£150,000 levelling up grant awarded to Tory donor’s amusement centre in Hastings

A £150,000 grant from Boris Johnson’s flagship levelling up towns fund was awarded to an amusement centre launched by the Conservative donor Lubov Chernukhin, raising questions about whether public money has gone to projects most in need of financial help.

Rowena Mason www.theguardian.com 

Chernukhin, a businesswoman who has given more than £2m to the Conservatives since 2014 and is married to a former Russian finance minister, co-founded the Owens entertainment centre in Hastings, East Sussex.

The centre received £150,000 from the government’s towns fund in October after a tender process, through a company called C&O Entertainment. A further £250,000 went to the developer behind the refurbishment of the former Debenhams building in the seaside town.

It includes several restaurants, a bowling alley, immersive experiences, virtual reality rides, an oddity museum and amusement arcade. There is no suggestion of any political consideration in the award of the grant.

Chernukhin launched the project in October 2022 as a joint venture with an entertainment entrepreneur, Graham Owen, and she has been a director of C&O Entertainment since February this year. It is owned by a company called Triple 8 Holdings, held by two senior partners at a wealth management firm, and is believed to be at least in part owned by the businesswoman.

Owen does not own any shares in the company. Despite giving his name to the attraction, he is now believed to have left his role at the company.

A spokesperson for Chernukhin said Owens Entertainment was opened with a vision to “revive the British high street and stimulate local economies through the establishment of family-orientated entertainment centres”, with an estimated 100,000 visitors since launch. They said the centre had provided jobs by hiring 45 contracted staff members and space for four concession holders.

The spokesperson confirmed her involvement in C&O Entertainment but did not respond to a question about its ultimate ownership. She said Chernukhin “was not involved in any way whatsoever in the grant application process” and that it was driven by the developers and the Hastings towns deal board without her knowledge.

Last September a finance manager from Owens Entertainment gave a presentation to the Hastings towns deal board setting out that “development of the entertainment centre is going well, and it is hoped it can be officially opened on or around 14 October”.

In the minutes, it was recorded that the project by this time was already close to completion and the extra money was used to “extend the centre’s originally planned offer, therefore allowing for more attractions to be created”.

The bid was not part of the original towns fund allocation process but was added in summer 2022 by the Hastings towns deal board after another bidder pulled out and the tender was re-run. It was subsequently approved by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the money was paid in October 2022.

Hastings council said the business case for the town deal bid by Owens was confidential but had been “independently assessed against various criteria including jobs created, amount of public and private investment, wider economic impact in the town and value for money and deliverability”.

“The funding for Owens Entertainment was to enhance and extend the number of entertainment offers. It was also bringing back into use a large former Debenhams building which had been empty for more than a year,” a spokesperson said.

“There were no political considerations in the decision to support a project that brought a large potentially long-term empty building back into use so quickly.”

Chris Bryant, the Labour MP and chair of the House of Commons standards committee, called into question whether the project was deserving of the money, saying that “so-called discretionary funds” were a cause of concern. “Especially now we know the company of the largest female donor to the Conservative party has benefited in this way. Public funds should go to those areas most in need,” he said.

Chernukhin, a British citizen, is a former banker who has been under scrutiny over her links to offshore wealth and her husband’s former membership of Vladimir Putin’s government until he was sacked in 2004. Labour has previously called for the Conservatives to hand all money given to the party by Russian-linked donors to humanitarian causes, including more than £2m given by Chernukhin since 2014.

On her donations, Chernukhin’s spokesperson said: “It is correct that Lubov has donated more than £2m to the Conservative party, and all such donations have been properly declared in accordance with Electoral Commission rules. As a British citizen, Lubov is entitled to make donations to political parties as she sees fit, and any suggestion to the contrary would be patently xenophobic.”

Woking council declares bankruptcy with £1.2bn deficit 

Woking council has declared it is in effect bankrupt after admitting a risky investment spree involving hotels and skyscrapers overseen by its former Conservative administration had left it facing a deficit of £1.2bn.

The cost of a Tory attempt at “regeneration”, Owl can think of local examples that haven’t gone too well but not on such a scale.

Richard Partington www.theguardian.com

In what is thought to be the biggest financial failure in local government history, the Surrey council said it had issued a section 114 notice on Wednesday in response to “unprecedented financial challenges” facing the town.

A section 114 notice is effectively an admission that a local authority does not have the resources to meet current expenditure, with Woking joining Thurrock, Croydon and Slough as the latest English council to run into trouble after ploughing cash into risky commercial investments.

Woking said that against its available core funding of £16m in the 2023-24 financial year, the council faced a deficit of £1.2bn.

Laying bare its financial position, the tiny home counties authority in the affluent London commuter belt warned it had failed for the past 15 years to set aside enough money to keep up with payments on a vast debt pile amassed under its former Tory leadership.

Racked up to finance the building and acquisition of a vast empire of commercial assets, its investments included a complex of sky-high towers – standing as the tallest buildings outside a big city in England – including a four-star Hilton hotel, public plazas, parking facilities and shops.

Woking warned its debts were forecast to hit £2.6bn, while it had taken the uncomfortable step of writing down the value of its investment portfolio by more than £600m in a reflection that its property holdings were worth far less than previously anticipated.

Ann-Marie Barker, the council’s Liberal Democrat leader, whose party took over from the former Tory administration after it was voted out in local elections last year, said there was a danger that services could be cut as a consequence.

“We’re going to have to look at those and provide the services in a very different way in future. Inevitably it’s not going to be such a good service as it was in the past,” she told the Guardian.

Woking was put into special measures by ministers late last month amid rising concern in central government over the scale of its debt problems.

Most of the council’s spending had been financed by an obscure arm of the Treasury – the Public Works Loan Board – with £1.3bn worth of borrowing that Woking could now struggle to repay.

The process will be overseen by a team of expert commissioners after a review launched this year. It is believed the council’s troubles are so significant they could have an impact on the national government finances.

“The debt in Woking is staggering,” said Meg Hillier, the Labour chair of the Commons public accounts committee, adding that the government needed to have a “stronger oversight” of how councils were investing.

In 2020, the powerful cross-party committee said ministers were “blind” to “extreme risks” of investment by cash-strapped councils.

Hillier said: “We have seen too many councils borrow multiple times their annual budget at huge risk and real cost to local council taxpayers.”

Many councils piled into property and other commercial enterprises to raise money to fill gaping holes in their budgets and to undertake regeneration projects after sharp cuts to central government funding introduced under the Conservatives’ austerity drive.

