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Willie Mullins admits Cheltenham expectations leave ‘a certain dread in your stomach’

There’s only 20 days to the start of the Cheltenham festival so first things first – Willie Mullins thinks Allaho is his best bet for jump racing’s biggest week of the year.

Since Allaho is a 4-5 favourite to repeat last year’s success in the Ryanair Chase its cautious advice unlikely to make any punter rich.

However, since Mullins is the most successful figure in festival history with 78 winners – and is himself odds-on to be top trainer for a ninth time – he knows his every word gets pounced on at this time of year.

When quizzed by media at his Co Carlow base on Wednesday morning he had barely mentioned favouring the Turners Chase rather than the Brown Advisory for Galopin Des Champs than the star novice’s price collapsed in the shorter race.

It sets up the prospect of a mouth-watering cIash with another Irish star in Bob Olinger, although 27 years of Cheltenham success has taught Mullins the value of wriggle room.

That means definitive festival plans are unlikely to be finalised until the first 48-hour declaration stage the Sunday before.

That will be when the brains trust of Mullins, his son Patrick, champion jockey Paul Townend, assistant trainer David Casey, and someone called Ruby Walsh, sit down and divvy up a colossal 60-horse squad.

“Mental,” is how the perennial champion trainer describes how that decisive date used to be in the office. It’s a quicker process now but still him with the ultimate call.

“It’s probably a gut feeling. Sometimes you don’t make the right decision but you go with your gut feeling or whoever puts up the biggest argument.

“Sometimes [though] I’ll have my mind made up, I listen to the others, and we go my way!” he says.

Allaho on the gallops during the media visit to Willie Mullins’s yard at Closutton, Bagenalstown on Wednesday. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Allaho on the gallops during the media visit to Willie Mullins’s yard at Closutton, Bagenalstown on Wednesday. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

It means the racing world must hang on longer for where other exciting novice talents such as Sir Gerhard and Dysart Dynamo end up.

There are other dilemmas, too, such as whether the former dual-Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo will emerge in time from an apparent mood slump to try and regain the ‘Blue Riband’ crown, or if Chacun Pour Soi is too much of a home bird to carry his outstanding domestic form across the Irish Sea.

So perhaps it’s little wonder that while everyone else is counting down the days the central figure is more ambivalent.

“[I] probably dread it because of the expectation from everyone that we’re going to have half a dozen winners,” he admitted.

It seems not even 78 winners – including eight in a single week in 2015 – can insulate someone against a fear of it all going wrong.

“Some year it will happen – we’ll have a blowout. And that’s always on the back of your mind,” Mullins said.

“Everyone’s expectation is going to be your failure if you don’t come up with it. That leaves a certain dread in your stomach. A week or two before the festival can be tough in that respect.

“But I’m lucky enough with the owners and the horses I have to be in that position. You just have to take what comes with it; people always stopping you and people always ringing you, that’s the price you pay.

“And thankfully people are because there’s lots of guys no one wants to ring. I know I’m very lucky so that’s the way I feel going into it. On one hand you’re dreading it – on the other I’m lucky,” he added.

Cheltenham’s central role in the sport means it’s not just the racing world focusing on the four days in the Cotswolds.

Willie Mullins watches his horses parade during a media visit to his yard at Closutton, Bagenalstown. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Willie Mullins watches his horses parade during a media visit to his yard at Closutton, Bagenalstown. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

After the reputational disaster of 2020, and last year’s eerie behind closed doors action, the prospect of an ‘old normal’ festival with heaving crowds felt as bright as Wednesday morning’s sunshine following a week of torrential rain and wind.

“It comes from over there, from Jim Bolger country,” Mullins joked, pointing to nearby hills where his outspoken former mentor is based. “Comes down here and lands on us – like a lot of stuff from there!”

Squabbles might be as common as rain in Irish racing but what’s novel is the scale of the raider’s dominance at Cheltenham.

A record 23 of the 28 festival races last year were won by Irish-based horses, leaving a mortified home team to indulge in introspective examination of their failure.

It didn’t feel like only modesty that led the most successful figure of all to disagree with Gold Cup-winning trainer Henrietta Knight’s recent comments about part of the Irish success being due to better trainers here.

“Our racing structure, with better prizemoney, is attracting better and bigger owners, who in turn can buy horses and we have the investment in Irish racing to buy the types of horses that are needed.

“I don’t think it’s about the trainers. I think it’s the stock we have.

“I remember my father was champion trainer and if he had two Grade One horses in his yard at the one time that was a good number. Because any time a horse popped its head up at that time it was bought and on the ferry.

