European residents will have the right to open a basic bank account in any country of the EU and compare the fees charged by providers, under new plans.
Read more from the original source: Bank accounts will be ‘open to all’
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European residents will have the right to open a basic bank account in any country of the EU and compare the fees charged by providers, under new plans.
Read more from the original source: Bank accounts will be ‘open to all’
The Sunday Times’s annual naming of Britain’s wealthiest residents coincided with the running of the London Marathon
New homes that could feature in Grand Designs have raised questions over the application of planning laws
It is a quiet lane, overhanging trees creating a tunnel of green gloom, which has inspired some of the greats of English literature. Keats and Coleridge once walked here, both enthralled by the birdsong of nightingales.
Today Millfield Lane in north London remains one of the most secluded tracks through Hampstead Heath, a shaded trail that snakes past woods and bathing ponds and finishes at Kenwood House, the impressive former stately home at the top of one of London’s finest lungs.
But the lane’s renowned tranquillity is under threat. A handful of putative but spectacular developments stretching along the lane, which would not look out of place on television’s Grand Designs, are causing deep disquiet. Some local residents fear they will spoil the country feel of the lane; others worry about the disruption caused by builders’ lorries and the threat the massive developments present to the Heath’s fragile water table. At the heart of the row is a wider concern: the power of the ultra-wealthy to circumvent planning laws, even if it means spending millions on buying crumbling properties only to knock them down.
The most advanced development, a 13,000 sq ft futuristic glass and steel house, with chutes spiralling down from the first floor to the swimming pool below, is only weeks from completion. In recent months graffiti has appeared on the temporary wooden fence around the building site, attacking Camden council for approving the development. “How did this get planning permission?” someone scrawled with a marker pen.
However, the property’s owner, believed to be a hotelier, has gone some way to placating the local – and often voluble – Fitzroy Park residents’ association. Having knocked the original house down on site to make way for the new, modernist property, disruption was kept to a minimum and local groups were consulted throughout construction.
“We worked with the neighbours and all the interested groups,” said Neil Westwick, associate director of Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners, which handled the planning application. “That’s the key to planning; you’ve all got to get on.” Westwick did concede that the new building currently clashed with its bucolic surroundings: “Without the trees, it’s a bit stark, but it will blend into the Heath once summer arrives and we’re able to progress with tree planting.”
But some local people fear that the development will see mega-homes mushroom along the Heath’s borders. At least five homes in the Fitzroy Park area have major planning applications before the council. Several appear to be seeking to squeeze more square footage out of their existing plot of land, either by demolishing the existing building or “digging down” – that is, excavating.
“It sets a dangerous precedent,” said Mary Cane, of the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association, whose natural swimming pool lies less than 100 metres from the new developments. “There is a concern that the unpretentious, older domestic dwellings in Fitzroy Park will be bought by greedy bankers with large bonuses in their pockets, so that they can build huge houses with giant basements and extensive servants’ quarters.”
A previous attempt by a Russian oligarch to build a stucco-fronted neo-Georgian mansion on one of the sites, known as the Water House, was abandoned following vociferous opposition that attracted the support of local celebrities, including actor Tom Conti and Monty Python star Terry Jones. Residents complained that any development on the site would have an impact on the water table and claimed that hundreds of heavy lorries would have to use the lane to remove soil.
Paul Munford, a financier, who specialises in “luxury asset finance” and who recently resubmitted plans to the council to develop a single-storey property on the site, said he had commissioned five independent hydrology reports which concluded there would be no impact on the water table. He insisted that only about four lorries a day would run up and down the lane for around six months and that the development, which has a green roof that cannot be seen from the Heath, would be “very low impact”.
Munford is aware of the controversy, but points out that Hampstead is an area rich in modern architecture, much of it unpopular when it was first unveiled. Ernö Goldfinger’s modernist home and Berthold Lubetkin’s art deco buildings, Highpoint I and II, were both attacked when they were built in the 1930s, but are now considered of huge historical importance.
“Hampstead is a place where good ideas and great architecture have been, and should continue to be, allowed to flourish,” Munford insisted.
