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Cordia acquires historic Birmingham building (GB)



Cordia International Zrt. continues its international expansion strategy. After acquiring UK developer Blackswan last year, the company has announced the acquisition of new office space in the heart of the vibrant Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham, England, which will become Cordia Blackswan’s UK headquarter. The property developer is set to refurbish and move into a former branch of Lloyds bank. The historical building will not only be home to Cordia Blackswan, but it will also offer modern office and co-working spaces. 


Cordia Blackswan is going to refurbish the Victorian building, bringing it back to its former glory, while also making it a spacious and purposeful space for modern-day working. The approximately 1400m² complex will host six high-quality office suites, along with the former banking hall being transformed into a community working area. It also features an underground vault from its time as a bank, that Cordia Blackswan plans to incorporate into the renovation as a design function. The purchase price was not disclosed. 

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EU pauses legal action against UK over Northern Ireland protocol



The European Commission has paused legal proceedings against the United Kingdom over the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol in the hope that solutions can be found.

It comes after the UK government called for a “standstill period” in which the EU would not further legal action and the UK would also refrain from unilateral moves.

A European Commission spokesman said in a statement that “in order to provide the necessary space to reflect on these issues and find durable solutions to the implementation of the protocol, we have decided, at this stage, not to move to the next stage of the infringement procedure, started in March”.

Last week the UK’s Brexit minister, David Frost, told the House of Commons there should be a “significant change” in the protocol and that “we cannot go on as we are”.

The commission said the pause in the legal action would be used to consider the UK’s proposals.

“We confirm our readiness to continue to engage with the United Kingdom, also on the suggestions made in the Command Paper, and to consider any proposals that respect the principles of the protocol,” the statement from the commission added.

The Irish Government has also said it will carefully consider the British proposals, which include suggestions that were raised and discussed during the negotiation process.

“We have received a constructive reply from the Commission in response to our request for a standstill on existing arrangements,” a British government spokeswoman said. “We look forward to engaging in talks with the EU in the weeks ahead to progress the proposals in our command paper.

“As we set out in the Command Paper last week, significant changes are needed to ensure the Pprotocol is sustainable for future”

Last week, Mr Frost suggested a tiered system in which goods produced for consumption in Northern Ireland only would not need to be inspected at Irish Sea crossing points, and that goods that were made to standards that equalled those of the EU should be able to circulate freely.

‘Impossible’ steps

Other proposals included abolishing export certification, state aid rules and the oversight of the European Court of Justice, encompassing several steps that are seen as impossible for EU capitals to agree to.

Both Brussels and Dublin are seen to be keen to cool the heat on the issue of Northern Ireland and encourage negotiations to find solutions for any problems through the pathways laid out by the withdrawal agreement and trade deal wherever possible.

The commission warned that it would not renegotiate the protocol, which was negotiated and agreed by both sides as a way to allow Britain to leave the single market and customs union while avoiding the need for checks across the island of Ireland.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson originally praised the deal as a “reasonable, fair outcome” and a “very good deal” for both sides, but his government has since said it has been implemented in a stricter manner than foreseen.

“The EU has sought flexible, practical solutions to overcome the difficulties citizens in Northern Ireland are experiencing regarding the implementation of the protocol – as demonstrated in the package of measures announced by the commission on June 30th,” a commission spokeswoman said.

“While the EU will not renegotiate the protocol, we stand ready to address all the issues arising in the practical implementation of the protocol in a spirit of good faith and co-operation.”

It added that if was essential that “constructive discussions” continue in the coming weeks.

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Cladding repair bill is same as £230k price of this Hertfordshire flat



When homeowner Sophie Bichener, 29, bought her flat in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, in 2017 for £230,000, she had no idea about the potentially crippling costs that lay ahead.

She moved into the flat just before the fire at Grenfell Tower, in West London, which caused 72 deaths.

Like so many other purchasers, Sophie bought moved into her flat believing that it was safe because it complied with building regulations. 

However, her flat has since deemed to be unsafe in the wake of the Grenfell fire.

Since the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, concerns about cladding have become a national issue

Since the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, concerns about cladding have become a national issue

Like so many other flat owners affected by fire safety issues, she has been left unable to sell her property, as mortgage lenders will no longer offer loans without fresh proof of safety. 

Her block of flats has been deemed unsafe and fire safety repairs need to be carried out. 