“So the money and investment went into English racing. Now it’s the other way around. That’s the big thing,” Mullins said.

He was also keen to point out how not everyone gets right all of the time.

“I’ve turned down some good horses too. I turned down Denman because he was hobdayed [operation to improve a horse’s breathing].

“I rang Tom Mahoney [scout] the following year when he won his novice half the track and I said ‘why didn’t you ring me?’ and he says ‘I did, and I told you he was hobdayed, and you told me to f**k off!” Mullins laughed.

Appreciate It leads the parade during the visit to Willie Mullins’s yard. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Appreciate It leads the parade during the visit to Willie Mullins’s yard. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Mullins on his key Cheltenham hopes

Al Boum Photo (Gold Cup)
“I’d rather I had him in better order to be honest. I brought him away to work and I wasn’t happy with him.

“He’s fit and we should have plenty of time. I think he’s in better order this morning than he was the last few days.

“Maybe it just wasn’t his day when I brought him away. He usually comes right for Cheltenham.

“I wish he was in better form but we still have time. It’s just a matter of hoping he comes into form.”

Appreciate It (Champion Hurdle)
“I had him away for a gallop last week and I was very, very happy with him.

“I’d say we have a good record with horses running first time out at Cheltenham. I don’t know we’ve done it in a Champion Hurdle but we did it with Quevega and Joe Cullen won first time up.

“It’s not something I’m worried about. I made the decision ages ago and the closer we’ve got the happier I am that we didn’t have a run.”

Galopin Des Champs (Turners or Brown Advisory)
“Galopin did it very well at Leopardstown and I can’t see him going up to three miles. It’s not a decision yet but at the moment I’d be favouring going for the shorter race.

“I think he has the ability to do that. He jumps well, he’s sharp and I don’t think he needs to go three miles.

“Bob Olinger is obviously a worry but I’d be thinking our man would be better off in the shorter race.”

Sir Gerhard (Supreme or Ballymore)
“I’ve no doubt that whatever race he runs in, getting a lead, he’ll be fine. He has plenty of speed and jumps well. I’m looking forward to getting him over there and he could go in either race.

“You could toss a coin to decide which race he goes to. That’s the sort of ability I think he has.”

Facile Vega (Bumper)
“I got him ready last year to run and he did a bit of work here one day that said to me ‘wow’ this fella could be special. He got jarred so I left him alone. What he did from the furlong marker the last day [Dublin Racing Festival] was exceptional.”

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Can’t afford a house? Move to Germany! Grand Design’s star Kevin McCloud urges first time buyers to relocate to the country because of its ‘healthy and resilient’ property market

Grand Designs star Kevin McCloud has told first time buyers if they can’t afford to buy a house ‘move to Germany‘. 

The TV presenter advised young people looking to get on the property ladder to abandon their hopes of buying a house in the UK and instead ‘move to another country where the housing market is healthy’.  

He told the news website JOE that almost every other North European country and Canada have got ‘really healthy markets, lots of diverse opportunities, lots of diverse offers and it isn’t hugely expensive’.

The 64-year-old said: ‘My advice is move to Germany, maybe that’s the way forward.’

McCloud also took aim at ‘immoral’ housing developers, who he claims now make on average £68,000 profit per house or per flat, compared to 2009, when the figure was ten times less. 

Grand Designs star Kevin McCloud who has told first time buyers if they can't afford to buy a house 'move to Germany'

Grand Designs star Kevin McCloud who has told first time buyers if they can’t afford to buy a house ‘move to Germany’

The TV presenter (pictured) advised young people looking to 'move to another country where the housing market is healthy'

The TV presenter (pictured) advised young people looking to ‘move to another country where the housing market is healthy’

First-time buyers purchased 33% of homes sold in the UK so far this year, marking an all-time high

First-time buyers purchased 33% of homes sold in the UK so far this year, marking an all-time high

He claimed the average profit ‘big housing developers’ now make every time they sell a house or flat was ‘about £68,000’, ten times what it was in 2009.

McCloud added: ‘They’ve shifted their focus from volume and meeting government targets to the profit they deliver to their shareholders.

‘Persimmon, the year before last made £1.1 billion of profit for their shareholders, 25 per cent of their turnover.

‘I’ve only got one word for it and I think it’s immoral.’

Speaking about the state of the UK housing market, McCloud said: ‘I look at the UK market and I see nothing good here. 

‘I look at what’s happening in Germany, Holland, Netherlands, Denmark, Scandinavia, I look at other, almost every other North European country and Canada – they’ve got really healthy markets, lots of diverse opportunities, lots of diverse offers and it isn’t hugely expensive.’

