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Great British Home Restoration: Couple spend £500k doing up a church

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Imagine buying a church ruin at auction for £85,000 and spending two years transforming it into a five-bedroom family home. 

For many, that would sound like a renovation nightmare – but one adventurous couple from West Yorkshire took the plunge after buying the striking derelict building at auction. They subsequently spent £420,000 doing it up and the completed home was valued last month at £1million.

The unusual property transformation was captured for a new television show, and sees the couple move into a caravan in the grounds of the graveyard to help keep costs down during the build.

New TV show The Great British Home Restoration sees a couple renovate a derelict church bought at auction for £85,000

New TV show The Great British Home Restoration sees a couple renovate a derelict church bought at auction for £85,000

The church was a complete wreck when it was bought, but it was completely transformed on a budget of only £420,000

The church was a complete wreck when it was bought, but it was completely transformed on a budget of only £420,000

The Great British Home Renovation is an eight-part weekly series presented by architectural designer Charlie Luxton that begins on More4 this Sunday at 9pm.

It follows couples and families who take on unusual and historic property transformations, including churches and windmills.

Couple Sean and Debs appear in the first episode, battling through a catalogue of setbacks in a bid to save the historic church in Denholme, near Bradford.

Sean took two years off work to oversee the build, while Debs continued to run her scrap-metal plant to raise extra money.

Couple Sean and Debs battle through a catalogue of setbacks in a bid to save a historic church in West Yorkshire (pictured in the church's new kitchen)

Couple Sean and Debs battle through a catalogue of setbacks in a bid to save a historic church in West Yorkshire (pictured in the church’s new kitchen)

The couple worked hard to retain many of the original features at the historic church in Denholme, near Bradford

The couple worked hard to retain many of the original features at the historic church in Denholme, near Bradford

The original building was not designed to be lived in and was not insulated, so the couple had to build an entire building inside the church

The original building was not designed to be lived in and was not insulated, so the couple had to build an entire building inside the church

Through blood, sweat and tears, they transformed the 450 square metres church with its 36 metres high steeple into a three-storey family home.

Presenter and architectural designer Charlie Luxton said: ‘When I first saw the building, I drove up a windy, blustery hill in the freezing cold to be greeted by this vast, Victorian church.

‘It was jaw-dropping and more on the scale of a stately home than a residential build. I was in awe at the scale and beauty of the building, and the size of the project that Sean and Debs had taken on. 

‘I thought that is a project. But as I talked to them, I could see that they were both capable and driven. And with Sean working as an electrician and Debs specialising in reclamation, they were in the perfect spot to take on the project. And what they did to the church was really impressive.’

The show's presenter and architectural designer Charlie Luxton described the church's transformation as 'impressive'

The show’s presenter and architectural designer Charlie Luxton described the church’s transformation as ‘impressive’

The couple transformed the 450 square metre church with its 36 metres high steeple into a three-storey family home

The couple transformed the 450 square metre church with its 36 metres high steeple into a three-storey family home

The first job was to change the roof, which cost somewhere in the region of £60,000, according to owner Sean

The first job was to change the roof, which cost somewhere in the region of £60,000, according to owner Sean

He went on to explain that the scale of the project was the biggest challenge.

‘The first job was to change the roof, costing somewhere in the region of £60,000,’ he said.

‘And once that was finished, they had to build an entire building inside the church because churches are not designed to live in – they are not insulated, they are draughty and cold. And with any kind of restoration, for example repair work on stain glass windows, it needs to be completed in in a sensitive and skilled manner.

‘So the list of possible booby traps was long, and once you start taking things on a building like this apart, you can suddenly find – as they did – other issues such as sinking structures and movement and that can end up costing you an enormous amount. 

‘Luckily they were very hands on so they could keep the labour costs down and managed to complete the restoration within a really tight budget.’

The couple moved into a caravan on site in the grounds of the graveyard to help keep costs down during the build

The couple moved into a caravan on site in the grounds of the graveyard to help keep costs down during the build

One of Charlie’s favourite parts of the restoration was the altar and the way it was left as an original feature.

He said: ‘I also loved the fact that they have slotted a building within a building but weaved in the architecture and fabric of the original church.

