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‘If I was minister for housing’ … David McWilliams’s plan for €220k homes

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If economist David McWilliams were minister for housing he’d introduce “a site-value tax in the morning”, he told Irish Times political correspondent Jennifer Bray at the Summer Nights Festival on Monday night.

“You’d take lots and lots of flak”, McWilliams concedes “but you know being popular isn’t what it’s all about.”

“If you are sitting on a piece of land that you do not use, that is a waste. So consequently what we have to do, is we have to make it expensive to do that, and therefore what we do is what’s called a site-value tax, and we tax the site value and not the actual house”, he explains.

“I can tell you there hasn’t been an intervention in the housing market that hasn’t caused prices to rise in my lifetime”, The Irish Times columnist said, adding that he believes this is down to “inertia”. “It’s just this is the way we’ve been doing things for a while.”

“Land has been hoarded by landowners, and the reason they hoard land is that we have locked ourselves into a silly situation, whereby if you get planning permission it doesn’t have an immediate sell by date.”

“You’ve got to have a use-it-or-lose-it planning permission,” McWilliams said, which would put an end to land hoarding and “release lots and lots of land that’s now being planned into supply”.

“Probably the most criminal, architectural, urban blight that we have, is the fact that we have so many derelict properties. We’ve derelict properties when we have a housing crisis.” This, McWilliams said, is because there are no rewards or penalties for good and bad behaviour.

“Good behaviour is taking an old building and putting it back into use.” “Bad behaviour is taking a roof off a building, as we see all the time in Dublin and all around the country.”

McWilliams argued that we need to penalise inappropriate owners and “reward appropriate owners that bring things into use”.

McWilliams drew a comparison between the Covid-19 crisis and how the country “galvanised itself into an emergency footing in a very short period of time”. “I think that housing should be declared a national emergency and everybody should try to do their part in order to fix it.”

Developers and builders should be “brought into the tent. You talk to co-operative people. You talk to the banking sector and you say ‘listen we need to do this. We have a target and we’re going to put the State behind it’.”

Co-operatives offer another potential solution to the housing crisis, McWilliams explained. “Ó Cualann [housing development] is a co-operative … It’s not any great mystery. You pool your resources with the objective of creating a co-op that produces housing at the least price.” (A house with the co-operative, Jennifer Bray noted, could cost as little as €220,000.)

“And then what you also do, because everyone’s part of a co-operative, there’s actually quite a significant in-built community building, because everyone’s part of something. And if you want to leave the co-op and you want to move on, you leave the co-op and you sell your share on co-op. The point is it’s not based on land prices, so it stops land speculation and that’s hugely important”.

The Irish Times Summer Nights Festival, sponsored by Peugeot, is a series of online talks featuring Irish Times journalists in conversation with local and international authorities. It runs until Thursday July 1st.

Still to come in the festival are: Mary Lou McDonald in conversation with Kathy Sheridan; Chris de Burgh talking to Paul Howard; Maureen Dowd interviewed by Hugh Linehan; Gordon Brown and Roddy Doyle talking to Fintan O’Toole; Mona Eltahawy with Róisín Ingle; and Jo Spain talking to Bernice Harrison. A ticket covering all events costs €50, or €25 for Irish Times subscribers.

Full schedule and tickets from irishtimes.com/summernights.

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Ireland ‘one of world’s best five places’ to survive global societal collapse

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Ireland is one of the world’s five places best suited to survive a global collapse of society, according to a new study. The others are Iceland, Tasmania, the UK and, topping the list, New Zealand.

The researchers say human civilisation is “in a perilous state” because of the highly interconnected and energy-intensive society that has developed and the environmental damage this has caused.

A collapse could arise from shocks such as a severe financial crisis, the effects of the climate crisis, destruction of nature, an even worse pandemic than Covid-19 or a combination of these, the scientists says.

To assess which nations would be most resilient to such a collapse, countries were ranked according to their ability to grow food for their population, protect their borders from unwanted mass migration, and maintain an electrical grid and some manufacturing ability. Islands in temperate regions and mostly with low population densities have come out on top.

The researchers say their study highlights the factors that nations must improve to increase resilience. They say that a globalised society that prizes economic efficiency has damaged resilience, and that spare capacity needs to exist in food and other vital sectors.

Billionaires have been reported to be buying land for bunkers in New Zealand in preparation for an apocalypse. “We weren’t surprised New Zealand was on our list,” says Prof Aled Jones, at the Global Sustainability Institute, at Anglia Ruskin University, in the UK.