Kevin Davis, the Conservative group leader on Woking council, said his local party had issued an apology to residents for the financial position the local authority was now in, while arguing that council’s investments were made in good faith in an attempt to regenerate the town.

Davis said: “Remember the cost measures coming through every year with the revenue grant being steadily reduced. It’s safe to construct an argument that says that period led the council to look for other ways to generate that missing income.”

He added that the pandemic had significantly affected the valuation of the council’s assets, but also suggested further investigation was required to establish whether the former Tory administration had adequate checks and balances in place when it was making investment decisions.

“It’s likely the answer is that, no, it was not robust enough, it is more than just Covid,” Davis said.

A government spokesperson said: “Following serious ongoing concerns about the financial situation of Woking council, the government announced an intervention into Woking’s financial position in May and commissioners have been appointed. We will continue to work closely with the authority and will take action if necessary.”

Parents slam Devon special education

Angry parents and carers have criticised Devon’s under-performing special education services in front of the county council’s leadership.

Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk

They say support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is not improving, despite it now being one of the council’s top priorities.

Their comments come four months after they staged a protest at County Hall about what they believe is the council’s “neglect” of their children, and sent an open letter demanding “urgent action.”

Last year Devon was hit with a government improvement notice for its SEND services, which it runs in partnership with NHS Devon.

Both the Conservative-run council and NHS Devon apologised after a revisit by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission in May 2022 found progress had not been made in fixing four areas of significant concern they identified in December 2018.

Another inspection last month found the quality of social work “remains inconsistent,” though DCC says it also suggested it is “now moving in the right direction, but we acknowledge that there is still much more to do.”

However parents who spoke at Devon’s children’s scrutiny committee on Tuesday, also attended by the council’s chief executive and the member in charge of children’s services, expressed concern about the state of affairs.

One parent spoke of the “dire situation” faced by their family, explaining that one child has been out of school since 2016.

“They’re now one year away from adulthood and have been unable to access any education at all for the last two years,” Nicola Brewin said. “This is due to the lack of care they’ve received by Devon County Council.”

She told the committee she had submitted six tribunal appeals to DCC. “Having children with additional needs is challenging, but the added stress of being forced to a tribunal so many times is horrific and is robbing my children of the support they need and the childhood they deserve.”

Ms Brewin also criticised the council’s processes, including for administering educational health and care plans (EHCPs), adding: “Our case presents a spotlight on the multiple failings of DCC to uphold its responsibilities to children.”

Fellow parent Caroline Bolingbroke said: “I have a 13-year-old autistic child who has not been able to attend school for four years. Getting the support they need has been a huge fight. I was an education professional but now I’m at home with my child every day.”

She added: “Parents of children with SEND in Devon know what is going wrong. We can help make things better but we are not being consulted or communicated with effectively. We are not seeing any improvements.

The council, under pressure from the Department for Education, has developed an improvement strategy to improve SEND services across the county, which includes recruiting more caseworkers.

But Ms Bolingbroke called it “just a wish list with no clear map of how the service is going to get from ‘failing’ to ‘good’.

“We don’t have a voice in our children’s future,” she said. “Our children don’t have a voice. When is anyone going to listen to us?”

Elaine Davis-Kimbell, another parent, then told the committee that parents and carers of young people with SEND are “absolutely sick and tired of decisions constantly being made for us without any proper consultation.

“We are so fed up of hearing the word ‘co-production’ being battered about this council within improvement plans. No one is producing anything with families.”

Fellow parent Astrid Harding said she is “outraged that our children and young people are missing out on their right to an education.

“We are parents and carers, not teachers, yet more and more of us are having to home-school our children as it feels the only option left to us given the significant dearth of appropriate educational provision on offer in this county.”

“I myself have reached out for over two years for support now for my son, who was forced out of school due to [EHCP] issues and tribunal and is now struggling to go back to school.

“All my family’s mental health and wellbeing is in tatters facing a system that doesn’t care about any of these matters,” said Ms Harding.

Devon’s interim director of children’s services, Julian Wooster, admitted the system is “failing to deliver improved outcomes for children and young people with SEND.”

He added: “Parents’ confidence in the system is in decline and, despite substantial additional investment, the system has become financially unsustainable. That is not a comment just on Devon. That’s the comment across the country.”

Mr Wooster said councils were facing a “system nationally which is not working” but accepted that in Devon “we need to make more progress than others in this area.”

But the council’s opposition leader, Lib Dem councillor Julian Brazil, took issue at the reference to national problems with SEND provision.

“We’re one of the worst [performing councils]. We are surrounded by Cornwall – outstanding. Torbay – good. Somerset – good. Devon – inadequate. So why is it that we’re so bad?

“Can we just stop saying it’s terrible across the rest of the country? It’s terrible here in Devon and we should look at ourselves and see how we can do it better.”

In response a spokesperson for Devon County Council said: “We understand the concerns and frustration of parents and share the desire to drive real improvement across SEND services as quickly as possible.

“Giving the right support to children with SEND to the age of 25 is a national challenge and one which Devon along with many other local authorities has found difficult to get right.

“We are working closely with parents and carers, with our schools and health partners, and with the government to make things better in Devon, but there are no quick fixes.

“This is a top priority for the council and we have been able to commit extra resources this year to help support change including appointing a dedicated deputy director of SEND to lead on this.

“The most recent Ofsted inspection last month did point to some positive improvements and suggested we were now moving in the right direction, but we acknowledge that there is still much more to do and it will take some time to get this right.”

Boris and Carrie Johnson ‘hosted friend at Chequers while Covid restrictions in place’

Boris and Carrie Johnson hosted a close friend at Chequers while some coronavirus restrictions were still in place, it has been reported.

Oliver Pritchard-Jones www.independent.co.uk

The former prime minister and his then-pregnant wife are said to have invited corporate events organiser Dixie Maloney to the Buckinghamshire country mansion on 7 May 2021.

At the time, indoor gatherings between different households were banned except when “reasonably necessary” for reasons such as work or childcare or to provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person, including someone pregnant.

The Guardian reported that she had been informally helping to plan the couples’ festival-style wedding, which took place at Downing Street three weeks later.

Any suggestion they broke the law has been disputed by the couple and Ms Maloney, with sources telling the newspaper that she was there for childcare reasons as Ms Johnson was pregnant.

Mr Johnson’s spokesperson insisted the event was “entirely lawful” and Ms Maloney told the paper she would not have done anything that she believed at the time to be unlawful.

The report comes as the former prime minister remains under investigation for allegedly breaching the Covid rules his own government drew up during the pandemic.

