News

Hounslow Council has made a Compulsory Purchase Order over the area south of the High Street to allow Ballymore’s plans to be built out. In 2015, the area south of the High Street was granted planning permission for a mix of new homes, shops and leisure facilities. Hounslow Chamber supported the development and spoke in favour of the proposals at the public Planning Committee.

Now a Compulsory Purchase Order has been made to complete the land assembly for the whole site, making it easier for Ballymore to start work.  Ballymore’s MD John Mulryan said

I am grateful to Hounslow Council for their continued commitment to regenerating Brentford’s High Street and Riverside.

The new homes, shops, community and leisure facilities will be of a great benefit to residents for years to come. Local people have been waiting a long time for the regeneration of Brentford Town Centre and we thank them for their patience – it will be worth the wait.

The completed scheme will revitalise the High Street and waterside areas, as well as providing much needed housing. Councillor Steve Curran, Leader of Hounslow Council, said:

The regeneration of Brentford High Street is significant to the community it serves and is part of our on-going commitment to improve quality of life for our residents in every way possible.

Hounslow Chamber CEO Stephen Fry said:

We gave strong support for this development and I spoke at the Planning Committee reminding Councillors that this development amounted to over half a billion pounds worth of private sector investment.

It looks like only now with this long overdue CPO can Ballymore begin to get the job done.

A Hong Kong-based firm is to help run one of the biggest rail franchises in the UK, the government has announced.

MTR, which operates the Hong Kong Metro, has been awarded the franchise along with First Group to run South West Trains (SWT) for seven years.

Rail union RMT has reacted angrily saying MTR, which will hold a 30% share, “is set to make a killing at the British taxpayer’s expense”.

Stagecoach currently runs SWT services across south west England.

The firm said it had “submitted a strong bid” but was disappointed to be losing the franchise, which it has operated for two decades.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said the new operators would oversee a £1.2bn investment to improve journeys for millions of train passengers.

It said the new franchise would add 22,000 extra seats into London Waterloo on every morning peak and 30,000 extra seats each evening peak.

A fleet of 90 new trains has also been promised, providing more space for passengers on Reading, Windsor and London routes.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said the deal

marks a new era in joined up working between train operators and Network Rail

But Mick Cash, RMT General Secretary, said the government had

refused to consider the public sector option for a major rail franchise

RMT is deeply concerned at exactly what this announcement will mean for our members, these crucial rail services and the safety of the travelling public,

 

UK shares started the week lower as the pound jumped to a seven-week high against the US dollar.

The dollar was weaker against most currencies following the defeat of Donald Trump’s planned healthcare reforms on Friday.

Analysts say the failure to push the reforms through has raised questions over whether Mr Trump will be able to deliver his tax and spending policies.

Sterling jumped nearly 1% against the dollar to $1.2580 at one point.

The pound also rose against the euro. climbing 0.15% to 1.1567 euros.

The markets are having their own ‘Trump Tantrum’, as investors seriously doubt whether the President’s abrasive style will work in Washington,

said Kathleen Brooks, research director at City Index Direct.

“Not only does the failed healthcare bill highlight the challenges Trump may face trying to get his other policies passed, but the Congressional Budget Office also highlighted that the savings expected from Trump’s healthcare bill would be much less than expected, which could limit the size and scope of his infrastructure spending plan.”

As the pound rose, the benchmark FTSE 100 share index fell, dropping 65.49 points, or 0.9%, to 7,271.33.

The FTSE 100 often moves inversely to the pound, as many companies listed on the index earn a significant percentage of their revenues overseas. A stronger pound means overseas earnings are worth less when converted back into sterling.

Shares in BT Group fell 1.4% after the telecoms company was fined £42m by the regulator, Ofcom, over delays in installing high-speed lines. BT will also have to pay £300m to corporate customers.

Rising fuel and food prices helped to push last month’s inflation rate to the highest since September 2013.