‘Considering the building’s wind-blasted location at the top of the hill, the sheltered suntrap area created as a Venetian garden is fantastic with original courtyard features such as the original aisles with the roof collapsed upon it – being left untouched. I loved the way they worked with the building very sensitively rather than impose their own ambitions.

Regarding the tight budget, Charlie added: ‘It was extraordinary, you can only achieve what they did on that budget with a lot of blood, sweat and tears, working seven days a week, 15 hours a day. They worked so hard, they’re such a strong unit, it was an amazing achievement.’

One of Charlie's favourite parts of the restoration was the altar

Charlie like the way it was left as an original feature

One of Charlie’s favourite parts of the restoration was the altar and the way it was left as an original feature

Sean Kennedy, 57, of Denholme, in West Yorks, told MailOnline Property how the couple found the church, saying: ‘We were listening to a local radio station as my wife Debs had an advert playing to advertise her business when we heard about this property coming up for auction.

‘We were looking for a house to move into after getting married and Debs asked if I fancied living in a church.

‘We went to have a look at it and it was in an extremely sad state but we fell in love with the building. That was the main reason we wanted to buy it, plus when we saw the building in such a bad condition, we thought it needed saving – and we were the ones to save the building.

‘We had not looked at anything unusual before, it was purely inspired by hearing about it on the radio. We had not even considered anything unusual. When we first saw it, there was so much to take in – the architecture, the gothic theme and just the sheer scale of the building, there was so much about it that was striking. And even though it would be an unusual transformation to turn into a single dwelling, that was always our plan, to turn it into a home.’

Sean explained that the biggest challenge was tackling the roof and ceiling, which were connected.

‘This was the single most important of the whole build, due to the scale and safety aspect,’ he said.

‘I am no roofer or builder but we tackled it ourselves along with a couple of guys we employed to help us. We also knew that if we did one thing wrong with the roof, the whole lot could collapse. While sadly we were not able to save the ceiling, it was a mammoth task to safely remove it and not damage the rest of the building.’

Charlie explains that it was 'extraordinary' that so much was achieved at the converted church on such a tight budget

Charlie explains that it was ‘extraordinary’ that so much was achieved at the converted church on such a tight budget

He added: ‘We managed to overcome so many other challenges, it was incredible rewarding to save so much of the church’s original features and architecture. We had to tackle the build in little stages, we never looked at it as one big project.

‘Everyone advised us against it. Some people said ‘what a fantastic idea’ but we never saw them on site from the day we started to the day we finished. Other people were saying ‘hope you’ve got deep pockets, there’s a million pounds that needs to be spent here’.

‘The majority of people thought we were insane but they have now been back to see the finished project and have been absolutely blown away by the building and the whole feeling of the house. ‘

He confirmed that the final bill was £420,000, plus the original £85,000 purchase price, so a total of just over £500,000.

Sean said: ‘Between us we’ve got five grown up children, and five grandchildren and they all love it. At the beginning, some questioned what we were taking on and whether we were mad but all of them love being here, it’s a great family space. And the grandchildren think it’s one fantastic adventure, like a big castle with a garden that’s full of stones – gravestones – to read. It keeps them occupied for hours.

‘While I love the guest annexe, the favourite part of the house is the Venetian courtyard.’

And Sean’s advice to others? ‘Be brave, it can be achieved. You just need to have the mindset that it can be done.’

The couple spent two years transforming the property

The converted church is now a comfortable five-bedroom family home

The couple spent two years transforming the property into a five-bedroom family home for £420,000

Misbah Alvi, of Windfall Films – which is part of Argonon and produces the programme – said: ‘This series demonstrates the huge potential rewards of transforming unloved, unused and often dilapidated buildings into forever dream homes, through sheer determination. 

‘Every property transformation in the series was driven by passion, which helped get the build completed even when, in some cases, the money ran out. These are no ordinary renovations. Throughout the series we see how our property buyers respect the heritage and history of the buildings, undertaking creative restorations that were faithful to the incredible original design and craftmanship.’

  • The Great British Home Restoration is on More4 on Sundays at 9pm 

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Floating assets: Static homes on water are the new des res

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Living on a narrowboat or barge might be a dream for many, but the practicalities can be daunting; filling up water tanks with a hose, having to take the boat off to pump out and running out of electricity.