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper told The Independent: “The public are sick of subsidising an ex-prime minister, especially one who once again appears to have shown complete disregard for the rules they had to follow.

“We’re all left wondering what more it will take for Rishi Sunak to finally scrap Johnson’s taxpayer-funded legal bill.

“Almost every day of this government brings more stories of Conservative sleaze and scandal, all whilst the problems facing the country get worse and worse.”

The visit was one of approximately 12 gatherings that allegedly took place at Chequers and Downing Street and are being assessed by two police forces. Thames Valley Police, which covers Chequers, told The Guardian that it is reviewing the evidence and has not yet launched an investigation.

Mr Johnson is also awaiting the outcome of the privileges committee inquiry into whether he deliberately misled MPs over the initial Partygate scandal.

A spokesperson for Mr Johnson said: “This was entirely lawful, and it was covered by relevant provisions in the Covid regulations, as The Guardian’s report makes clear. To suggest otherwise is totally untrue.”

More hand wringing from Jupp on sewage

In his weekly press article (see below) Simon Jupp says he wants to see action after he claims the Government has introduced the toughest ever crackdown on sewage spills.

By crackdown he means the 2022 plan described by the Rivers Trust as ”Too little too late”:

Far from revolutionising the sewer system, as the plan claims, this plan aims to claw its way back to what should have already been ‘business as usual’ by 2050 – with sewer overflows operating only during exceptional rainfall events by that time. This should be the current situation, and yet we are living with 2.6 million hours of overspills in England.”

[Remember In October 2021 Simon Jupp voted against the Lords  amendment designed to stop private water companies from dumping raw sewage into the UK’s waterways.]

Simon also says he firmly believes that long-overdue water company investment should not disproportionately affect bills. 

[ Remember In March this year Simon said:…”Of course, in a perfect world, we would stop sewage spills completely and immediately. Sadly, that is virtually impossible in the short term; because of the pressure on our water infrastructure, we would risk the collapse of the entire water network, and the eye-watering costs involved mean we would need not just a magic money tree, but a whole forest.” ]

Simon refers to the government multi-million-pound plans to reduce spills from Sidmouth and Tipton St John’s sewage system and reduce nutrient pollution from the Axminster-Kilmington water treatment site. These are the local “oven ready” schemes in the Ofwat/Defra “accelerated infrastructure delivery project for English Water companies”. Owl has already discussed the lack of clarity of who foots the bills under the heading: This raises the $64,000 question, who is paying for this: SWW; the consumer or the Tax Payer? 

Is Simon “on a journey”? [More to the point where might it end?] – Owl

‘We all want action taken now to clean up rivers and seas’

Simon Jupp www.exmouthjournal.co.uk

The water industry has finally apologised for not acting quickly enough on sewage spills, pledging an additional £10 billion to clean up their act.

An apology and more investment is welcome. But as many in East Devon have been heading outside to enjoy the warm weather, we all want to see action taken right now to clean up our rivers and sea.

Back in February, I led a debate in Parliament on the performance of South West Water. I live close to the sea in Sidmouth and have been relentlessly campaigning for investment in our water infrastructure.

Recently, I was pleased to see the government unveil multi-million-pound plans to reduce spills from Sidmouth and Tipton St John’s sewage system and reduce nutrient pollution from the Axminster-Kilmington water treatment site. At the request of the government and regulator Ofwat, South West Water is now spending their money on these projects.

I also want to see action in Exmouth and Budleigh Salterton. In Exmouth, South West Water say they are working to improve Maer Road and Phear Park pumping stations’ storm overflows performance. In Budleigh Salterton, South West Water say they are working to clean the 7km sewer pipe from Lime Kilns pumping station to Maer Lane sewage treatment works. I’m monitoring their progress closely.

I firmly believe that long-overdue water company investment should not disproportionately affect bills. Water companies simply cannot spend money to clean up their mess, expect customers – you and I – to pay for it by hiking up bills, and continue to pay hefty bonuses.

This Conservative government has brought in the toughest ever crackdown on sewage spills through the Environment Act and Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan. I recently met with the Environment Agency in Exeter to discuss South West Water’s performance.

I’m also sitting down with South West Water bosses to scrutinise their latest full year results after they revealed shareholders are going to receive 10.9% increases in their payouts. It’s completely perverse to reward failure.

I won’t stop my calls for real change until South West Water put customers and our environment first.

Thames Water chief Sarah Bentley paid £1.6m despite giving up bonus

Thames Water accused of “flimsy PR stunt” when it previously said she would give up bonuses and performance-related executive payouts.

Robert Lea www.thetimes.co.uk 

Thames Water has confirmed that its chief executive Sarah Bentley will receive pay and perks topping £1.6 million this year despite the company indicating last month that she will forgo her bonus during the sewage and leakage crisis.

News of the Bentley’s payout was condemned by trade unions, who said Thames had conducted a “flimsy PR stunt” when it previously said she would give up bonuses and performance-related executive payouts. She said she was giving up the cash because the company had not yet delivered on “a customer service and environmental performance” turnaround.

Thames confirmed that Bentley’s remuneration for the last year would include no performance-related bonus for 2023, but would still total about £1.6 million. It said all components of her pay during 2022-23 had been previously disclosed.

When Thames publishes its annual report and accounts early next month it will show that Bentley, 51, received £750,000 basic pay, pension payments of another £90,000 and other travel, car and medical benefits expected to be a further £32,000.

On top of that she received in the last year a payment of £548,000, the latest tranche of a “golden hello” compensation package for shares and bonuses she had to give up from her time working at Severn Trent, the Midlands water group from where she was poached by Thames three years ago.

In addition, Bentley has also received £178,000 as a bonus related to Thames Water’s “performance” during her first two years’ service. It is uncertain how much in bonuses and performance-related pay she has actually given up in the last financial year.

The £1.6 million she will receive for 2022-23 is not too far off the £2 million she received in the prior year — which included a £496,000 bonus — and is more than the £1.2 million she received in her first year’s service.

Gary Carter, a national officer at the GMB union, told The Guardian, which first reported on the payout: “The UK water industry is in a complete mess, with creaking infrastructure, a disgruntled workforce and effluent allowed to flow freely into our beautiful waterways. To see those responsible for this carnage pocket a king’s ransom is particularly galling.

“Ms Bentley’s announcement she won’t take a bonus, while at the same time trousering a huge total pay package, shows it was nothing more than a flimsy PR stunt.”

Thames insisted that it stood by its announcement last month that Bentley would “forgo any bonus or long-term incentive payments for the financial year 2022-23”.

