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Historic Navan building could become ‘empty ruin’ after roof collapse

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An architect has sought legal advice regarding what he believes are failings by Meath County Council to protect a unique pre-Famine building, the roof of which recently caved in.

Paul Leech fears that the former Classical School on Academy Street in Navan, which is on the list of protected structures of national importance, could now become an “empty ruin” after years of what he describes as “passive neglect”.

He also alleges that some material alterations, apparently in breach of the planning laws, have been carried out in order to secure the building since the roof collapsed.

The 1837-42 building is affectionately known as the Power’s Duck Egg and is so called after its former patron Rev Nicholas Power and the structure’s unique elliptical shape, which is unlike any other building in the country from the time.

The curved timber at each end of the former school is more akin to techniques used in shipbuilding rather than construction, Mr Leech says, but these have been demolished in recent weeks.

The building was the study hall of St Finian’s Diocesan Seminary up to 1908 and later a post-primary school until the 1970s, after which it was used for light industry.

County archive

It was bought by Navan Town Council around 15 years ago for €603,000 in order to protect it, with impressive plans to eventually turn it into a county archive. Some remedial works were carried out in 2006 but the building has largely been left while numerous attempts were undertaken by the council to get funding. The roof caved in last June.

Mr Leech, who went to school in the building and later founded architecture firm Gaia Ecotecture, says he is appalled at the demise of the listed structure and has sought advice from specialist environmental lawyers on the matter.

“In my mind, how it has been left to rot over the years, and now what I allege is unpermitted material alteration, is a travesty of the statutory duty of care of the local authority,” he said.

“It may now become another empty, ruined husk which may never be restored, due most likely to scarce national funding in post-Covid times… I fear the damage is now done and the fate of the building is most unclear and uncertain.”

An Taisce is also urging the council to put in place systems to ensure better maintenance of this and other historic buildings in future.

“The onus is now on Meath County Council to restore and secure the future of this unique geometrically designed building,” the heritage group’s head of advocacy Ian Lumley said.

Critical

Sinn Féin councillor Eddie Fennessy described the situation regarding the building as critical.

“The collapsed roof has left the interior of the building exposed to the elements and valuable roof timbers have since been lost,” he said. “There is a very real danger that the building will collapse in on itself.”

In a statement, the council said funding of €250,000 had been approved under the Urban Regeneration Development Fund for designs and studies for the area, which include the restoration of the derelict building for use as a county archive, genealogy research centre and lecture and study space.

It says a graduated approach to stabilising and protecting the structure has been initiated on foot of inspections and recommendations from a design team which includes a conservation architect and structural engineer, who carry out regular checks on the ongoing work.

The council said it was “imperative” in order to avoid further deterioration of the structure that the conservation works proceed without delay.

“Notwithstanding the unfortunate collapse of the roof structure, this important and unique mid-1800s building has the potential to contribute to the cultural and built heritage of Navan, and its speedy stabilisation and conservation will provide the town with an asset of significant value,” it said.

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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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