But it’s now possible to buy a modern static houseboat, which is just like living in a flat on water with the advantage of a beautiful location and being cheaper than a home on dry land.

Caroline Clark, 55, bought a luxurious 45 ft by 16 ft floating home from Prestige for £230,000 and is waiting to move in next month. 

Tranquil: Caroline Clark and her dog Aggie on their Prestige floating home at Priory Marina on the Great River Ouse, just outside Bedford

Tranquil: Caroline Clark and her dog Aggie on their Prestige floating home at Priory Marina on the Great River Ouse, just outside Bedford

After she sold her bungalow in a village just outside Bedford, she put the deposit down and worked out with Prestige exactly what she wanted for her home: a study rather than a second bedroom, and a separate bathroom and walk-in wardrobe instead of an en suite.

Since April, she’s been living in the showhome at Priory Marina on the Great River Ouse, just outside Bedford, where there will eventually be 12 houseboats.

Caroline had frequently walked round the back of the marina and seen all the boats moored there and thought they seemed appealing. 

So, when idly looking for properties for sale, she saw the floating homes advertised on Rightmove and couldn’t believe it.

‘I sent the link to my parents saying I’m tempted by this, then went to see it and immediately fell in love with the whole place.

I remembered going to Amsterdam in the past and seeing the houseboats on the canal and thinking what a fantastic way of life, but never imagining that I could live like this in Bedford,’ she says.

She hadn’t thought about living on a boat before as she didn’t want all the hassle involved and the potential cold in winter.

‘But these houseboats give you all the benefit of a boat, in fact with much better views out of the French doors, as well as the luxury of central heating, sewerage and running water from the mains.

‘As I live on my own, apart from with Aggie my rescue dog, those things are important.’

Caroline says she can walk into the centre of town in 20 minutes, swim in the river and she’s bought a big Canadian kayak.

‘You start doing different activities when you live on the water. It’s very sociable here, too. So far, there are four other boats on my pontoon and the owners are all in their 50s/60s.’

But it’s not that cheap to live on.

‘You can’t get a mortgage and insurance is quite expensive as if anything goes wrong, you have to pay for salvage. 

‘I pay about £900 a year and £3,000 in annual mooring fees, which includes water and sewage,’ she says. ‘But it would take a lot to tempt me away from here. 

‘There is a lovely tranquillity about this place and you feel connected to nature. It’s like a little haven in Bedford, tucked away, and it feels magical to be part of it.’

Nine similar floating homes are also available at Sawley Marina in Nottinghamshire, priced from £179,000, prestigehomeseeker.com.

Richard Homewood, of River Pod Houseboats, has been making bespoke floating homes for more than four years. 

Based in Kent, he delivers them on a low loader lorry all over the UK and these environmentally friendly houseboats have been bought by people as young as 22 and as old as 80, who all want a slightly different way of life on the water.

‘All our boats are on mains water and plug into mains electric. Sewage can either be pumped out every six months, plumbed into mains drainage or if someone chooses to have a Klargester system installed, the dirty water is treated and sanitised before going back into a river or into a holding tank. Then it only needs to be pumped out every one to two years,’ says Richard.

A couple of these homes have been bought for use as an Airbnb.

Tara and Quentin Branson, who are commercial builders, live near Allington Lock on the River Medway, Kent.

They bought The Lady Florence, which is moored alongside their land for £100,000 and have been surprised how much interest they have had in it.

‘We’ve used it a bit, it’s so beautiful on the river and a step away from our hectic life, but it’s fully booked through August.’

And they are so pleased with their investment, they are thinking of buying another. One, two and three-bedroom River Pods start from £68,000, theriverpodcompany.co.uk.

One problem to be aware of when buying a houseboat is finding a suitable mooring, which can be difficult. So, if you can find a houseboat that already has a ‘home’, then that should really float your boat.

On the market… and on the water

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‘They are everywhere in this area’

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We should see plenty of action in an hour, Dr John Dunbar says assuredly via email, excited at the prospect. As a venom expert, many nights are spent combing the walls and railings of Dublin housing estates for Ireland’s highly-poisonous false widow spider.