It said that announcement had been accompanied by “notes to editors” which said: “Separately, in July 2022, Ms Bentley received the final compensation payment for shares in Severn Trent she relinquished on joining Thames Water.”

The performance payment relating to Bentley’s service for 2020-21 and 2021-22 had been disclosed, the company said, in its annual report last year in a footnote on page 104.

Thames, the UK’s largest water company, has been a magnet for criticism of the industry’s poor record on river pollution and leakage — in Thames’s case, nearly one litre in every four flowing through its mains pipes is lost.

A Thames Water spokesman said: “As announced in May, Sarah Bentley has decided to forgo any performance-related bonuses for 2023 financial year. As disclosed at the time and in last year’s annual report, she received a final compensation payment in July 2022 for shares in Severn Trent she relinquished on joining Thames Water.

“The decision to forgo a performance-related payment was a personal one. Ms Bentley felt it would not have been right to take a performance-related bonus given the significant headwinds the company faced last year, which impacted performance.”

Less than 10% of emergency overflows monitored for raw sewage, figures show

Thousands of emergency overflows are not monitored for raw sewage discharge with information taken from only 10% of the total in England, a freedom of information (FOI) request has revealed.

[So multiply discharge figures quoted below ten times to get an estimate of true totals – Owl]

Danny Halpin www.standard.co.uk 

There are 7,016 emergency overflows which, unlike storm overflows, are only permitted to be used in extreme situations such as electrical power failure, a mechanical breakdown of pumps, rising main failure or blockage of the downstream sewer.

Water companies are only required to monitor emergency overflows that discharge into shellfish waters, so only 686 emergency overflows recorded data in the last two years.

Of those, 102 discharged into shellfish waters 635 times in 2021 while the following year, 86 discharged 491 times.

It’s not clear why, after the first incident, measures aren’t being taken to prevent another emergency overflow discharge

More than 60% of the emergency overflows that discharged did so on multiple occasions, raising concerns among campaigners that water companies are breaching the terms of their permits without punishment.

Dr Laura Foster of the Marine Conservation Society, who submitted the FOI request to the Environment Agency, said: “Emergency overflows are designed to be used as a last resort.

“Yet, from the tiny amount of data we do have, we can see that these discharges aren’t an uncommon occurrence, and there are repeat offences.

“It’s not clear why, after the first incident, measures aren’t being taken to prevent another emergency overflow discharge.

“Water companies are paid to treat our sewage and they need to be fulfilling this duty. The failure to put procedures in place, which they’re required to do, is putting marine life, and people, at risk.”

Last month the Guardian reported that 11 shellfish farms in Cornwall were forced to close because they were found to contain extremely high levels of E coli – a poisonous bacteria that grows in faeces.

Shellfish waters are considered to be highly sensitive, along with bathing waters, still or slow-moving water bodies, sustainable fisheries, public parks and water used for sports.

Emergency overflow permits only operate in urgent circumstances to prevent environmental damage or harm to the public and action is taken to ensure these are allocated appropriately

Water companies must demonstrate that the emergency was beyond their control and not because of a lack of maintenance and they are supposed to take all reasonable steps to prevent it happening again.

A spokesperson from Water UK said “urgent action is needed” and that water companies are putting in plans to track and reduce emergency overflow use but did not give further details.

They said: “We fully appreciate the strength of feeling about the health our rivers and seas. We get it and we are taking action to put it right. This includes investing £56 billion in the biggest modernisation of sewers since the Victorian era.

“Emergency overflows are a last resort for companies to relieve pressure on sewage pumping stations or treatment works when something goes wrong. It’s clear that urgent action is needed, which is why every water and sewerage company is putting in place plans to track and reduce their use.”

An Environment Agency spokesperson said: “Emergency overflow permits only operate in urgent circumstances to prevent environmental damage or harm to the public and action is taken to ensure these are allocated appropriately.

“We require water companies to monitor emergency overflows associated with designated shellfish waters as advised by Government.

“In 2022, emergency overflows in these locations operated at an average rate of 1.5 times per overflow a year, while over 70% were not even used. We will continue to investigate and act against permit non-compliance.”

The Marine Conservation Society said it is taking the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which oversees the Environment Agency, to court over its “inadequate” plan to tackle sewage pollution, saying its Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan should have tighter deadlines for water companies and include coastal waters.

Emma Dearnaley, legal director at the Good Law Project, said, “These extraordinary figures suggest that the true scale of the sewage dumping crisis is even more shocking and devastating than we knew.

“Good Law Project is playing its part to end this environment scandal by supporting the Marine Conservation Society and others in a High Court challenge next month which seeks to compel the Government to impose much more robust and urgent targets upon water companies to clean up their act.”

Cumbria: Anti-social behaviour in Maryport drops by almost half with just one ‘bobby on the beat’

Alison Henandez pushed the cost of policing up by 6% this year – are we getting values for money? – Owl

A seaside town has seen anti-social behaviour drop by almost half after introducing just one “bobby on the beat”.


In the last nine months, since community beat officer PC Sam Steele has patrolled the streets of Maryport, in Cumbria, anti-social behaviour (ASB) has reduced by 47 per cent compared to the same period last year.

Now Cumbria Police hope other forces across the UK will take note and reintroduce more local ‘beat’ policing – especially in rural areas where officers can really get to know all local youths and businesses.

PC Sam Steele explained: “They see you day to day and they know you’re their friend – and they know why you’re there.

“You’re not there to enforce necessarily on them, but you’re there to just be a part of their community. We’re not reinventing any wheels, we’re just doing it the logical way, the way it should be done.

“Walking around and being that visible presence, recognising people that we know and catching people in the act – and nipping it in the bud.

“We’ve seen it in Maryport, a 47 per cent reduction in the amount of antisocial behaviour logs. That’s great – that’s 47 per cent less calls that the officer that normally responds has to respond to.

“The different towns need different approaches and different officers and Maryport is one where it’s a very friendly, open town.

“They all talk to me – it’s all by names and as we said, you’ll fight with someone one day and the next day they’ll shake your hand.”

Anti-social behaviour (ASB) is classed as acts that cause intimidation and fear in residents, with examples being vandalism, harassment, anti-social drinking, vehicle abandonment and trespassing.

Just a week left to get your nominations in for…

…….one of these 24 “winnable” parliamentary seats.

Simon Jupp has already opted for the Honiton/Sidmouth carve up of his old constituency. No one yet has described his move as a “chicken run” because it might turn out to be a bit of a turkey.

So now the Tories are offering up Exeter East & Exmouth as a definite “winnable” (though Simon doesn’t seem to have been convinced).