“We chose that you had to be able to protect borders and places had to be temperate. So with hindsight it’s quite obvious that large islands with complex societies on them already” make up the list.

The study, published in the journal Sustainability, says: “The globe-spanning, energy-intensive industrial civilisation that characterises the modern era represents an anomalous situation when it is considered against the majority of human history.”

The study also says that environmental destruction, limited resources and population growth mean civilisation “is in a perilous state, with large and growing risks developing in multiple spheres of the human endeavour”.

New Zealand was found to have the greatest potential to survive relatively unscathed due to its geothermal and hydroelectric energy, abundant agricultural land and low human population density.

Jones says major global food losses, a financial crisis and a pandemic have all happened in recent years, and “we’ve been lucky that things haven’t all happened at the same time – there’s no real reason why they can’t all happen in the same year”.

He adds: “As you start to see these events happening I get more worried, but I also hope we can learn more quickly than we have in the past that resilience is important. With everyone talking about ‘building back better’ from the pandemic, if we don’t lose that momentum I might be more optimistic than I have been in the past.”

He says the coronavirus pandemic has shown that governments can act quickly when needed. “It’s interesting how quickly we can close borders, and how quickly governments can make decisions to change things.”

But, he adds, “This drive for just-in-time, ever-more-efficient economies isn’t the thing you want to do for resilience. We need to build in some slack in the system, so that if there is a shock then you have the ability to respond because you’ve got spare capacity. We need to start thinking about resilience much more in global planning. But, obviously, the ideal thing is that a quick collapse doesn’t happen.” – Guardian

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Couple who bought coach house reveal transformation on George Clarke’s Remarkable Renovations 

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A couple who bought a 19th-century coach house for £284,000 reveal their transformation of the property into a stunning family home on tonight’s episode of George Clarke’s Remarkable Renovations. 

Childhood sweethearts Laura and Adrian, from Staffordshire, sold their own home, moved into a caravan and began renovating the derelict building into an Insta-worthy three bedroom house, with an added granny annex for Adrian’s parents Andrew and Elinor.

The couple, who appear on the Channel 4 programme tonight, initially wanted to renovate the 900 sq ft property within a £350,000 budget. 

But the build was hampered by difficulties from the outset, including delays with planning permission and the Covid-19 crisis, pushing their bill up to £450,000.   

BEFORE: Laura and Adrian, from Staffordshire, reveal their unrecognisable transformation of a 19th-century coach house into a stunning family home on George Clarke's Remarkable Renovations tonight. Pictured, the home property before the build

BEFORE: Laura and Adrian, from Staffordshire, reveal their unrecognisable transformation of a 19th-century coach house into a stunning family home on George Clarke’s Remarkable Renovations tonight. Pictured, the home property before the build

AFTER: At the end of the build the couple unveil their stunning contemporary home which oozes charm and character. The living space blends modern style with traditional features, keeping the building's style alive

AFTER: At the end of the build the couple unveil their stunning contemporary home which oozes charm and character. The living space blends modern style with traditional features, keeping the building’s style alive

BEFORE: Having been used as a coach-house for other people's caravans for the past decade, the building is in poor condition with rotten timbers and mismatched brickwork at the start of the project. Above, a room that becomes the living room

BEFORE: Having been used as a coach-house for other people’s caravans for the past decade, the building is in poor condition with rotten timbers and mismatched brickwork at the start of the project. Above, a room that becomes the living room 

AFTER: The couple went £100,000 over budget on the build after unexpected costs sprung up but were delighted with the final result, including this stylish living room complete with pops of colour and plush furniture

AFTER: The couple went £100,000 over budget on the build after unexpected costs sprung up but were delighted with the final result, including this stylish living room complete with pops of colour and plush furniture 

The property is situated in the grounds of what was the Cliff Hall estate in the village of Kingsbury, near Birmingham.  

When George first met the couple in June 2019, they had already been living in a caravan on the site for 18 months in order to save money.   

Laura, a project manager in forensics, revealed the family have already ‘put a lot of effort’ into the building given it was originally intended to store horses and has been completely empty for 10 years.

Having been used as a coach-house for other people’s caravans for the past decade, the building was in poor condition at the start of the project, with rotten timbers and mismatched brickwork. 