Alone in the dark, armed with extended tweezers and a headlamp, he carefully places each one inside long plastic tubes as the residents sleep inside, blissfully unaware.

On a chilly evening thousands of such spiders are scattered just out of sight along Beech Park, a long quiet suburban road in Lucan lined with detached homes and webbed hedges. The noble false widow – or steatoda nobilis – first recorded in Ireland in 1999 is far more common than most people realise and its numbers are increasing alarmingly.

Within two minutes Dr Dunbar is poking at a web string. He has spotted two long, thin protruding legs, inconspicuous to the passerby. It is the first trophy of 94 that night.

Although he has handled thousands, Dr Dunbar has never been bitten. Twenty bites have been recorded in Ireland, he declares, and the bite is one to be avoided.

Hospitalised

“In some cases [bite symptoms] are so mild they just observed it for a couple of hours and it was pretty much gone,” Dr Dunbar explains. “Then we’ve had other cases where people have been hospitalised.”

In some cases victims have experienced severe bacterial infections, debilitating pain and body tremors.

Steatoda nobilis is compared to the notorious black widow for a number of reasons including notable similarities in appearance, genetics and toxins. It is known as the “false widow” because in regions where they co-exist it can be difficult to tell them apart.

Smaller than the native house spider, chocolate brown with a large bulbous abdomen and an intricate cream pattern sometimes resembling a skull, the false widow is easy to identify.

Five or six years ago researchers would have had to look hard for one. Today, a single hunter can expect to bag between 100 and 150 in a few hours in any suburban estate.

Thought to have originated in the Atlantic archipelagos of Madeira and the Canaries, it arrived in the United Kingdom and Europe on banana boats. Throughout the 20th century it established thriving populations throughout England and Wales, and later colonised parts of western Europe, California, Chile and the Middle East.

Although found in Co Wicklow a little more than two decades ago, little was known about its presence here until more recently. A 2017 Royal Irish Academy study confirmed the species in at least 16 counties, but most significantly in the greater Dublin area where it is abundant in urban buildings and around street furniture.

As Dr Dunbar walks slowly from suburban home to home, he identifies and scoops up the spiders from virtually every single driveway pillar he examines. His head torch illuminates the undersides of wall ledges, shrubs, gates, guttering, the back of ESB boxes. They are everywhere. After just a short while it seems other native species are relatively difficult to come by.

“[Their urban habitats] bring them in conflict with humans,” Dr Dunbar explains. “Usually the spider accidentally gets entangled in clothing or bed sheets and when they’re unintentionally pinned or squashed the spider actually bites, purely in defence. They’re actually quite a docile species.

Potent venom

“But they do have a venom that’s a little bit more potent than what we’re used to. It’s very similar to the venom of black widows, not quite as potent, but still kind of getting there.”

The risk posed are similar to ones posed by bees and wasps. Each spider can give about half of one microlitre of venom, about one thousandth of a millilitre. On his regular hunts Dr Dunbar tells the gardaí he will be prowling. The glow from his headlamp and his intricate inspection of neighbourhood walls are common, as are encounters with neighbours.

Just as he is plucking a sample with his extended tweezers, a resident approaches with a fair idea of what is going on but curious all the same. “They are obviously everywhere in this area,” Colm Gallagher says resignedly. “I know what the implications are; they have venom and whatever else. But they’re not terribly dangerous.”

They do go inside houses, but not usually. Whether for the curious resident, the arachnophobe or the scientist, there is still a lot to learn about these creatures and a race to learn it.

“They are here to stay, there is no way we’re going to get rid of them,” he says. “But we really need to monitor them while we can over the next years and see what happens. Now science must tell us what we are dealing with,” he said.

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Council tax should be replaced with annual payment, think-tank says 

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Plans from a think tank for homeowners to pay an annual levy worth 0.5 per cent of the value of their home instead of council tax were today blasted as a ‘blunt tool’ which would ‘simply alter where the inequality is felt’.

The Labour-leaning Institute for Public Policy Research called for a ‘proportional property tax’ to tackle regional inequality – saying it was unfair that those who have benefited from soaring house prices should pay so little compared to the value of their homes.