The East Devon Tory selection procedure in 2019 was one of the more secretive in the country with no openly published information on, for example, the shortlist of candidates from whom Simon Jupp emerged as the “chosen one”.

A photo, taken at the selection meeting in the Exmouth Community College (on a day that it was closed), was posted on the East Devon Conservative website.  The photo became newsworthy after John Humphreys’ conviction because it showed him as one of the main placard holders at the event.

A mole subsequently informed Owl that the shortlist comprised four individuals, two of whom were women, both “out of area”. The general belief at the time was that Simon was very much Hugo Swire’s choice.

Owl wonders if history will repeat itself.

Simon was very active recently helping Sophie Richards with her District Council campaign and Sophie has been busy networking recently with none other than Greg Hands, the party Chair.

As a new District Councillor it’s important to get your priorities sorted.

In 2019 Sophie unsuccessfully contested the Coventry North East constituency, a rather different kettle of fish from Exmouth.

She looks like a typical “career” politician to Owl.

Hopefuls have until 5pm on Monday 12 June to get their papers sorted.

Planning applications validated by EDDC for week beginning 22 May

Comment on our love affair with property prices.

…..Even though it’s been said before, it’s worth repeating that the UK is a country wrongly convinced that inflation-busting increases in house prices are a good thing. They are not. The flip side to over-investment in bricks and mortar is under-investment in other more productive uses of capital. The regular booms in the economy driven by consumers extracting and spending equity from the rising value of their homes are invariably followed by busts.

Those who benefit from rising prices tend to be better off people in older age groups. Those who lose out tend to be two over-lapping categories: renters and the young. Anybody under 35 who is saving up for a deposit on a flat will be glad of a drop in house prices.

Housing is likely to be a central issue at the next general election, with the two main parties each backing a different side. The Conservatives – who have all but dropped housebuilding targets – are lining up behind existing owner-occupiers. Labour has said it would impose targets and be prepared to build on parts of the green belt. It is also drawing up plans that would force landowners to sell plots of land for less than their potential market price in an attempt to stop land hoarding and so increase the supply of new homes.

Even if Labour actually goes ahead with its plan, it looks certain to be challenged in the courts. Currently, if a council wants to compulsory purchase a piece of farmland for housing development it has to pay a “hope” value. That’s the value not of the farmland but of the value of the farmland adjusted for planning permission, which is substantially higher.

What is certain is that Labour’s approach makes more sense than the government’s. The current levels of housebuilding are incompatible with a rising population, and increasing the supply of homes requires reform of the planning system.

The politics are also interesting. Onward, a right of centre thinktank, produced a report last week in which it said the current crop of 25- to 40-year-olds was the first not to become more rightwing as it grew older, and housing is one reason for this.

Current Conservative housing policy will help those in their 50s and 60s who have already benefited from house-price inflation rather than those in their 20s and 30s struggling to get on the housing ladder. If Labour has concluded this is dumb economics and dumb politics, it is right on both counts.

Larry Elliott www.theguardian.com (Extract)

Holiday lets nearly negate supply of new homes in tourist areas, study shows

Here is the problem summarised, it doesn’t affect Whitehall  (but it could affect marginal seats) – Owl:

Nationwide, newly registered second homes and tourist lets have a negligible effect on housing supply, accounting for just 26,000 properties compared with the 682,000 new homes added to England’s housing stock from 2019-22. But the effect they do have is highly concentrated, with 80% of the increase in second homes and holiday lets happening in just 25 local authorities.

Robert Booth www.theguardian.com 

The supply of new homes in some tourist hotspots is being almost completely negated by the rise of second homes and holiday lets, analysis has revealed.

In the Copeland area of the Lake District, which includes the beauty spot of Scafell Pike, there were 426 new homes created in the last three years. Over the same period, 407 existing homes were converted to commercial holiday lets or second homes.

Along part of the north Devon coast, including the Hartland peninsula – which featured in the Game of Thrones spin-off House of the Dragon – the number of new homes that have become second homes or commercial holiday lets was equivalent to almost two thirds of the new supply of regular housing between 2019 and 2022.

Generation Rent, the campaign group behind the research, said the figures meant that since the start of the Covid pandemic, housing planners had been almost “running to stand still” in the most desirable coastal areas and rural beauty spots.

Dan Wilson Craw, the acting director of Generation Rent, said: “The unregulated and undertaxed holiday let sector is out of control. It has taken homes away from locals who grew up in holiday hotspots and people who want to work in the tourist industries, making these areas unsustainable.

“A large part of the solution to high rents is more house building, but locals won’t see the benefits of this if houses continue to leak into the holiday homes sector.”

The figures come as a government consultation into whether holiday lets should require planning consent closes. The measure was proposed by Michael Gove, the secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities. Housing campaigners believe such rules would reduce the number of family homes converted for tourism.

Announcing the consultation, Gove said: “In too many communities, we have seen local people pushed out of cherished towns, cities and villages by huge numbers of short-term lets. I’m determined that we ensure that more people have access to local homes at affordable prices, and that we prioritise families desperate to rent or buy a home of their own close to where they work.”

Nationwide, newly registered second homes and tourist lets have a negligible effect on housing supply, accounting for just 26,000 properties compared with the 682,000 new homes added to England’s housing stock from 2019-22. But the effect they do have is highly concentrated, with 80% of the increase in second homes and holiday lets happening in just 25 local authorities.

In the South Lakeland area of Cumbria, which includes Kendal and Windermere, the number of new holiday lets and second homes was equivalent to 63% of the new housing created. In Scarborough and Richmondshire, both in North Yorkshire, it was 56% and 49% respectively; and in north Norfolk, it was 42%.

The worst-affected London borough was Southwark, where more than 4,000 new homes were added to the stock, but more than 2,400 were lost to the second homes sector.

Cornwall, where 8% of homes are second homes or holiday lets, fared slightly better in recent years, with the growth in holiday homes equivalent to 27% of new stock.

Some campaigners are concerned measures to regulate holiday lets will have limited effect unless parallel rules around second home ownership are also introduced.

Latest redactions from No. 10


The tories ignored all the warnings even before the pandemic began. They ignored the warnings of Operation Cygnus in 2016 – hence no P.P.E. or preparation within hospitals for a major pandemic. Johnson couldn’t be bothered to attend COBRA meetings. No temperature checks at ports and airports as people arrived from countries with high infection rates. Plans for quarantine and infection control non existent. Sporting events allowed to go ahead including allowing football fans from Spain to come into the country. Then we had eat out to help out which boosted infection rates followed by the tier system allowing people from areas with high infection rates to travel into low infection rates and spreading infection. Money wasted on ‘Nightingale Hospitals’ with out the staffing to cope with any patients. Then of course the Test and Trace fiasco. We already know that the whole thing was mishandled and ill judged and a highly expensive enquiry will tell us what we already know in high highfalutin legal terms. The members of the cabinet from 2016 onwards are responsible for thousands of deaths and permanent illness. Words fail me.

