M40 and within easy reach of the M25 and Heathrow airport.
First-time buyer portal Share to Buy claims that Slough has been one of the UK’s top ten property hotspots over the past decade with a 73 per cent increase in house prices.
The Berkeley Group is redeveloping the former Horlicks factory and site to create 1,300 homes.
A small flat sells for £150,000 and a three-bed terrace house for £350,000. The centre is being improved and with the coming of the Elizabeth Line, things can only get better.