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Up to 30% of housing schemes to be set aside for first time buyers under O’Brien plan

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Future housing developments will have up to 30 per cent of properties earmarked for first time buyers under plans which will be brought to Cabinet by the Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien.

As part of the memo, so-called cuckoo funds would be restricted from bulk purchasing in specified developments.

Details around the exact kind of developments which will be subject to these rules were still being worked on last night.

The department will propose setting out the new rules around bulk buying in a planning circular.

The department will also propose to introduce amendments to the Affordable Housing Bill 2021 which would earmark a certain percentage of properties for first time buyers in future developments. While the exact figure had not been signed off last night, sources said it will likely be around 30 per cent on top of Part V provisions which stipulate a development must have 10 per cent social and 10 per cent affordable housing.

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Housing Eoin Ó Broin said that any changes to planning law “must apply to existing developments if bulk buying of homes intended for owner occupiers is to stop”.

“There are ways to do this without falling foul of the Constitution. It would also be an enormous mistake to limit such restrictions to low density suburban developments,” he said.

The Minister has insisted that it is an absolute priority to “level the playing pitch” for first time home buyers.

Introducing his Affordable Housing Bill, which aims to make housing more affordable to rent or buy for low to medium income households, he confirmed that work is underway to expand Part V of the Planning Act with regard to the percentage of housing in developments that builders are obliged to provide for social and affordable units.

Speaking in the Seanad Mr O’Brien said this will include designating a range of units for first time buyers.

Referring to the issue on institutional funds buying up completed housing estates,the Minister said “work is underway with the Attorney General, right now, to bring these amendments forward to further the playing pitch for first time buyers, which is an absolute clarity from the government”.

He warned however that “to refuse to use the private sector, is to fight with one hand behind our back”.

In apparent criticism of Sinn Féin, Mr O’Brien said “we need to stop letting one party’s perfect be the enemy of everyone else’s good when faced with this crisis”.

He said that “silver bullet fantasies and hysteria politics do a generation locked in a rent trap a grave disservice. I’m committed to using every weapon in our arsenal to fight the battle and turn the tide in our housing crisis.”

And he said the State would play a central role, “the biggest role, the State has played in generations” with a “a major leap forward in our housing policy”.

The most controversial element in the Bill is the shared equity scheme in which the State takes a stake of up to 20 per cent to bridge the affordability gap between an individual’s mortgage limits, and the price of the unit.

Mr O’Brien said it had received “intentionally distracting focus”.

He said the shared equity scheme “will work in conjunction with the Help to Buy scheme to get people into homes this year” and it will help “turn Generation Rent into a generation back and own their own home”.

Mr O’Brien stressed that “safeguards are being dealt in to tailor eligibility to meet individual affordability” and the scheme “will not compel homeowners to borrow more than they can afford”.

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Minister has ‘no idea’ how many funds will escape 10% stamp duty, says Doherty

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Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe has been accused of having “no idea” how many forward purchase agreements were in place to bulk buy houses before they were exempted from an increase in stamp duty on multiple purchases.

Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty made the accusation after Mr Donohoe said such information “is not collected by the department. However I will explore with the Minister for Housing whether it is possible to put in place a reporting regime for agreements of this nature”.

Mr Doherty criticised the Minister for not attempting to establish how many housing units and developments would be bought by vulture funds without being subject to the 10 per cent stamp duty obligation.

“This is about Maynooth all over again and you’ve no idea how many of them are there,” he said in reference to the purchase by an investment fund of an entire housing estate in Co Kildare, which sparked controversy around the squeezing out of first-time buyers.

The subsequent public anger prompted the Government to impose a 10 per cent stamp duty, instead of the normal 1 per cent, for bulk purchases of 10 or more houses in a 12-month period by an individual or corporation.

Mr Doherty told the Minister: “You have no idea how many forward purchase agreements are in place yet you exempted every single last one of them from the 10 per cent stamp duty.”

He added that the Minister had no idea either how many transactions had been completed since the financial resolution was introduced last month.