Comment from Bytser

New service to help VCSE groups in East Devon due to start

A new overarching service to provide support for voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) groups and organisations in East Devon will soon start to take shape.

Adam Manning www.midweekherald.co.uk

Commissioned by East Devon District Council (EDDC), with funding from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities), this important work for the VCSE sector starts this summer and will be facilitated by independent charity, Devon Communities Together which has a long-established reputation for working closely with rural communities and the groups and organisations that support them.

The new service will be designed in close collaboration with East Devon’s VCSE sector to provide better connections across VCSE groups and organisations in the district. It will encourage joint approaches to tackling important local issues which it is anticipated will include topics such as health and social care, social isolation and loneliness, fund raising, community resilience, transport, inequalities and climate change. Local VCSE groups and organisations will decide what’s important.

It will also work on new ways of working on and influencing East Devon-wide policy and service development.

This newly commissioned work demonstrates EDDC’s commitment to the VCSE sector, which it greatly values for the impact it makes on the lives of residents.

Councillor Dan Ledger, EDDC’s portfolio holder for sustainable homes and communities, said: “Through this contract, the Council is looking forward to making new connections, supporting VCSE organisations and working with them to identify sustainable plans, including refreshing local grant schemes”

Nicola Gurr, chair of trustees of Devon Communities Together said: “I am really excited that Devon Communities Together and East Devon District Council have this opportunity to work together on such a great project. The wealth of knowledge available from all parties will be instrumental in providing even more support across the VCSE sector in East Devon.”

In coming weeks, the Devon Communities Together team will be contacting VCSE organisations across East Devon to make sure they have an opportunity to fully engage in this exciting new work.

For more information contact Devon Communities Together on 01392 248919.

House of Commons leader demands ‘how in God’s name’ Crewe homes were allowed

A council and developer need to ‘step up and deliver on their moral obligations’ to people living on a Crewe housing estate with no planning permission, the House of Commons leader has said.

Annette Belcher www.cheshire-live.co.uk 

Penny Mordaunt MP also wondered ‘how in God’s name it could have happened’, as she was responding to a question from Crewe and Nantwich MP Kieran Mullan (Con) about the plight of residents living at Coppenhall Place.

The recently built Coppenhall Place, which is on the site of the former Crewe Works off West Street, was granted planning permission in 2018. That permission was lost last year because developer Countryside Partnerships failed to deal with a condition relating to contaminated land.

But most of the 263 homes are now occupied. Last Thursday (May 25) Dr Mullan raised the matter in the House of Commons. “I have been supporting hundreds of residents of Coppenhall Place who overnight found themselves living in homes without planning permission, never expecting that, between them, Countryside and Labour and Independent-led Cheshire East Council would let them down so badly,” said the Crewe and Nantwich MP.

“I welcome Countryside’s commitment this week to cover residents’ out-of-pocket costs, but will my right hon. friend ask for a minister to meet me to discuss how we can get all the residents a full investigation and the full compensation package that they deserve?”

Ms Mordaunt replied: “When I hear about such situations, I wonder how in God’s name it could have happened. How on earth does a local authority enable and watch homes being built, in the full knowledge that they have not been through the systems in its planning department?

“This is a disgraceful situation, and the developer and the local authority need to step up and deliver on their moral obligations to the individuals who bought those homes in good faith.”

She suggested the matter be raised at the next Levelling Up, Housing and Communities questions on June 5 as, ‘the Secretary of State takes a dim view of local authorities and planning authorities that do not adhere to their obligations to their residents’.

Two months ago, Cheshire East’s strategic planning board deferred an application from Countryside to regularise the development. It was deferred for a peer review regarding the contaminated land issue and for an open book viability financial assessment to see whether it was appropriate to ask the developer for further contributions.

No date has yet been set for when the application will be considered again by the council.. Shortly after that meeting the LDRS asked Cheshire East why its enforcement officers didn’t stop the developer from building until the contaminated land condition had been discharged.

Jane Gowing, interim director of planning at Cheshire East Council, said: “In 2020, the developer provided the council with information to support the discharge of conditions relating to land contamination. While this information was being reviewed, the council continued discussions with the developer so that enough information could be provided to resolve these issues.

“However, despite considerable time and effort, the council was not satisfied with the submitted information and refused the application to discharge the condition in 2022. During this time, the developer had started and continued to build on site, but due to ongoing efforts to resolve matters and considering national guidance and legal precedents regarding taking formal action, it was not deemed appropriate to begin enforcement action against the developer.

“However, it is important to make clear that prior to the construction of foundations of any properties on the development, the council had notified the developer that a failure to discharge conditions relating to land contamination may render the development unlawful, and that any further development would be entirely at their own risk.

“Because the developer had begun works on the site before that condition had been discharged, it was deemed that planning permission had been lost for the development in 2022, at the point the condition discharge application had been refused.”

150 questions the Covid inquiry wants Boris Johnson to answer

Was No 10 really so chaotic that such questions need answers? – Owl

The Covid inquiry has sent Boris Johnson a list of 150 questions and requests for his witness statement, documents released by the Cabinet Office have shown.

Jon Stone www.independent.co.uk

Key questions the former PM has been asked include:

  • Did you say ‘let the bodies pile high’?
  • Was there any scientific evidence on Eat Out to Help Out?
  • Did the Cabinet secretary really suggest Covid ‘chickenpox parties?’
  • Did you really say you felt ‘manipulated’ by scientists into imposing a lockdown?
  • When and how did you first learn of Covid?

The UK Covid-19 Inquiry wants to see WhatsApp messages and notebooks kept by Mr Johnson to build a picture of how decisions were taken in government up to and during lockdowns.

But Rishi Sunak has refused to release unredacted documents as his government on Thursday launched legal action in a last-ditch attempt to protect the material.

Mr Johnson has said he would “happily” hand over the messages directly to the inquiry but has failed to explain why he has not disclosed messages sent during the 2020 Covid lockdown.