But the bill for the repairs are eye-watering, almost matching what she originally paid for the flat. 

This summer she was quoted £202,077 to fix just her flat, which is not far from the £230,000 that she originally paid for her home.

She understands that some of the £14million-plus costs to fix her block will be met from the Building Safety Fund, but it is not yet known how much financial assistance – if any – she will get.

This leaves her facing the unknown, a situation many flat owners find themselves in through no fault of their own.  

She says it is likely that she will have to relocate during the works for at least a month.

Sophie Bichener, 29, bought her flat in Stevenage, Hertfordshire in 2017 for £230,000, but has since been quoted £202,077 to fix her flat, which has deemed to be unsafe

Sophie Bichener, 29, bought her flat in Stevenage, Hertfordshire in 2017 for £230,000, but has since been quoted £202,077 to fix her flat, which has deemed to be unsafe

Her block is home to 73 flats spread across 14 storeys. It is above 18 metres and had problems with combustible cladding and missing fire breaks.

It is unknown when the fire safety work is expected to begin as the Government has yet to confirm whether it will provide funding for her block.

But once the work does start, it is suggested that it could take 52 weeks, meaning Sophie would be effectively living on what would look like a building site for a year.

The block has already paid for six months of a waking watch at a cost of £600 a month per flat. Those payments stopped following the installation of new fire alarms.

Sophie told MailOnline Property: ‘We have a supportive network of leaseholders and so you can take time out from dealing with it. However, being in lockdown and in the flat twenty-four seven means I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure this out.

‘Knowing that when you go to work that money has already been spent has been disheartening.

‘We just have to do what we can. It is easier for me to talk about it now, but there are people I know who are suicidal. While the Government is playing ‘who is to pay’, leaseholders are struggling to survive.’

‘We have had to put our life on hold. I can’t spend any money as I know I shall have a bill at the end of all of this, although I don’t know how much that will be.

‘I’d like to get married and have children, but simply cannot afford to contemplate that at the moment.’

Campaigners have called ministers of ignoring cladding victims’ screams for help.

Stephen McPartland, MP for Stevenage, said: ‘Ministers have betrayed leaseholders like Sophie. Ignoring their screams for help, dismissing their dreams and refusing to listen.

‘Leaseholders need practical support, not more weasel words and I will continue to fight for people like Sophie.

‘Leaseholders are not to blame, but they are facing devastating mental health and financial costs as they are left to pay more in remediating their flats, than they are now worth. It is a tragic market failure and we must step in as a government to support them.’

It follows an announcement by Robert Jenrick that neither leaseholders nor taxpayers should pay for dangerous cladding to be removed. 

He said that the law will be changed retrospectively to give homeowners 15 years to take action against their developers for shoddy workmanship.  

A MHCLG spokesman responded, saying: “Building owners should make buildings safe without passing on costs to leaseholders – and we will introduce a new legal requirement for owners of high-rise buildings to prove they have tried all routes to cover the cost of fixing their buildings.

“We are processing applications to the Building Safety Fund as quickly as possible – and we have been clear that we will fund the removal of dangerous cladding from high rise building where remediation is necessary.

“Our approach strikes the right balance in our continuing commitment to protecting leaseholders and being fair to taxpayers – while reassuring lenders that where cladding remediation is needed, costs will not be a barrier or mean that mortgage payments become unmanageable.”

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So now Jeff Bezos has been to space, he’s an astronaut, right? Er, maybe not



Say you’re Jeff Bezos. You’re the richest person in the world. You’ve spent billions of dollars starting a rocket company that has just launched you and three others high enough that everyone agrees you reached outer space, even if just for a few minutes. Are you now an astronaut? The answer appears to be no, at least in the eyes of the US Federal Aviation Administration, which last week revised its definitions on whom it considers to be an astronaut. But for Richard Branson, the billionaire who went to space a week earlier, on a rocket plane operated by Virgin Galactic, a company he founded, the answer might be yes.

The advent of the age of space tourism brings along a question of semantics: does the word “astronaut” describe where someone has been – outer space – or is it a job description, like pilot or sailor? After all, Nasa employs astronauts who are still waiting for their first trip off Earth. And flying in economy class from New York to Los Angeles does not qualify you as a pilot.