An extensive report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) concluded that Britain’s development sector is ‘warped by decades of housing market volatility, the departure of local authorities from the housebuilding sphere, and cuts to capital grant that collectively could have insulated the development market from significant shocks’. 

The report claims that ‘the UK has both a pro-cyclical housing and development marke’.

It added: ‘By contrast, Germany is in a stronger position: its mortgage market has been more tightly regulated and consequently its market (and economy) is less vulnerable to economic downturns; and housing construction is undertaken by a far greater number of actors, including large housebuilders but also, crucially, many smaller, regionally based actors and a significant not-for-profit sector (both within and outside public ownership).

‘The two countries utilise the powers of government in quite different ways. In Germany, although private enterprise is crucial in housing finance, housing development and management of stock, the state, locally and nationally, plays a far more ‘interventionist’ role – in regulation (for instance, of rents and of the mortgage market), in land assembly, and in housing development itself (albeit often through locally owned companies).

‘However, in the UK, although the parameters of policy are set by government, the trend is towards stepping back the role of the state in housing provision, and then becoming active when markets cannot achieve satisfactory outcomes (for instance by providing mortgage guarantees, or through the provision of housing benefit to households unable to afford their rent).’

The latest Nationwide house price index showed house prices fell slightly in March, with a 0.2 per cent decline in the average property value.

The monthly decline was down to seasonal adjustment – which aims to smooth out months that are typically more and less active – whereas the non-adjusted average house price actually rose slightly from £260,420 in February to £261,14 in March.

It means the typical home, according to Nationwide’s data, has edged up 1.6 per cent annually, with headline figures dragged back by southern England’s stuttering property market.

On the same day, Halifax also reported property prices fell in March, reflecting the first monthly fall since September 2023.

The major mortgage lender revealed the average home price fell 1 per cent last month, following five consecutive months of rises.

Despite reports’ focus on headline house price figures, the UK housing market doesn’t just move as one. 

A graph showing the average percentage growth in in house prices across the UK

A graph showing the average percentage growth in in house prices across the UK

This map of annual house price changes across the UK shows the North-South divide. House prices are rising in the north and falling in the south

This map of annual house price changes across the UK shows the North-South divide. House prices are rising in the north and falling in the south

It is made up of thousands of local markets that will all be performing differently from one another.

These differences can even be seen at a regional level where there is evidence of a North-South divide opening up. Prices are generally rising in the North and falling in the South.

The average house price during the first three months of 2024 in Northern Ireland, for example, is up 4.6 per cent year-on-year, according to Nationwide.

Prices in Scotland are 3.7 per cent higher over the past three months than they were during the same period in 2023.

And in the North of England the average home is up 4 per cent in the first three months of this year compared to the same period last year.

Prices in the South West are down 1.7 per cent compared to this time last year and prices in East Anglia are 1.3 per cent lower. 

Housing experts have claimed that ‘predatory’ investment funds are taking advantage of the British housing market, keeping families paying rent for longer.

There was £1.3billion of private investment in British new builds last year and almost two fifths came from American funds. 

Housing expert David Hall told MailOnline: ‘It’s no surprise at all that it’s a business model for a lot of the funds and pension funds and gives them some semblance of certainty and assurance.

‘It is going to price people out of the market. These are investment forums that are essentially vultures. They’re not social housing buddies. They’re not charities. They’re predators.

‘They’re doing nothing wrong. They’re allowed to do it. The market is wide open for predators to come in, wide open for the market to be manipulated.

Housing charity Acorn’s chief Nick Ballard told MailOnline: ‘Britain’s housing crisis should be a source of national shame.

‘Rising homelessness, 1.3 million families on council housing waiting lists and millions condemned to living in poor quality, insecure and expensive private rented accommodation are problems having a very real negative impact on people’s lives, health and on society as a whole.

‘House prices are out of reach for many and have been for years. Rising rents and the cost of living crisis mean people are finding it harder and harder to save to put down a deposit. 

‘Policies of successive Governments have led to 1.5 million council houses sold or demolished and not replaced, so these are no longer a viable option for most.

‘House building alone, particularly build-to-rent properties which will siphon money to US investment companies, will not solve the housing crisis.

‘The Government must embark on a serious building programme for social homes, to address the shortage of housing, to bring down rental prices and to provide safe, secure and stable homes that can become the foundation of happy and healthy lives.’

How does housebuilding in Germany compare with the UK? 