Other questions Mr Johnson has been sent by the inquiry include:

  • Did the UK government/Cabinet Office structures and processes for dealing with emergencies at prime minister, Cabinet, Cabinet Office, ministerial and departmental levels work effectively and properly enable key decisions in relation to the response to Covid-19 to be taken?
  • To what extent were key decisions made outside formal government processes, for example in informal and non-minuted meetings?
  • Was the advice that you received from the government chief scientific adviser (GCSA) and chief medical officer (CMO) transparent and clear throughout the pandemic? Were the roles of the GCSA and CMO effective in harnessing and distilling advice from Sage to you and other core decision-makers? Did you feel able to properly challenge their advice?
  • Did you have any concerns regarding the adequacy or sufficiency of scientific and other expert advice (including where relevant, any underpinning data) on which decisions were based? If so, what were these concerns?
  • Between January and July 2020 did you receive advice from the then Cabinet Secretary that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock MP, should be removed from his position? If so, why?
  • What steps did you take in January 2020 to ascertain the state of the UK’s emergency preparedness to deal with a pandemic?
  • Notwithstanding that the DHSC was the lead government department, why did you not attend any Cobra meetings in relation to Covid-19 prior to March 2 2020, given the seriousness of the emergency?
  • Why did you attend a personal/social meeting on the evening of March 19, after you had called on the UK on March 16 to stop all non-essential contact with others?
  • When did you become aware that Covid-19 could be spread person to person asymptomatically?
  • Please explain the concept of “herd immunity” and the extent to which seeking herd immunity formed part of the Government’s strategy for preventing a second wave following the lifting of social restrictions. To what extent did the Government consider that it would be possible to shield the vulnerable from severe infection as part of such a strategy?
  • Please confirm whether in March 2020 (or around that period), you suggested to senior civil servants and advisers that you be injected with Covid-19 on television to demonstrate to the public that it did not pose a threat? Please provide details of when any such conversation took place and the circumstances in which it was had?
  • Did the then Cabinet Secretary, Lord Sedwill, on March 12 2020 (or around that period), advise you to inform the public to hold “chickenpox parties” in order to spread infections of Covid-19? What was your response to any such advice?
  • What was your understanding as to whether individuals being discharged from hospital into care homes would first be tested for Covid-19? Did the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care provide you with an assurance, at any stage, that this testing would be in place for such individuals prior to discharge?
  • Please explain when and why a national lockdown was adopted in March 2020 as the UK Government’s strategy for responding to the pandemic.
  • What discussions did you have with the then Chancellor, about the Eat Out to Help Out scheme prior to its implementation in August 2020? Did you support the introduction of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme at the time? Did you consider at the time, the potential impact of the scheme on the number of Covid-19 infections?
  • Did you say on or around September 22 2020 that you felt that Sage had “manipulated” you into imposing the first lockdown?
  • In or around autumn 2020, did you state that you would rather “let the bodies pile high” than order another lockdown, or words to that effect? If so, please set out the circumstances in which you made these comments.
  • To what extent was there a four-nation approach to the Covid-19 response? Please comment on the effectiveness of intergovernmental working and decision-making between the UK Government, Scottish Government, Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive during the pandemic.
  • Please explain what impact, if any, you consider alleged breaches of social restriction and lockdown rules by ministers, officials and advisers, and the associated public debate at that time, had on public confidence and the maintenance of observance of those rules by the public?

French towns unite against ‘destructive’ Airbnb boom

French towns and cities have banded together to fight Airbnb and other tourist rental platforms which they blame for hollowing out historic centres, driving up property prices and forcing locals to leave.

Charles Bremner www.thetimes.co.uk

Campaign groups from 20 communities, ranging from the fortified Breton harbour of Saint-Malo to Marseilles port and Chamonix, the Mont Blanc mountain resort, have joined forces to press for state action against what they describe as a blight that is disrupting life in their towns.

“This is destruction. Entire neighbourhoods are being emptied,” Franck Rolland, a Saint Malo activist who heads the national group, said at its first news conference. Airbnb, by far the biggest platform, is advertising 800,000 offers of accommodation in France, with 22,000 in Paris, the group says.

Beyond the nuisance of noisy parties, suitcases clattering on cobblestones and messy rubbish bins, the rental boom is creating an exodus of local residents, forcing the closure of shops and schools and causing a labour shortage, the campaigners say. Their main target is not owner-occupiers, but people and companies who buy up property to cash in year-round on the lucrative tourist rental business.

In the southwestern Basque country, where local authorities have recently imposed restrictions, campaigners say half the homes in the village of Guéthary are short-term rentals, with 45 per cent in the port town of Saint Jean-de-Luz and 40 per cent in the resort city of Biarritz. In Saint Malo’s walled city, the first town to crack down on tourist lettings, local anger is reported to have manifested itself in damage to renters’ vehicles. Bastia, Corsica’s main port, began imposing curbs this week.

In the heart of the Alpine city of Annecy, Brigitte Cottet, an anti-Airbnb campaigner, said half the apartment buildings in her street were occupied by tourist rentals. “In the old town, 23 buildings have been declared dangerous for lack of upkeep. Airbnb owners don’t repair roofs,” she told Le Monde.

The campaign has been launched after a bill tabled by a cross-party group of MPs to curb the conversion of private residences into year-round commercial operations was delayed in parliament last month.

Paris has imposed a string of conditions that have cramped the activities of Airbnb and its smaller rivals. Homeowners are restricted to letting their primary residence for a maximum of 120 days a year. Non-resident owners and anyone wanting to rent a property out for more than 120 days must register as a business. Non-resident owners must also convert a commercial property into a residential one to qualify.

The city, however, depends on income from rental visitors and it is relying on Airbnb to help in next summer’s Olympic games. The fat rents that can be charged, up to €10,500 a night for a two-room flat in central Paris, are tempting many residents to think of moving out for the Games.

Paris has been working with Barcelona, Amsterdam and other tourist cities on ways of regulating the business.

Dario Nardella, the mayor of Florence said he wanted to ban short-term lets from the historic city centre entirely, and use tax breaks to encourage more permanent residents.

Unbelievable: South West Water increases dividends by 11% as CEO set herself up as climate change champion.

For once Owl is lost for words.

Susan Davy, Chief Executive Pennon Group, is quoted as justifying the payout because: “we have delivered improvements in environmental performance, building on our sector leading 100pc water quality for our 860 miles of coastline and on track to reduce our use of storm overflows by 50pc by 2025.”

Simultaneously, she has been setting herself up as an environmental champion to lead a community response to the climate crisis, with particular reference to water supply. See what is described as her “advertorial” here: www.devonlive.com 

“….while climate change is a global issue, it has many local and community impacts, and working together with our customers and our communities holds the key to making the most difference.

