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What does €20m buy Stripe cofounder John Collison in Co Laois?

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What can €20 million buy you in Co Laois? Considering the average property in the midlands county goes for €208,748, a purchaser could do a deal for 96 regular homes.

Or, if you are the billionaire cofounder of a global technology empire, you may prefer the large 18th-century estate and former ancestral home of the de Vesci family.

Abbey Leix: considered one of the finest 18th-century mansions in Ireland
Abbey Leix: considered one of the finest 18th-century mansions in Ireland

Stripe’s John Collison has paid some €20 million to acquire Abbey Leix, which is considered to be one of the finest 18th-century mansions in Ireland. The Georgian house is surrounded by 1,120 acres, including stands of specimen trees, walled gardens and farmland.

The main residence, which extends to 26,910sq ft (2,500sq m), is complemented by no fewer than 10 estate houses and cottages. Within the main home is a classical library, a conservatory, a music room and an aptly named Gold Room.

The property was brought to the market two years ago by joint agents Sotheby’s International Realty and Colliers seeking €20 million and is understood to have achieved in the region of that figure.

A source close to Mr Collison told Laois Today the entrepreneur intends to live in the property for parts of the year and to develop it for personal use. The source told the local news outlet that Mr Collison is “looking forward to getting to know the Abbeyleix community”. “He’ll be down at the local pub, in the butchers and doing all the things that normal people do.”

Abbey Leix: considered one of the finest 18th-century mansions in Ireland
Abbey Leix: considered one of the finest 18th-century mansions in Ireland

The historic home was attractive to Mr Collison as he aspires to mind the property and regenerate the historic woodland, the source added. “He wants to nurture the wildlife because both him and Patrick care deeply about the environment,” the source said.

“There aren’t many historic houses in Ireland, and very few people have the ability to repair and maintain them . . . these houses have lives far beyond their owners, and John wants to set it up for future generations too.”

An interior view of Abbey Leix mansion
An interior view of Abbey Leix mansion

Prior to Mr Collison’s purchase, the estate had been in the ownership of Sir David Davies, a businessman whose family put down roots in Ireland in the 1940s and who has had a successful career in banking and property.

Having reached his 80th birthday in 2019, and having finally become an Irish citizen, Mr Davies put Abbey Leix on the market with a view to downsizing to his family’s original Irish home, Killoughter in Co Wicklow, a Georgian house on a more manageable scale.

An interior view of Abbey Leix mansion
An interior view of Abbey Leix mansion

In a statement issued through Sotheby’s International Realty and Colliers, Mr Davies said he was pleased to confirm his trust has contracted to sell the Abbey Leix Estate and the majority of its contents to a private buyer.

The statement said “the selection of the buyer was made because of their ambition and interest in preserving the integrity of the estate, including buildings and importantly the trees, and their ability to invest in the estate”.

Mr Davies said he was delighted the future of the estate had been secured for the long term.

An interior view of Abbey Leix mansion
An interior view of Abbey Leix mansion

While Abbey Leix will require substantial investment over time, its new owner will have the benefit of the significant restoration and refurbishment presided over by its former owner.

Designed in 1773 by the noted architect James Wyatt, and home to the de Vesci family for over 300 years, the property was showing its age by the time Mr Davies acquired it in 1995. It had no central heating and needed to be completely rewired, according to an interview Mr Davies gave to the Leinster Express in 2017. It took, he said, four years to renovate, with all of the house’s 117 windows having to be replaced.

The restoration of the house has been documented in a book by historian William Laffan that was published by Mr Davies, who is president of the Irish Georgian Society.

An interior view of Abbey Leix mansion
An interior view of Abbey Leix mansion

“As few places elsewhere, Abbey Leix gives a sense of the longue durée of Irish history. Having been home to French Monks, O’More Princes, Ormonde Earls, de Vesci Viscounts, and a Welsh Knight, the house, its park and woods form a microcosm of our past,” Mr Laffan wrote.

Sotheby’s too described the property in reverential terms when offering it to the market in 2019. Commenting on the estate’s importance, they said: “Abbey Leix is one of the most venerable 18th-century houses in Ireland and, following a spectacular restoration, it is also one of the most congenial. In any list of important Irish country houses Abbey Leix has a prominent place.”

While the grounds of the estate are impressive and include some of Ireland’s most notable remaining ancient woodland and extensive frontage to the River Nore, the house itself is an imposing three-storey classical mansion of seven bays, with the three central bays under a triangular pediment. Inside, the property has numerous features of note, including a music room that retains the decorative plasterwork for which Wyatt was so admired.