GERMANY  BRITAIN 
Small builders play more of a role, with a more regionalised market of housebuilders where smaller sites enjoy more attention. Reliance on small number of large housebuilders operating nationally and focused on large sites which are typically slower to develop.
Diversity in investment with the for-sale market existing alongside a stronger for-rent market and cooperative-owned and private company-owned housing.  Housebuilding dominated by the for-sale market. 
Plan-led, requiring planning permissions and work within national and regional targets. Plan-led, requiring planning permissions and work within national and regional targets. 
No hard and fast rules on urban growth containment.  Urban growth containment through greenbelt restrictions. 
Use of brownfield land encouraged through enabling policies, for example simplified planning processes.  Use of brownfield land encouraged through restriction policies on alternative land – that is, greenbelt. Some exceptions in housing zones. 
Urban development contracts designed to build infrastructure and affordable housing into development proposals.  Section 106 designed to build infrastructure and affordable housing into development proposals. 
Source: Institute for Public Policy Research

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Four farm silos listed for £200k and they can be converted to a fabulous family home

A unique opportunity to convert four silos into a luxury family home is available after planning permission was granted on a piece of land in West Norfolk.

Silos are used in farming to store grain or fermented feed for animals, but these structures are set to get a new lease of life as the local authority has given the green light for them to be converted into a three-bedroom home. 

The land is currently for sale with a price tag of £200,000, and the conversion will take considerably more funds to complete.

A unique opportunity to convert four silos into a luxury family home is available at this Norfolk plot of land for sale

Each of the silos houses is either one of the three bedrooms or bathroom facilities.

The plans also include an extension to the living space, which provides an additional room for the property’s new occupants.

The property will include an open-plan living space, comprising dining and kitchen areas.

And natural light has carefully been considered in the plans, with strategically placed windows and skylights.

The property sits in one acre of land that is at the front of the property and is surrounded by open countryside.

Chartered town planner Martin Gaine said it could be a big benefit to the future owner that the arduous work of obtaining planning permission on this property had already been done.

The silos are on the market for £200,000 and are being sold with planning permission to convert them into a three-bedroom family home

The silos are on the market for £200,000 and are being sold with planning permission to convert them into a three-bedroom family home

The applicants refined their proposal over three applications to finally get the plans approved

The applicants refined their proposal over three applications to finally get the plans approved

He explained: ‘Planning permission for this new house did not come easy – like many applications for new homes in the countryside, it took time, patience and perseverance, and a bit of good luck.’

The Government’s national planning policy is for new homes not to be built in the countryside. It states that they are better placed in existing towns where they are close to services and do not concrete over green fields.

Mr Gaine highlighted that the planners were against the proposal for this reason, and that two applications on this site were refused permission before the local planning committee of elected councillors decided on the third attempt that permission should be granted.

The silo conversion is on the outskirts of Walsoken, Norfolk, and sits in the county of Cambridgeshire on the Norfolk border in Fenland

The silo conversion is on the outskirts of Walsoken, Norfolk, and sits in the county of Cambridgeshire on the Norfolk border in Fenland

The property sits in one acre of land that is at the front of the property and is surrounded by open countryside

The property sits in one acre of land that is at the front of the property and is surrounded by open countryside

‘The planners tend to focus on the black and white wording of their policies – does the proposal comply or not?’ he said.

‘The committee members were more philosophical, praising the innovative design of the converted silos and the fact that the proposal would preserve part of the area’s agricultural history.’

Mr Gaine concluded: ‘We can be quick to criticise the planning system, but here it did its job well.

Planning expert Martin Gaine praised the planning decision for the silos

Planning expert Martin Gaine praised the planning decision for the silos

‘The applicants refined their proposal over three applications and wise heads on the planning committee looked past their policies to grant permission on the basis that it was a high-quality proposal that deserved to get the go ahead.’

The sale of the land is being handled by Hockeys estate agents, which explained in its marketing literature: ‘This conversion offers the rare opportunity to own a residence that transcends the ordinary.

‘Every detail reflects a commitment to quality craftmanship and visionary design. With its distinctive character and idyllic setting, this property presents a lifestyle opportunity unlike any other.’

The silo conversion is on the outskirts of Walsoken, Norfolk, and sits in the county of Cambridgeshire on the Norfolk border in Fenland.

It is 13.6 miles from the Norfolk town of Kings Lynn, 22.6 miles from the Cambridgeshire city of Peterborough and 26.5 miles from the Norfolk coast.

Walsoken boasts a number of amenities, including a mini supermarket, post offices, a butcher and hairdressers.

And there are schools within walking distance, with the property within the catchment area for Marshland High School – which is less than a mile away.

Watlington and Downham Market stations are both less than 10 miles away.

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Tenants prioritise ease of commute, pushing up rents in Birmingham, Chester, Cobham and Weybridge

Tenants are prioritising the ease of commuting once again as they look for a new home, according to new data from Savills.