“As the largest private employer and business in the region, Pennon takes its societal contribution extremely seriously….

“…We continue to invest in innovative solutions to mitigate the impacts of the drought, from repurposing ex-quarries to provide new water resources, to fixing customer-side leaks for free, launching pioneering initiatives such as Save Every Drop, and encouraging everyone to think differently about water usage…”

[Extremely seriously, how much water leaks away before it ever gets to our taps? – Owl]

South West Water pays £112m to shareholders amid sewage leak backlash

The owner of one of Britain’s biggest water companies has rewarded investors with an £112m dividend despite profits plunging and an ongoing probe into its alleged failure to report sewage leaks

By Oliver Gill, Chief Business Correspondent www.telegraph.co.uk 

Pennon Group, the FTSE 100 company that owns South West Water, said shareholder dividends would increase by 10.9pc.

The company highlighted that the dividend rise was 2pc higher than inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index including housing costs.

The 42.73p-a-share dividend amounts to £112m. It leaves Pennon with just £144m of cash reserves, compared with almost £2.7bn two years ago.

Pennon posted an £8.5m pre-tax loss on £797m of revenue for the year ending 31 March. Last year it made £128m in profit.

The results come as Pennon, which also owns Bristol Water, faces an investigation by the industry regulator examining whether its reporting of leaks and water use was accurate. 

Water companies must show that they are tackling leaks and keeping household water consumption down in accordance with rules laid down by regulator Ofwat.

David Black, the chief executive of Ofwat, said on Wednesday that a “thorough investigation will now be carried out and we will provide updates in due course on our findings and whether there is any further action Ofwat needs to take”.

Pennon responded to the investigation by saying that the figures were “subject to rigorous assurance processes” and signed off by a technical auditor.

Susan Davy, Pennon chief executive, said that the company’s annual loss followed “an extraordinary year for Pennon in which extreme weather patterns have tested our operational resilience”.

She added: “In a year in which the sector has been rightly challenged to clean up its act, we have delivered improvements in environmental performance, building on our sector leading 100pc water quality for our 860 miles of coastline and on track to reduce our use of storm overflows by 50pc by 2025. 

“I am also clear that one pollution is one too many, and numbers are falling as we implement sustained change.”

Aarin Chiekrie, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said that high power and inflation-related costs were responsible for eroding Pennon’s profits.

He added: “But cashflows are getting squeezed by higher investment levels as the group aims to shore up its water supplies for the year. Unseasonably dry winter weather means the drought status in southwest England remains in place. 

“As summertime nears, it’s touch-and-go whether reservoir levels will be sufficient to keep customers’ supplies running at full flow. If not, Pennon could find itself in the regulator’s firing line.”

House prices falling at their fastest rate in nearly 14 years as buyers reel from higher interest rates

House prices are falling at their fastest rate for almost 14 years as buyers reel from the impact of sharply higher interest rates, figures showed on Thursday.

Jonathan Prynn www.standard.co.uk 

The annual rate at which prices are dropping picked up pace from 2.7 per cent in April to 3.4 per cent last month, the biggest fall since the aftermath of the financial crash in July 2009, according to lender Nationwide. Commentators said that the normal “spring bounce” seen in the London market at this time of year failed to materialise with buyers spooked by the threat of yet more interest rate pain.

The building society warned that further rate hikes from the Bank of England would “strengthen the headwinds” facing the already nervous market, although a full-scale crash is seen as unlikely. The Bank has already pushed through 12 rate increases, lifting the cost of borrowing from 0.1 per cent to 4.5 per cent since December 2021, in a bid to curb galloping inflation.

However, official figures last week showing that the Retail Price Index fell far less than expected in April to 8.7 per cent panicked City markets, which now fear the Bank will have to raise rates to as high as 5.5 per cent over the coming months.

That in turn brought turmoil to the fixed-rate mortgage market, where prices have jumped and hundreds of deals have been withdrawn.

On Thursday the average rate on a two-year deal was 5.49 per cent, up from 5.45 per cent on Wednesday, according to latest data from analysts Moneyfacts. The average five-year, fixed-rate deal rose from 5.12 per cent to 5.17 per cent, the highest since January. Meanwhile, the latest figures from the Bank of England showed the number of mortgage approvals dropping from 51,500 in March to 48,700 in April in another sign of rapidly falling confidence in the market.

Nationwide’s chief economist, Robert Gardner, said: “While consumer price inflation did slow in April, it was a much smaller decline than most analysts had expected. As a result, investors’ expectations for the future path of the bank rate increased noticeably in late May, suggesting it could peak at around 5.5 per cent, well above the 4.5 per cent peak that was priced in around late March. Furthermore, rates are also projected to remain higher for longer.

“If maintained, this is likely to exert renewed upward pressure on mortgage rates, which had been trending down after spiking in the wake of the mini-budget in September last year.”

Data from the building society also showed a month-on-month decline of 0.1 per cent in May, with the average cost of a UK home now at £260,736.

Commentators said the property market will continue to be overshadowed by heightened uncertainty over mortgages. Craig Fish, managing director at London mortgage broker Lodestone, said: “Just when you thought the market was stabilising, the inflation data emerged and triggered turmoil in the mortgage market. We were witnessing more normal levels of property activity in May, but there are now concerns about how much higher rates could go. Activity could stagnate moving forward as people take stock. We have already had some clients tell us that their property plans are on hold until things settle down.

“The hope is that as inflation drops, conditions will improve and we could see a strong end to 2023, which should continue into 2024.”

Jason Tebb, chief executive of property search website OnTheMarket.com, said: “Just as a welcome level of stability was returning to the market following the unprecedented uncertainty created by the min-budget in the autumn, something comes along to upset the apple cart.

“The inflation figures, which while moving in the right direction are proving to be more stubborn than first thought, have created volatility in the money markets, resulting in lenders increasing their mortgage pricing.”

Jonathan Hopper, chief executive of buying agents Garrington Property Finders, said: “Less than a week after the Nationwide increased its mortgage interest rates by up to 0.45 per cent, the lender’s latest House Price Index suggests the property market too has yet to settle.

“Its May data shows that average property prices fell in eight out of the past nine months, and prices are now four per cent lower than their peak of August 2022. For now, April’s fleeting price increase looks like a blip rather than the start of a rapid recovery.”

Samuel Mather-Holgate, from advisory firm Mather & Murray Financial, said: “Approvals for house purchases were down in April, and following the events of the past week, with lenders on red alert, activity in the housing market is set to dry up again, as confidence goes from boom to bust.”