“And really doesn’t that speak volumes of the fact that you were kicked dragging to this point where you didn’t want to be in the first place which was you didn’t want to tax the vulture funds.”

Raising the issue during finance questions in the Dáil he said “you have exempted something that you don’t know how much is there. You don’t know how many bulk purchases over the next number of years because you have no knowledge of how many agreements are there.”

But defending his approach Mr Donohoe said he was motivated to have policies to deal with the bulk purchase on family houses but also to “get the balance right between also allowing more homes being built in the future”.

He said he had information about the kinds of purchases and forward purchases that took place in recent years but the information “isn’t available to me” in relation to purchases currently being completed or under way.

But he insisted “that doesn’t undermine the policy rationale for what I did”.

Mr Doherty said the Minister could have got some information from published reports online but “you didn’t even look, you didn’t even want to find out. You came before this House and you said every single forward purchase agreement for homes is exempt that is already entered into a contract.

“And actually every single one that you actually complete over the next number of months we’ll exempt all of them as well.”

The Minister insisted however that he put the policy in place to get the balance right between trying to address multiple purchases but also allow supply of more homes in the future.

He added that if they extended the increased stamp duty to forward purchases “the net effect would be less homes being built in the future.

“I want to see more homes available and that’s why I believe the policy we have in place gets the balance right.”

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The Cotswold house being sold with a 94-year-old tortoise

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This pretty period property in the Cotswolds has an unusual feature that is being included in its sale. 

While new homes may occasionally try to tempt buyers by including additional items for sale, such as furniture or even a car, this Grade II listed property is on the market for £825,000 with a more unusual – and elderly – offering.

It has a 94-year-old resident tortoise that resides in the garden of the four-bedroom detached house in Wiltshire’s Box.

A 94-year-old tortoise is part of the sale of this stunning four-bedroom home in the Cotswolds

A 94-year-old tortoise is part of the sale of this stunning four-bedroom home in the Cotswolds

Resident Hercules is a local village celebrity and is an impressive 94 years old

Resident Hercules is a local village celebrity and is an impressive 94 years old

The property is called the The Old Diary and is bursting with character features. But its most charming feature is arguably Hercules, the tortoise.

After moving into The Old Dairy in 2007 and becoming custodian of the then 80-year-old resident tortoise, the current owner of the property soon discovered that Hercules is folklore in the village of Box and somewhat a creature of habit.

The current owner – of both the property and the tortoise – has lived in the property for the last 14 years and reports that Hercules can be expected to begin hibernating around 20 October, until emerging again on or very close to 20 April the following year in line with the start of warmer days. 

This is a feat they have seen repeated annually with complete accuracy.

When not hibernating, Hercules is a low-maintenance garden resident who enjoys a diet of lettuce, cucumber, and tomatoes.

While it’s no secret that Hercules is a local village celebrity, a less well-known fact about this four-legged garden friend is that following a visit to the vet in the 1970s, it was confirmed that Hercules is in fact female.

Beyond the walled-garden where Hercules resides, there is plenty more outdoor space to be enjoyed.

The property is full of character features including wooden beams and an Aga in the kitchen

The property is full of character features including wooden beams and an Aga in the kitchen

The property is for sale via estate agents Hunter French, in Corsham, with a price tag of £825,000

The property is for sale via estate agents Hunter French, in Corsham, with a price tag of £825,000

The inside of the period home spans three floors and includes this living room with a cosy fireplace

The inside of the period home spans three floors and includes this living room with a cosy fireplace

The ground floor of the property also includes this large and bright conservatory that leads to the garden

The ground floor of the property also includes this large and bright conservatory that leads to the garden

To the front of the house, there is a gravel driveway and lawned garden bordered by flowers. 

Also in the garden is an outbuilding that was once use as a double garage, but now offers itself as a space with potential for new owners to explore as it was previously transformed into a charming café.

Inside, the period home spans three floors. To the ground floor, there is a kitchen and breakfast room that can be accessed via the tiled entrance hall and boasts a blue Aga.