Inflation as measured by the Office for National Statistics’ Consumer Prices Index (CPI) jumped to 2.3% in February – up from 1.8% in January.  The increase has pushed the rate above the Bank of England’s 2% target.  Food prices recorded their first annual increase for more than two-and-a-half years, standing 0.3% higher in February than a year earlier.

The Bank of England has said it expects inflation will peak at 2.8% next year, although some economists think the rate could rise above 3%. The Brexit vote last June prompted a steep fall in the value of the pound, making imported goods more expensive.  Ben Brettell, senior economist at Hargreaves Lansdown, said the fall in the pound against the dollar had been pushing transport costs higher since last summer.

Oil is priced in dollars, and sterling has fallen around 13%… since last June’s referendum.

He said that transport costs accounted for more than a third of the inflation figure.
Consumer squeeze?  This month, the ONS has started to promote its preferred inflation statistic, CPIH, which includes a measure of housing costs and council tax. This was also measured as growing at a rate of 2.3% in February.

The Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation rose to 3.2% in February from 2.6% the month before.  At the last week’s meeting of the Bank of England’s interest rate setting committee, one member voted for interest rates to rise to curb the threat of inflation.
But despite inflation standing above the 2% target, some economists do not expect interest rates to rise any time soon.

Inflation is now running at the same rate as growth in wages, putting pressure on household income and spending.

Chris Williamson, chief business economist at Markit, said:

It remains likely that policymakers will adopt an increasingly dovish tone in coming months, despite the rise in inflation, as the economy slows due to consumers being squeezed by low pay and rising prices.

Hounslow Council has partnered with Willmott Partnership Homes, a unit of Willmott Dixon Group, as its partner to deliver 1,500 homes over six years.

Willmott Partnership Homes will form a joint venture with the council’s subsidiary Lampton 360 to initially develop 11 sites owned by the council. The first site targeted for development is Nantly House on Lampton Road, which will feature a block of 74 flats. Work on another five of the earmarked 11 sites will begin later in 2017.

The homes will be available in a mix of tenures including 40% affordable, 40% open market sale and 20% private rent. The project will have a development value of £90M.
Overall, the council plans to deliver 7,200 homes in the Hounslow and Feltham town centre housing zones by 2026.

Willmott Partnership Homes’ chief operating officer, Charlie Scherer, said;

Working in a truly collaborative, 50/50 joint venture will allow us to blend our knowledge together to accelerate the provision of much needed new housing available for all tenures.

Howard Woollaston, chair of Lampton 360, added;

The complimentary skill-sets will see Lampton 360 lead on identifying sites and gaining planning permission, while Willmott Partnership Homes will add its construction, sales and marketing skills to deliver the new homes.

Culture Secretary Karen Bradley said she is “minded” to order an Ofcom investigation into the planned £18.5bn takeover of Sky by 21st Century Fox. Competition concerns and broadcasting standards were among the issues of concern, she said.  Ms Bradley has asked for evidence from the two companies and will decide later this month whether to intervene.

Both Sky and Fox are controlled by businessman Rupert Murdoch, who also owns the Times and the Sun newspapers.  A decision to intervene would not block the deal, but trigger an Ofcom assessment as well as a Competition and Markets Authority report to be considered by Ms Bradley.  21st Century Fox said it was confident the deal would be approved:

We anticipate regulators will undertake a thorough review of the transaction and we look forward to engaging with them.

The Culture Secretary said she had written to the two companies to inform them of “concerns that there may be public interest considerations … that warrant further investigation”.

The first public interest ground was media plurality and the need for a “sufficient plurality of persons with control of the media enterprises serving audiences in the UK”.

Commitment to broadcasting standards was the second ground for possible intervention.
This related to the need for those controlling media enterprises to “have a genuine commitment to attaining broadcasting standards objectives”.

The proposed deal has also been lodged with the European Commission, which would examine competition concerns if the case was referred by Ms Bradley.
Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox is offering £11.7bn for the 61% stake in Sky it does not already own.