The estate agent said this was reflected in its latest data revealing popular commuter areas with the strongest rental growth.

These areas with the best growth in the first three months of this year include Chester, Birmingham, Cobham and Weybridge, which saw values rise 3.9 per cent, 3 per cent and 2 per cent respectively.

Areas with biggest rent rises include Weybridge, where values have increased 2 per cent in the past three months

Areas with biggest rent rises include Weybridge, where values have increased 2 per cent in the past three months

It is in sharp contrast to the start of the pandemic four years ago when lockdowns prompted a ‘race for space’ in the property market as people flocked to the countryside and coastal areas.

As people return to the office, Savills said tenants are prioritizing the ease of their commute when choosing a new place to live.

The appeal of commuter belt spots such as Cobham and Weybridge is the ability to enjoy surrounding countryside combined with the amenities of a vibrant town and good transport links.

The train station in Weybridge provides train services into central London that are less than half an hour. 

Areas with biggest rent rises include the city of Chester, where values have increased 3.9 per cent in the past three months

Areas with biggest rent rises include the city of Chester, where values have increased 3.9 per cent in the past three months

Savills said urban areas generally continue to outperform their surrounding areas, with regional towns and cities growing by 8.2 per cent on the year compared to 2.3 per cent growth in surrounding areas.

Built-up areas in London’s commuter belt are also outperforming at 3.9 per cent compared to 1.5 per cent for more rural commuter belt locations.

Harriet Scanlan, of Richmond estate agency Antony Roberts, said: ‘Despite a slight increase in properties available to rent in areas popular with commuters such as our part of London, this hasn’t translated into cheaper rents. 

‘Tenants are presented with a wider array of choices, leading to an increase in viewings per property, yet landlords continue to benefit from steady rental incomes and minimal-to-no void periods.

‘However, it’s important to note while the modest increase in available properties to rent is encouraging, it’s not yet sufficient to tip the scales in favour of renters. Supply continues to lag behind demand, ensuring that rental prices remain robust.’

Growth in rental values in different regions and commuter areas
Q1 2024 Suburban Inner Commuter Outer Commuter Regional towns & cities Cotswolds & South West All Regional Offices
Quarterly growth 0.90% 0.70% 0.80% 0.90% 0.50% 0.90%
Quarterly growth, Q4 2023 -0.30% 0.30% 0.60% -0.60% -0.80% -0.20%
Annual growth 4.20% 2.20% 3.60% 7.40% 3.30% 4.00%
Growth since Mar-20 21.10% 24.30% 24.70% 26.90% 26.20% 23.90%
Source: Savills           

Expensive areas in the heart of London are not seeing a similar rise in rental values.

They increased 0.3 per cent during the first three months of this year, with Savills attributing the slowing rental growth on the market ‘slipping back into a seasonal pattern’.

It means rental values have increased by 0.9 per cent in the past three months across affluent regions, while annual growth has slowed to 4 per cent.

However, Savills explained that rents still remain significantly higher, at 18 per cent, than before the start of the pandemic.

Growth in rental values across different parts of London
Q1 2024 Prime Central London North West London South West London West London North and East London All prime London
Quarterly growth Q1 2024 0.50% 0.60% -0.10% 1.10% 0.00% 0.30%
Quarterly growth Q4 2023 -0.50% 0.50% -0.40% 0.70% 0.00% -0.10%
Annual growth 2.50% 4.10% 2.90% 6.30% 2.70% 3.20%
Growth since March 2020 14.00% 18.90% 20.70% 21.30% 15.90% 17.70%
Source: Savills             
Rents in regional towns and cities continue to outperform their surrounding areas, says Savills

Rents in regional towns and cities continue to outperform their surrounding areas, says Savills

Savills said Chester, Birmingham, Cobham and Weybridge are among the strongest performers this year, as tenants re-prioritise ease of commute.

Jessica Tomlinson, of Savills, said: ‘Rental growth picked up slightly on the quarter, however, affordability pressures and increased stock mean rental growth has settled at a much lower level compared with the last three years.

‘But rents remain at a record high, and the prospect of falling mortgage rates is expected to ease some of the financial burden on landlords.

‘Rental growth continues to exceed capital value growth, meaning that yields have improved across the sector, which will support continued investment.

‘In London, houses are now outperforming flats, signalling that the flats market maybe hitting an affordability ceiling, while tenants searching for houses typically have slightly more leeway when it comes to budget.

‘Also, a stronger sales market has constrained the number of houses to rent across the capital, particularly across west and north west London.’

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