The New Shepard spacecraft is entirely automated, and all the passengers had to do is enjoy the up-and-down ride, which lasted not much more than 10 minutes

The FAA established its commercial astronaut wings programme in 2004, spurred by the X Prize. That competition offered $10 million for the first nongovernmental entity to launch a reusable spacecraft to space with people on board – defined as reaching an altitude of 100km, the international definition of where space begins – and then do it again within two weeks.

The winning design was a space plane called SpaceShipOne, and the FAA bestowed the first commercial astronaut wings on Michael Melvill and Brian Binnie, the pilots who flew the two winning SpaceShipOne flights. To qualify for the FAA’s distinction, a person had to reach an altitude of 80km – reflecting the earlier US air-force practice – and one had to be considered part of the flight crew, which the agency defines as “any employee or independent contractor of a licensee, transferee, or permittee, or of a contractor or subcontractor of a licensee, transferee, or permittee, who performs activities in the course of that employment or contract directly relating to the launch, re-entry, or other operation of or in a launch vehicle or re-entry vehicle that carries human beings”.

Everyone else who goes to space is, in the FAA’s view, just a “spaceflight participant”, not an astronaut. After the wings were awarded to Melvill and Binnie, the FAA did not award any other commercial astronaut wings until 2019, to Mark Stucky and Frederick Sturckow, the two pilots of Virgin Galactic’s larger successor of SpaceShipOne, aptly named SpaceShipTwo. Two other Virgin Galactic pilots received wings on the next SpaceShipTwo flight, as did Beth Moses, the company’s chief astronaut instructor, who evaluated the crew cabin.

A Blue Origin astronaut’s pin on Jeff Bezos’s flight suit. Photograph: Blue Origin via New York Times
A Blue Origin astronaut’s pin on Jeff Bezos’s flight suit. Photograph: Blue Origin via New York Times

By contrast, the New Shepard spacecraft built by Bezos’s company, Blue Origin, is entirely automated, and all that the passengers had to do is enjoy the up-and-down ride last Tuesday, which lasted not much more than 10 minutes. So Bezos and the other three passengers – his brother Mark; Mary Wallace Funk, an 82-year-old aviation pioneer; and Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old Dutch student – appear to fall short of the criteria to be classified as flight crew and may not be eligible for the FAA astronaut wings. (That didn’t stop the foursome from having custom astronaut wings pinned to their flight suits last Tuesday.)

The crew definition, however, was vague enough that one could wonder whether a passenger could qualify as a contractor, and whether some of what they did could fall under the “other operation” part of the definition of crew. On the same day that Bezos made his trip to space, the FAA added a new requirement for the astronaut wings: “Demonstrated activities during flight that were essential to public safety, or contributed to human spaceflight safety.” A statement from the agency explains: “The FAA has now changed the focus to recognise flight crew who demonstrate activities during flight that were essential to public safety, or contributed to human spaceflight safety, among other criteria. This change aligns more directly to the FAA’s role to protect public safety during commercial space operations.”

Virgin Galactic has started the paperwork to obtain FAA commercial astronaut wings for Richard Branson and the other two first-time space flyers on the July 11th flight

The New Shepard passengers do not appear to have performed such activities. A Blue Origin spokeswoman declined to say whether the company would nominate Bezos and the other passengers for the FAA commercial astronaut wings. A Virgin Galactic spokesman said the company has started the paperwork to obtain FAA commercial astronaut wings for Branson and the other two first-time space flyers on the July 11th Virgin Galactic flight. Virgin Galactic is making the case that they were crew members, performing tasks to evaluate how the spacecraft experience will feel for future customers, although the company is still assessing the implications of the revised criteria.

The revised FAA criteria also, for the first time, creates honorary commercial astronaut wings “to individuals who demonstrated extraordinary contribution or beneficial service to the commercial human spaceflight industry”. The honorary awardees would not have to meet all of the usual requirements. In the end it may not matter what the United States government thinks. Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin have each created their own astronaut pins to bestow on customers, who are likely to pay at least hundreds of thousands of dollars per flight. In addition, an international organisation of past and present astronauts, the Association of Space Explorers, has created pins to recognize everyone who goes to space. One design – an up-and-down chevron topped with a five-pointed star – is for people who go on short suborbital flights. For those who reach orbit, there’s a variation, adding a circle that indicates they have been around the planet.– New York Times

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