But it was ripe for renovation, with Adrian and Laura seeing it’s potential and pipping a developer to the post to buy it for £284,000. 

KITCHEN BEOFRE: The couple appear on the Channel 4 programme tonight as they reveal their hopes to transform the 900 sq ft property with a budget of just £350,000. Above, one of the derelict rooms with crumbling and uneven floors before

KITCHEN BEOFRE: The couple appear on the Channel 4 programme tonight as they reveal their hopes to transform the 900 sq ft property with a budget of just £350,000. Above, one of the derelict rooms with crumbling and uneven floors before

KITCHEN AFTER: Features including the exposed brick walls and wooden beams add a touch of character to the space, which is otherwise kitted out as a modern home perfect for family living

KITCHEN AFTER: Features including the exposed brick walls and wooden beams add a touch of character to the space, which is otherwise kitted out as a modern home perfect for family living

Laura and Adrian end up living in a caravan on the building site for three years in order to get the project finished - but they insist it has all been worth it

Laura and Adrian end up living in a caravan on the building site for three years in order to get the project finished – but they insist it has all been worth it 

The ground floor had two large spaces, with two small rooms squashed into the middle. Meanwhile upstairs is a wide open space.

Laura and Adrian planned to build a modern timber frame inside the old brick shell, allowing them to configure the space exactly to their needs. They also wanted to build a self-contained two bed annex connected to the main house, where Adrian’s parents Andrew and Elinor will live.

Andrew says: ‘It was one Saturday morning they came up and they bought pictures of this place they’d looked at. 

‘In the past, we considered a wild pipe dream of building  something as a family. They said, “If you sold your house and we sold ours and we steal your pension, we could do this”.’

Meanwhile Elinor jokes: ‘They said can we have your money basically.’

Understandably, the couple have high expectations, Elinor tells George: ‘I’m not compromising on kitchens and bathrooms.’

Meanwhile Andrew, who uses a mobility scooter, says the property will need to be on one level. 

The family carefully stockpiled everything from the demolition of the barn, including over 70,000 bricks, to save money.   

With planning permission finally granted, and the family aimed to get everyone in in 10 months, enlisting local contractors to help. 

They quickly spent £15,000 reinforcing the current foundations and pouring concrete into the building’s floor.    

HALLWAY AFTERWARDS: The stunning space is flooded with light, while Adrian's clever design and craftsmanship brings together contemporary elements with the traditional features of the barn (pictured, the hallway)

HALLWAY AFTERWARDS: The stunning space is flooded with light, while Adrian’s clever design and craftsmanship brings together contemporary elements with the traditional features of the barn (pictured, the hallway) 

However it was not long before they feel their budget dwindling, with Adrian confessing he had to let go of his local builders.

He says: ‘It’s a shame I haven’t got another £50,000 to let the guys crack on. Not at the rate they’re on. The problem was never going to be getting someone to build it, it was going to be me doing as much as I can to get my hands on.’

Meanwhile Laura confesses: ‘We’ve been here so long, it’s like what’s another few months to get it right.’

Two months later, winter arrives in Tamworth and living in a caravan begins to take it’s toll on the family.

Elinor says: ‘Caravan is getting a bit tired now, it’s looking a bit worn. It’d be nice to have space.’

Meanwhile Andrew adds: ‘Things  are going reasonably well, but things are looking a little bit tight. Adrian has been busy – it’s a compromise between how much time he’s at work and being justified to get others in on the budget.’

MASTER BEDROOM AFTERWARDS: The couple build timber beams into the property, creating a stunning barn style master bedroom. The luxurious space is a welcome change after months living in a caravan

MASTER BEDROOM AFTERWARDS: The couple build timber beams into the property, creating a stunning barn style master bedroom. The luxurious space is a welcome change after months living in a caravan

With the budget and schedule slipping, Adrian is doing more and more of the work himself.  

Andrew jokes: ‘Time is a big problem,  we said it would be finished by Christmas…but we didn’t specify which Christmas that would be.’

By February 2020, Laura is also feeling the strain of caravan life – having lived in one for over two years.

She says: ‘It is hard work. these past few months, we’ve really struggled with the weather. It’s the mud more than anything.’

Meanwhile the mother-of-two admits she feels the burden of building a home for her in-laws as well as her own dream property, saying: ‘I’m really lucky, we got on really well anyway but we’re feeling a huge sense of responsibility towards them. Basically they’ve invested everything they’ve got in us and the vision we had.’