The formal dining room has access to the cellar and provides the perfect setting for entertaining, while the sitting room is centred around a cosy open fireplace.

Currently a working-from-home space, the third reception room is the oldest part of the property and completes the ground floor, alongside a utility room, cloakroom, and a conservatory.

As well as the family bathroom, there are three bedrooms on the first floor, while the fourth bedroom on the top floor has an ensuite and living space.

The outdoor space includes a driveway and an outbuilding that was once used as a double garage

The outdoor space includes a driveway and an outbuilding that was once used as a double garage

The character property in Box has four bedrooms including a main suite on the top floor

The character property in Box has four bedrooms including a main suite on the top floor 

The top floor includes additional living space that can be used to accommodate extra guests

The top floor includes additional living space that can be used to accommodate extra guests

Helen Whiteley, of property website OnTheMarket.com, said: ‘It certainly isn’t every day you come across a property for sale with its very own resident tortoise.

‘At the age of 94, Hercules has so far lived through two World Wars as well as the reign of four British monarchs, George V, Edward VIII, George VI, and Elizabeth II.

‘If she could, I’m sure she would be able to tell some of the most amazing tales. As it stands, now both the property and Hercules are seeking their next owner to act as their custodian with each full of character, albeit in rather different ways.’

The current owner - of both the property and the tortoise - has lived in the property for the last 14 years

The current owner – of both the property and the tortoise – has lived in the property for the last 14 years

There is plenty of outdoor space that Hercules uses, including a lawn and flower beds

There is plenty of outdoor space that Hercules uses, including a lawn and flower beds

The outbuilding offers the potential for new owners to explore as it was once a charming café

The outbuilding offers the potential for new owners to explore as it was once a charming café

Lauren Walsh, of estate agents Hunter French, in Corsham, – which is handling the sale – said: ‘The Old Dairy is an incredibly charming home filled with character and would make for a wonderful family home looking to make their next move.

‘While Hercules the tortoise is undeniably one of the most popular characters in the local village, Box itself has a lovely sense of community and offers great places to spend days out with family and friends, whether this be in the great outdoors or at one of the welcoming pubs or restaurants on offer.’

The outbuilding could be used as guest accommodation or as a bed & breakfast option

The outbuilding could be used as guest accommodation or as a bed & breakfast option

The inside of the outbuilding could be transformed to help produce an additional income

The inside of the outbuilding could be transformed to help produce an additional income

The village of Box is on the southern slope of the ByBrook valley and in the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty,

Many of its buildings are made from the natural Box stone which has been quarried in the surrounding area since at least the 8th Century.

The average price of a property in Box is almost double the £329,735 national average at £601,284, according to property website Zoopla.

Peter Gabriel established his state of the art ‘Real World Studios’ in Box and this has helped to attract people from the entertainment industry to settle in the village.

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Ireland’s data commissioner loses sole regulatory oversight of Facebook in Europe

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Europe’s top court on Tuesday endorsed the power of national data watchdogs to pursue big tech firms even if they are not their lead regulators, in a setback for Silicon Valley companies such as

Facebook. The EU Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling could encourage national agencies to act against US tech companies such as Google, Twitter and Apple, which all have their European Union headquarters in Ireland.

Many national watchdogs in the 27-member European Union have long complained about their Irish counterpart, saying that it takes too long to decide on cases.

Ireland has dismissed this, saying it has to be extra meticulous in dealing with powerful and well-funded tech giants. The ECJ got involved after a Belgian court sought guidance on

Facebook’s challenge against the territorial competence of the Belgian data watchdog’s bid to stop it from tracking users in Belgium through cookies stored in the company’s social plug-ins, regardless of whether they have an account or not.

“Under certain conditions, a national supervisory authority may exercise its power to bring any alleged infringement of the GDPR before a court of a member state, even though that authority is not the lead supervisory authority with regard to that processing,” the ECJ said.

Under landmark EU privacy rules known as GDPR, Facebook faces oversight by the Irish privacy authority because it has its European head office in Ireland. – Reuters

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