Sky shareholders would receive £10.75 in cash for each share, valuing the entire company at £18.5bn.

The Markit/CIPS purchasing managers’ index (PMI) for services fell to 53.3, down from 54.5 in January. However, it remains above the 50 threshold that separates growth from contraction. Markit estimates the economy will grow by 0.4% in the first quarter of 2017.
The economy has “lost momentum” after “impressive” growth at the end of 2016, said Chris Williamson of IHS Markit. Services, which include areas such as finance and hospitality, make up more than three-quarters of the UK economy. Markit said the sector had been stung by the steepest rise in costs for more than eight years as a result of the weak pound. This is likely to mean that inflation faced by consumers “has significantly further to rise”, said Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit.

Latest official figures showed that inflation hit 1.8% in January, but Mr Williamson said the rate was expected to hit 3% over the next year.  The services PMI figure was slightly below expectations, with analysts forecasting a reading of 54.1.  Earlier in the week, a similar survey of manufacturers had also suggested a slowdown last month.

A further slowdown in UK business activity growth in February adds to evidence that the economy has lost momentum after the impressive expansion seen at the end of last year,

said Mr Williamson.

Inflationary pressures remained the highest for six years as firms struggled with rising costs associated with the weak pound, but optimism about the year ahead remained elevated by recent standards.

Paul Hollingsworth, UK economist at Capital Economics, said:

The economy faces a number of headwinds including higher inflation and uncertainty surrounding the future relationship with the EU as formal negotiations get underway.

However, we continue to think that the UK will weather these well, and expect GDP growth of 1.8% in 2017 and 2.5% in 2018.

The pound declined after the news was released. Sterling fell 0.3% against the dollar to $1.2233 and was 0.5% lower against the euro at 1.1621.
Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said:

We continue to expect quarter-on-quarter GDP growth to average just 0.2% this year, ensuring that the [Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee] holds back from raising interest rates despite high inflation.
The combination of lower growth with higher expected inflation could herald a period of stagflation

he added.

Uber has lost its attempt to prevent its drivers being forced to take English language tests.

The ride-hailing app went to court in August last year after Transport for London (TfL) said that drivers should have to prove their ability to communicate in English.

Uber argued that the standard of reading and writing required by the test was too high.

The ruling will also apply to all minicab firms in London.

TfL are entitled to require private hire drivers to demonstrate English language compliance,

said Judge John Mitting as he rejected Uber’s claim.

However, the judge ruled that Uber would not be required to open a UK-based call centre.

Facebook has begun using artificial intelligence to identify members that may be at risk of killing themselves.

The social network has developed algorithms that spot warning signs in users’ posts and the comments their friends leave in response. After confirmation by Facebook’s human review team, the company contacts those thought to be at risk of self-harm to suggest ways they can seek help.  A suicide helpline chief said the move was “not just helpful but critical”.

The tool is being tested only in the US at present. It marks the first use of AI technology to review messages on the network. Founder Mark Zuckerberg announced last month that he also hoped to use algorithms to identify posts by terrorists among other concerning content.

Facebook also announced new ways to tackle suicidal behaviour on its Facebook Live broadcast tool and has partnered with several US mental health organisations to let vulnerable users contact them via its Messenger platform.

Pattern recognition

Facebook has offered advice to users thought to be at risk of suicide for years, but until now it had relied on other users to bring the matter to its attention by clicking on a post’s report button.

It has now developed pattern-recognition algorithms to recognise if someone is struggling, by training them with examples of the posts that have previously been flagged.

Talk of sadness and pain, for example, would be one signal.  Responses from friends with phrases such as “Are you OK?” or “I’m worried about you,” would be another.  Once a post has been identified, it is sent for rapid review to the network’s community operations team.

We know that speed is critical when things are urgent,

Facebook product manager Vanessa Callison-Burch told the BBC.

