Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Column, August 30, 2005

CORRECT me if I’m wrong, I often am, but did the sky fall in this past week?
I only ask because Plaid Cymru have been doing a pretty fine impression of Chicken Licken.
The cause of their distress is a plan by Gordon Brown to sell off the entire housing stock of North Wales to the moneybags English who are going to salt away every bit of brick and mortar between Connah’s Quay and Holyhead in their burgeoning pension funds.
The Iron Chancellor has gone a bit soft on the idea of second homes and second homes, as we all know, are the work of the Devil.
While the housing crisis in rural Wales, and any other bit of the UK with a view of a field for that matter, is undeniable, Plaid should really keep their powder dry for battles that are worth fighting. And this one isn’t.
Instead they go yapping like Pavlov’s dogs at the mere mention of ‘second’ and ‘home’ in the same breath. You have to respect politicians who stick by their guns and are consistent, it makes such a change from the present incumbent of Number 10, but now and again you have to check yourself for being consistently wrong. Yes, I can hear the tramp, tramp, tramp of hostages to fortune when I say that, but as I’ll explain I think Plaid are making a fuss over something which will hardly affect Wales.
I hesitate to mention the word pension, as in most people, myself included, it causes an immediate desire to jam fingers in ears and hum loudly until whoever brought it up has gone away.
I’m with those who think the endowment fairy will see me right when I become too old, short-sighted and mad to continue writing. Two down one to go.
But basically the changes in pensions introduced by Gordon Brown mean that people can buy buy-to-let properties and put them in their pension pot. The advantage of this for high-income earners is that with tax breaks they basically can get 40% of the cost of a second home back if they’re putting it in their pension.
Ah, say Plaid Cymru, yet another ruse for the English to buy holiday homes in North Wales and now they get a tax break for doing it.
On the face of it that might seem what will happen, and the Affordable Rural Housing Commission is also worried saying that this scheme will drive up prices in the countryside.
But there’s a great big spanner in the works of those who want to buy holiday homes and then put them in their pension pot.
Namely that if you do that, you have to pay your own pension fund a commercial rent for the time that you spend in the property.
Lots of people like holiday homes, but I’m pretty sure they would not be keen to pay themselves for the privilege of staying there, especially when they’re already paying for the place with a mortgage as well.
All of a sudden 40% off doesn’t seem so attractive when you’re having to stump up rent. And the rent will be determined not by you, but by your pension fund trustee who by law will have to enforce a proper market-value rent and we all know how high they can be in summer in Wales.
For these investment properties to be effective as well they need to be occupied most of the year, and given the fact that many refer to our holiday-home-owning friends as ‘swallows’ because they’re only here for the summer, we know that isn’t the case in North Wales.
The idea that the hordes that make their way down the A55 to their holiday homes will soon be doing it with a fat tax break too just doesn’t hold water.
This new system will drive up house prices, but mainly in cities where there is housing stock that the buyers do not want to live in themselves but that they will rent out on a long-term basis. Simple as that.
Plaid should pick a better battle than this one.

IT would seem that the law has not served the family of Richie Davies very well.
He was killed in a hit and run accident, and the car’s owner, who was a passenger in it at the time, has hidden behind his right to silence and refused to name the driver.
The courts have been powerless to extract that name from him and so Richie’s killer walks free today.
But only for today.
I hope the Davies family will take some small crumb of comfort from the fact that, on as is blatantly evident from the court case, we are dealing with low-life scum here.
They should remember that there is little honour among these people and their loyalties shift like the wind.
The killer, is relying for his liberty, on a network of people who are not talking….for the moment.
But things change, relationships with girlfriends end, best friends become worst enemies. When that happens all of a sudden the police start getting helpful phone calls.
I’m prepared to bet that the killer’s friends are people that are ‘known to police’ as it were and I’ll bet too they’ve got a pretty good idea who it might be.
The next time any of the killer’s cohorts are up on a string of offences they might be looking to cut a deal by giving the police a bigger fish to fry.
And Chief Constable Bernard Hogan-Howe is on the case as well.
I trust the killer is enjoying his liberty, because I think his days are numbered.

CHARLOTTE Church, we hear, disapproves of the behaviour of Abi Tittmuss on Celebrity Love Island.
For those of you lucky enough not to have encountered her yet, Ms Titmuss is a model famed for not wearing many clothes.
Charlotte was once famed as a singer, but is now better known for not wearing many clothes on holiday where she is pictured with surprising frequency. I wonder how on earth the photographers always seem to know where she is, particularly when she has a new album or single out.
I’m not sure I have space in my brain to care what Ms Church thinks of Ms Titmuss but I am tempted to say strand the pair of them on a desert island and let them fight it out between them.
But then Channel Five would probably get a 10-part series out of it.

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