Abbey Leix owes its origins to religious settlement, and specifically to the French Cistercian monks who came to Ireland in the mid-12th-century. The present demesne evolved out of the monastery’s granges, woods and fields. One tree, the oldest oak in Ireland, still survives from this period.

Abbey Leix: considered one of the finest 18th-century mansions in Ireland
Abbey Leix: considered one of the finest 18th-century mansions in Ireland

The property also includes farmland and a stud farm featuring a range of cut-stone outbuildings and a principal yard, complete with a clock tower fashioned out of local limestone and dating from 1822.

John Collison is, along with his brother Patrick, one of Ireland’s richest people. As the cofounders and principals of the online payments platform, the Castletroy natives were earlier this year estimated to be worth $11.5 billion (€9.65 billion) each following their company’s latest fundraise, according to Bloomberg.

Its billionaires index, a ranking of the wealthiest men and women in the world, puts them among the richest self-made millennial billionaires.

The brothers, who are aged 32 and 30, were previously valued at $4.3 billion each, according to the index. Forbes magazine had more conservatively estimated their worth to be $2.3 billion prior to their company’s latest fundraise.

In March, Stripe raised a further $600 million, giving it a market valuation of $95 billion. This makes Stripe the most valuable company in Silicon Valley and among the most valuable globally.

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Facebook admits high-profile users are treated differently

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Facebook’s oversight board said the social media company hadn’t been “fully forthcoming” about internal rules that allowed some high-profile users to be exempt from content restrictions and said it will make recommendations on how to change the system.

In the first of its quarterly transparency reports published Thursday, the board said that on some occasions, Facebook “failed to provide relevant information to the board,” and in other instances the information it did provide was incomplete.

For example, when Facebook referred the case involving former US president Donald Trump to the board, it didn’t mention its internal “cross-check system” that allowed for a different set of rules for high-profile users.

Facebook only mentioned cross-check, or XCheck, to the board when asked whether Trump’s page or account had been subject to ordinary content moderation processes.

The cross-check system was disclosed in recent reporting by the Wall Street Journal, based in part on documents from a whistle-blower.

The journal described how the cross-check system, originally intended to be a quality-control measure for a select few high-profile users and designed to avoid public relations backlash over famous people who mistakenly have their posts taken down, had ballooned to include millions of accounts.

The oversight board said it will undertake a review of the cross-check system and make suggestions on how to improve it.

As part of the process, Facebook has agreed to share with the board relevant documents about the cross-check system as reported in the Wall Street Journal. – Bloomberg

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Green mortgages may leave owners of older homes unable to sell

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Estate agents warn owners of older homes, rural houses and listed properties could struggle to sell under green mortgage plans

  • Boris Johnson has unveiled his plans for turning Britain green by 2050 
  • The plans include proposals on how to make the housing stock greener 
  • The plans would see lenders disclose the energy performance of properties










Homeowners living in older, rural and even listed properties risk being unable to sell if strict green finance targets are introduced, estate agents have warned.

The warning comes after Boris Johnson unveiled his plan for turning Britain green by 2050 this week, with mortgage lenders having targets for the energy performance of properties in their portfolio.

A body that represents estate agents across Britain claimed that the property market could be distorted as a result of the measures and called for Britain’s historic housing stock to be taken into account.

Boris Johnson revealed proposals on how to make the housing stock greener this week

Boris Johnson revealed proposals on how to make the housing stock greener this week

Timothy Douglas, of Propertymark, said: ‘Incentivising green improvements to properties via lending creates risks of trapping homeowners with older properties, those who live in rural areas, listed buildings or conservation areas, making their homes difficult to sell and therefore reducing the value.’

Propertymark said that those living in older properties could be left with homes that they could not sell if buyers were unable to secure finance on them due to their lower energy efficiencies.

The effect would be likely to be felt more by less wealthy owners, as deep-pocketed buyers would be more able to overlook mortgage restrictions and high-end older homes would continue to be desirable.

Mr Douglas said: ‘The use of targets could distort the market and sway lenders towards preferential, newer homes in order to improve the rating of their portfolio.

‘Stopping a large portion of housing stock from being able to enter the market could cause havoc for home buying and selling as well as the wider economy.’ 

He added that improving the energy efficiency of homes should be reliant on consumer choice and not something enforced by mortgage lenders, with all the knock-on effects this could entail.

He said: ‘We would be concerned if lenders raise rates and limit products because fundamentally, improving the energy performance of a property is reliant on consumer choice and it is not the core business of mortgage lenders.’