She continues: ‘I’ve known Adrian since I was about eight and we’ve been together for 17 years. We lost Adrian’s brother a few years ago and it makes you re-evaluate things and you realise how important it is to have family around you. It puts a different perspective on life. This has bought us closer together for sure.’

One month later, the family were knocked sideways as the pandemic shut the site down. 

The couple ended up spending £100,000 over their initial budget in order to complete the stunning family home for their children and in-laws. Pictured, the dining space leads on from the kitchen and has an industrial-style picnic table

The couple ended up spending £100,000 over their initial budget in order to complete the stunning family home for their children and in-laws. Pictured, the dining space leads on from the kitchen and has an industrial-style picnic table 

Elinor tells the camera: ‘We’re doing okay, it’d be nice to move in. We haven’t all fallen out completely but there’s  been some arguments.’  

Laura and Adrian struggled to get building supplies amid the pandemic, with Laura saying: ‘It’s reordered the schedule of things. Some of the busy jobs we’d been hoping would happen, just haven’t’ been able to.’

By July 2020, the building was finally watertight. But the budget was gone. ‘A family member has managed to lend us £50,000…but there’s only £4,000 of that left,’ Adrian says on the programme.

‘But there is another £10,000 that will get the build done…It’s my mother’s own secret stash that was going to pay for her kitchen just to get the house finished.’

George says there was a ‘massive challenge’ to get the family into the building within two months and admits he is concerned about how much work there is still to be done. 

Meanwhile Laura and Adrian also create cosy single bedrooms for their two sons, which are joined together with a mezzanine for the children to play on (pictured)

Meanwhile Laura and Adrian also create cosy single bedrooms for their two sons, which are joined together with a mezzanine for the children to play on (pictured) 

However two months later, the couple unveiled their stunning contemporary home which oozes charm and character. 

The living space blends modern style with traditional features, keeping the building’s style alive.

Upstairs, the space is divided to give the children their own mirror image bedrooms with a mezzanine between the two.

Meanwhile the gorgeous master bedroom acts as the perfect upgrade from caravan living.

And downstairs, the adjourning annex for Adrian’s parents is an elegant new-build structure connected to the main house with a glazed walkway.

The couple confess the three year long build has been ‘more than worth it’, with Adrian saying: ‘I think we’re going to be around £450,000 build cost. I’ve done it for a reason, I’ve done it for the family. That’s what it’s about.’ 

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Dusty Hill, bassist for rock band ZZ Top, dies aged 72

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Dusty Hill, bassist for rock band ZZ Top, has died at the age of 72.

Hill, who had recently suffered a hip injury, died in his sleep, as confirmed by a statement on Instagram from band-mates Billy Gibbons and Frank Beard.

“We are saddened by the news today that our Compadre, Dusty Hill, has passed away in his sleep at home in Houston, TX,” it read. “We, along with legions of ZZ Top fans around the world, will miss your steadfast presence, your good nature and enduring commitment to providing that monumental bottom to the ‘Top’. We will forever be connected to that ‘Blues Shuffle in C.’ You will be missed greatly, amigo.”

His recent injury had meant that Hill was forced to miss performances as part of the band’s summer tour. There have been no further details on cause of death.

ZZ Top’s first single was released in 1969 after the demise of Moving Sidewalks, the band that Gibbons had previously formed. Their first concert, with Hill included, was in 1970 and the year after their first album was released.

The band would go on to find fame with 15 albums and were best known for hits including 1983’s Gimme All Your Lovin’ and 1984’s Legs. In 1984, Hill also accidentally shot himself, something he remained lighthearted about years later.

“My first reaction was ‘s**t!’ and then ‘ouch!’ ” he said in a 2016 interview. “I couldn’t believe I’d done something so stupid. To this day, I don’t know how I could do it.”

As well as playing bass guitar, Hill also played keyboard and sung backing and lead vocals for the band. They were all inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.

He made appearances in Back to the Future Part III and Deadwood and also played himself in King of the Hill.

“I don’t believe in regrets at all,” Hill also said in 2016. “What’s the point? There are things I’ve done that, if I had my time all over again, I would do differently – or not at all. But I am the sort of person who, once something’s done, just brushes it away and gets on with life.”

Tributes are coming in from the industry, including from Flea who referred to Hill as “a true rocker” and Go-Gos member Kathy Valentine who tweeted that Hill is “a Texas icon”. – Guardian

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