The director of the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline praised the effort, but said he hoped Facebook would eventually do more than give advice, by also contacting those that could help.

It’s something that we have been discussing with Facebook,

said Dr John Draper.

The more we can mobilise the support network of an individual in distress to help them, the more likely they are to get help.

The question is how we can do that in a way that doesn’t feel invasive.

I would say though that what they are now offering is a huge step forward.

Ms Callison-Burch acknowledged that contact from friends or family was typically more effective than a message from Facebook, but added that it would not always be appropriate for it to inform them.

We’re sensitive to privacy and I think we don’t always know the personal dynamics between people and their friends in that way, so we’re trying to do something that offers support and options,

she said.

The latest effort to help Facebook Live users follows the death of a 14-year-old-girl in Miami, who livestreamed her suicide on the platform in January. However, the company said it had already begun work on its new tools before the tragedy. The goal is to help at-risk users while they are broadcasting, rather than wait until their completed video has been reviewed some time later. Now, when someone watching the stream clicks a menu option to declare they are concerned, Facebook displays advice to the viewer about ways they can support the broadcaster.

The stream is also flagged for immediate review by Facebook’s own team, who then overlay a message with their own suggestions if appropriate.

Some might say we should cut off the stream of the video the moment there is a hint of somebody talking about suicide,

said Jennifer Guadagno, Facebook’s lead researcher on the project.

But what the experts emphasised was that cutting off the stream too early would remove the opportunity for people to reach out and offer support.

So, this opens up the ability for friends and family to reach out to a person in distress at the time they may really need it the most.

The new system is being rolled out worldwide. A new option to contact a choice of crisis counsellor helplines via Facebook’s Messenger tool, however, is limited to the US for now. Facebook said it needed to check whether other organisations would be able to cope with demand before it expanded the facility.

Their ongoing and future efforts give me great hope for saving more lives globally from the tragedy of suicide,

said Dr Dan Reiden executive director of Save.org, which is involved in the initiative.

The opportunity for prevention, even with Facebook Live, is better now than ever before.

Customers who only buy landline services from BT are set to get at least £5 a month taken off their bills under plans set out by the telecoms regulator, Ofcom.

It said those customers, who are often elderly or vulnerable, were not getting value for money.

BT has nearly 80% of the UK landline market, and Ofcom is hoping other providers will also cut prices.

The telecoms giant said it took its responsibilities “very seriously”.

Unlike other companies, we have many customers on special tariffs for socially excluded or vulnerable customers,

BT said.

Recently, we have frozen the cost of line rental for all of our customers who take a BT phone line.

The planned price cut will effectively reverse cost rises seen in recent years, Ofcom said. BT customers, who pay £18.99 per month for a landline-only contract, would pay no more than £13.99.  Ofcom has the power to set prices for firms that have significant market power.

The regulator’s chief executive, Sharon White, said:

We believe there are about two million elderly and vulnerable BT customers – strikingly about half are in their late seventies – and for this group of people their landline is their lifeline.

It’s a group of people who have seen the cost of their landline bills rise by about a third in recent years, while BT’s costs have fallen by about a quarter.

She said most people on bundled packages – which include landline, broadband and/or pay TV – can shop around for better deals.  BT is not alone in raising its prices. Major industry players increased line rental prices by between 25% and 49% in real terms between December 2009 and December 2016, while wholesale prices fell by about 26%, Ofcom said.  The regulator launched its review of landline phone prices in December.

Richard Neudegg, head of regulation at price comparison website Uswitch, said that the group of consumers affected are

the most reliant on voice-only services and least likely to leave BT for a better deal

The demographic tend not to be online, and are the least likely to engage with the market and switch their services, and it is right Ofcom is looking closely at what can be done,

he said.

Andrew Ferguson of broadband comparison website Think Broadband said that while the price reduction would be welcome for landline-only customers,

a lot hinges on whether those who buy bundles will just end up subsidising those who buy standalone products