Mark Harris, of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, said: ‘The green agenda is not new but there is increasing impetus behind it. There are more green mortgage products aimed at those purchasing more energy-efficient properties – A-C rated, and not just from specialist lenders but the high street banks too.

‘However, there is a real danger that green initiatives could create the next round of mortgage prisoners if homeowners are trapped in older homes that can’t be improved, so they can’t move because they can’t sell them on.

‘Without changes or improvements, lenders may restrict lending to lower loan-to-values, higher pricing, or not lend at all. This could penalise those who are unable to adapt to or adopt new efficient technologies economically.’

A UK Finance spokesperson said: ‘Greening our housing stock is vital if we are to meet our climate change obligations and banks and finance providers are committed to helping achieve this goal and making sure consumers are not left behind.’

Ways to boost energy efficiency  

Propertymark recommends three measures to improve the energy efficiency of homes without negatively impacting the housing market.

1. Improvements linked to an EPC

These include linking a plan for energy efficiency improvements to the recommendations on a property’s Energy Performance Certificate.

It could demonstrate the ‘most suitable route’ to a warmer home, regulatory compliance and zero carbon, according to Propertymark.

2. Tax breaks

It also recommends using tax breaks to incentivise homeowners to finance energy efficiency improvements.

For example, these could include making energy improvements exempt from VAT or offering lower rates of council tax for homes that have been made more energy efficient.

3. Adjustable tax rates

An adjustable rate of property tax that is tied to energy performance is also being recommended by Propertymark.

This could be done in two ways, it suggested. First, by applying the adjustment as a reduction on more energy-efficient properties. And second by offering rebates to buyers if energy efficiency improvements are made to less efficient properties within a certain time period after purchase.

Propertymark said that by linking energy performance with property taxes, this could help introduce increased saleability for more energy-efficient properties. In addition, it suggested that improvements would become standard for homeowners seeking costs and improve the desirability of their homes.

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Johnson rules out face masks as UK’s daily Covid cases rise above 50,000

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Daily coronavirus cases in Britain have risen above 50,000 for the first time since July, but Boris Johnson said he will not bring back compulsory face coverings or introduce vaccine passports.

Speaking in Northern Ireland, the prime minister said his government was holding firm to its policy of no legal restrictions introduced in July, but was watching the numbers carefully.

“The numbers of infections are high but we are within the parameters of what the predictions were,” he said. “We are sticking with our plan.”

Mr Johnson acknowledged the “patchiness” of Britain’s vaccination programme, urging people to come forward for their booster jabs as soon as they are invited to do so. But Labour leader Keir Starmer said the government should beef up the programme, ensure that more children were vaccinated and aim to deliver half a million jabs a day.

“The government said that the vaccine would be the security wall against the virus and now the government is letting that wall crumble,” he said.

“We’ve seen those that most need it not able to get the jab they need. Only, I think, 17 per cent of children have got the vaccine. And the booster programme has slowed down so much that at this rate we’re not going to complete it until spring of next year. So the government needs to change these, it needs to get a grip. I think it needs to drive those numbers up to at least 500,000 vaccines a day.”

Vaccine passports

The British Medical Association (BMA) accused the government of “wilful negligence” in not bringing back some restrictions, and of failing to learn the lessons of a parliamentary report last week about its handling of the pandemic. The association’s chairman, Chaand Nagpaul, said doctors could say categorically that it was time to bring back compulsory face masks and to introduce vaccine passports.

“By the health secretary’s own admission we could soon see 100,000 cases a day, and we now have the same number of weekly Covid deaths as we had during March, when the country was in lockdown,” he said.

“It is, therefore, incredibly concerning that he is not willing to take immediate action to save lives and protect the NHS. ”

Health secretary Sajid Javid warned this week that some restrictions could be introduced if the public failed to exercise caution and to take up vaccination offers. He acknowledged that Conservative MPs could show an example by wearing masks in the House of Commons, but house leader Jacob Rees-Mogg on Thursday rejected the suggestion.

Crowded spaces

“There is no advice to wear face masks in workplaces. The advice on crowded spaces is with crowded spaces with people that you don’t know. We on this side know each other,” he told the SNP’s Pete Wishart.

“Now, it may be that he doesn’t like mixing with his own side, wants to keep himself in his personal bubble. He may find the other members of the SNP – who I normally find extraordinarily charming…but we on this side have a more convivial fraternal spirit, and for our calling the guidance of her majesty’s government.”

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