Under their system, someone living in a house worth £1million would pay £5,000, which would almost certainly be greater than their council tax bill – meaning the policy could be seen as a so-called ‘mansion tax’, hitting those living in richer parts of the South the hardest. 

And Graham Taylor, managing director at mortgages firm Hudson Rose in Stroud, Gloucestershire, told MailOnline: ‘This feels like a blunt tool which, with the best of intentions, will simply alter where the inequality is felt.

‘It is a dangerous assumption that those with larger homes must have larger incomes. Many ‘prime’ areas today were not considered as such all that long ago. The issue of council tax does need to be addressed as its current form feels woefully out of date.’

Legal experts at Wright Hassall solicitors in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, added: ‘This could be perceived as a tax on the South.’ 

As well as replacing council tax, the new levy would also replace the stamp duty which people pay when they move house.

The think tank said the move would lead to a fall in house prices of 3 per cent in London and other well-off places in the south. 

LOSER (BY £6,722) This five-bedroom house in France Lynch near Stroud in Gloucestershire is on the market for £2million with Whitaker Seager. The idea for homeowners to pay an annual levy of 0.5 per cent would see a £10,000 payment here.  The property is within the Chalford Parish of Stroud District Council in band G, giving it a council tax rate of £3,277.74

LOSER (BY £6,722) This five-bedroom house in France Lynch near Stroud in Gloucestershire is on the market for £2million with Whitaker Seager. The idea for homeowners to pay an annual levy of 0.5 per cent would see a £10,000 payment here.  The property is within the Chalford Parish of Stroud District Council in band G, giving it a council tax rate of £3,277.74

LOSER (BY £1,530): This four-bedroom detached house is for sale near Doncaster in South Yorkshire for £1million with Portfield Garrard & Wright. Under the system proposed by the IPPR, someone living in this house would pay a £5,000 levy. The property comes under tax band H in the Doncaster Council area, giving it an annual council tax bill of £3,470.42

LOSER (BY £1,530): This four-bedroom detached house is for sale near Doncaster in South Yorkshire for £1million with Portfield Garrard & Wright. Under the system proposed by the IPPR, someone living in this house would pay a £5,000 levy. The property comes under tax band H in the Doncaster Council area, giving it an annual council tax bill of £3,470.42

WINNER (BY £35)This three-bedroom end of terrace in Guildford, Surrey, is up for £500,000 with Seymours. The levy here would be £2,500. The property is in tax band E within Guildford Borough Council, giving it a council tax bill of £2,464.57

WINNER (BY £35)This three-bedroom end of terrace in Guildford, Surrey, is up for £500,000 with Seymours. The levy here would be £2,500. The property is in tax band E within Guildford Borough Council, giving it a council tax bill of £2,464.57

Robert Payne, director at Langley House Mortgages in Bristol, said: ‘The theory behind this is that those with more expensive homes have higher incomes and therefore can afford to pay more tax but in reality it is a lot more complex than that.

‘It’s true that people living in areas where property is more expensive are more likely to have a higher income but this is not relative to the amount of surplus income they have available.

‘Essentially, even if they have a higher income they are often faced with much larger mortgage debt and a higher cost of living, so it is unreasonable to throw further increased costs at those who may already be struggling financially.’

And Scott Taylor-Barr, financial adviser at Carl Summers Financial Services in Newport, Shropshire, added: ‘A tax based on property value has always been problematic – the value of your home is not always in line with the income you have to pay a tax.

‘Many residents in the South East, for example, who gained property via Right-To-Buy in the 80’s, are now sitting on some prime and very expensive real estate, but that doesn’t mean they have City banker size incomes to pay a sky-high tax bill based on their property’s current value.’

 

WINNER (BY £17): This detached part-thatch cottage in the Devon village of Broadhembury is on the market for £400,000 with Bradleys. It would have a levy of £2,000. It is within band D in East Devon Council, giving it a council tax rate of £2,016.68

WINNER (BY £17): This detached part-thatch cottage in the Devon village of Broadhembury is on the market for £400,000 with Bradleys. It would have a levy of £2,000. It is within band D in East Devon Council, giving it a council tax rate of £2,016.68

WINNER (BY £79): This four-bedroom house is on with Jump Pad in Newton-Le-Willows, Merseyside, for £300,000. The levy would be £1,500.  The property is in council tax band D within St Helens Council, giving it a council tax rate of £1,578.78

WINNER (BY £79): This four-bedroom house is on with Jump Pad in Newton-Le-Willows, Merseyside, for £300,000. The levy would be £1,500.  The property is in council tax band D within St Helens Council, giving it a council tax rate of £1,578.78

 

WINNER (BY £373): This two-bedroom detached house is for sale for £250,000 in Coalbrookdale in Shropshire, with DB Roberts. It would have a levy of £1,250. It is within band C in Telford and Wrekin Council which gives it a council tax of £1,623

WINNER (BY £373): This two-bedroom detached house is for sale for £250,000 in Coalbrookdale in Shropshire, with DB Roberts. It would have a levy of £1,250. It is within band C in Telford and Wrekin Council which gives it a council tax of £1,623

One of the examples looked at by MailOnline today was a five-bedroom house in France Lynch near Stroud in Gloucestershire which is on the market for £2million.

The idea for an annual levy of 0.5 per cent would result in a £10,000 payment – but the property is within the Chalford Parish of Stroud District Council in band G, giving it a council tax rate of only £3,277.74.

Elsewhere, a four-bedroom detached house is for sale near Doncaster in South Yorkshire for £1million – which would result in a £5,000 levy for the property. It is under tax band H in the Doncaster Council area, giving it an annual council tax bill of £3,470.42.

However, in contrast, looking at a two-bedroom detached house for sale for £250,000 in Coalbrookdale near Telford in Shropshire, this would have a levy of £1,250. It is within tax band C within Telford and Wrekin Council which gives it a council tax of £1,623 – a much higher figure.

Joshua Gerstler, founder of mortgage advisers The Orchard Practice in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, said: ‘I am not sure how this is workable as there is no daily calculation of the value of your house.

‘Is it fair that if the value of your house drops 10 per cent, so too do your payments, but if it goes up your payments go up? Council tax should be based on the cost to provide council services and your ability to pay for these services, not the value of your house.’ 

But Rhys Schofield, managing director at Peak Mortgages and Protection in Belper, Derbyshire, said: ‘Personally, I think it’s an absolutely brilliant idea to start to tax those that have been fortunate enough to do very well out of property price rises in the last few decades.

‘It’s fair to shift some of the burden from the shoulders of young working people living hand to mouth who are now going to be even more stretched when Natural Insurance contributions rise. In reality, though, the net losers I imagine may well be core Tory heartland voters and turkeys don’t tend to vote for Christmas.’

Shreya Nanda, IPPR economist, said: ‘The housing market has been almost entirely responsible for growing wealth inequality since the 1970s.

‘Over this period, while consumer prices have increased by a factor of 11, house prices have increased a staggering 60 times. 

‘These gains should have been shared fairly across society, but instead they were captured by older, wealthier homeowners and landlords. 

‘Those who did not own property during the long house price boom have been locked out, and too many face steep rents, cramped flats, and eye-watering mortgages.  

‘A proportional property tax would instead ensure that these gains were shared more fairly across society.’

The IPPR said council tax was unfair because it is based on outdated property valuations, which means the amount paid on the nation’s most expensive homes has lagged far behind their soaring values.

If set at a flat rate designed to raise the same amount of tax as council tax and stamp duty combined, a proportional property tax of around 0.5 per cent could mean three quarters of households in England paying less than now.

Making the change would help tackle regional inequalities, with people living in areas with lower house prices likely to gain, compared to those in regions such as London and the South East where prices are highest.

The IPPR said it would also be fairer, with the best off paying more compared to the current system – under which the lowest earning households (by income decile) pay around twice as much council tax as the highest, as a proportion of their income.

The think tank acknowledged that there would be practical issues to address, including a new mechanism for redistributing the increased revenue from areas where property values are high, to areas where lower values will yield less tax than under council tax.

It calculated that a PPT would lead to the biggest house price falls – up to 3 per cent – in areas of London and the East and South East, while the 10 most affected areas, primarily in the North East and North West, could see rises of up to 11 to 15 per cent.

Last night a Treasury source said there were no plans to introduce such a property tax in the UK.

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