But his attempts to mollify his critics have been given short shrift by the Ladies’ Pond Association, whose position remains unchanged since it wrote to the council in 2011 explaining that Millfield Lane in its current form could not cope with the heavy lorries needed to move thousands of tonnes of soil. It said the lane was “one of the very few remaining country lanes, possibly in the whole London area, untarred and unlit, and we do not want to see it changed”.
The association’s comments have been echoed by the Highgate Society, which observes that north London’s multi-millionaires are spreading out beyond their traditional enclave around The Bishops Avenue, one of Britain’s most expensive roads, because “they must now live as close as possible to Hampstead Heath, where their grandiose architectural fantasies can be looked upon in awe by as many people as possible”.
To the heritage brigade, the spread threatens to undermine the Hampstead Heath Act of 1871, which charged the City of London with keeping “the Heath open, unenclosed and unbuilt on”.
Munford, however, believes that planning laws should not act as a brake on cutting-edge architecture if it is sympathetic to its natural surroundings and quotes with approval the maxim that an “Englishman’s home is his castle”.
It appears an intractable row, one in which emotions run deep. As Keats observes in the opening line of On the Grasshopper and Cricket: “The poetry of earth is never dead.”
Research shows slowest area in London includes Barbican, next door to the City of London, while fastest is Charlton in Greenwich
A home in the centre of town is no guarantee of fast broadband speeds, with UK customers facing a postcode lottery when it comes to internet connections, new figures show.
City living usually brings good transport links and easy access to shops, but it can also lock residents into the broadband slow lane.
Research based on 900,000 speed tests over a three-month period by price comparison firm uswitch shows the slowest area in London has a postcode which covers the Barbican, a short walk from the
Residents and visitors to a Kent village are racking up extra charges when their mobile phones connect to French networks.
Read the original post: Kent village paying for French calls
Residents and tourists at the foot of the white cliffs of Dover regularly get charged for using French network
Visitors to the famous white cliffs of Dover are getting a nasty surprise when they want to use their mobile phones – they are picking up a French signal at higher charges.
Residents and tourists in the seaside village of St Margaret-at-Cliffe and St Margaret’s bay at the foot of the Kent cliffs – just 18 miles from France – regularly get a “Welcome to France” message and the extra costs, including data roaming charges for smartphone users, from companies such as Orange F and SFR.
Landlord of the Coastguard pub and restaurant on the beach Nigel Wydymus, 53, said: “We are a little telecommunications enclave of France here.
“It did not cause a huge amount of trouble for a few years because you got a message saying ‘Welcome to France’, but since smartphones have come in it’s more of a problem.
“Obviously people strolling along the beach in England do not expect to be on a French network and so, unlike when they get off the plane in Spain or elsewhere, they haven’t switched off their data roaming and it causes some extra bills.
“In the village the French signal is patchy depending on the atmospherics and the weather, but here on the beach the French signal is constant because we are at the foot of the cliffs and the UK signal is blocked out.”
Costs for making a call on the French network can be up to four times the cost of using a domestic one with a cost of up to 28p to make a call and nearly 8p to receive one and nearly 9p to send a text.
The signal problem has upset locals who want something to be done to stop the extra charges and inconvenience.
A spokesman for EE said: “We always recommend our customers switch off roaming while they are in this little pocket of an area to ensure that they are connecting to the correct network because we cannot control the networks from the other side of the water.”
The issue is believed to affect all UK networks.
Costs could be passed on to residents if Congress decides to curb tax breaks on municipal bond interest in bid to agree deal
It isn’t easy for Juan Venegas to support his wife and three children with the money he earns installing fiberglass at a construction company in Riverside, California. He’s lucky to have a job at all; the industry here is still reeling from the housing crisis.
But supporting his family would become even harder if the local utility company were to raise electric and water rates.
“Electric service is already expensive in Riverside,” Venegas, 30, said after buying ice cream for his three sons at a local market. “We would have to sacrifice other expenses, like some school supplies for the kids.”
Higher utility bills could become a reality for Venegas and his fellow residents if Washington decides to curb tax exemptions on municipal bond interest as part of a bid to avert the fiscal cliff, a move that House speaker John Boehner has said he’s willing to consider. Eliminating, or even just curbing, the tax break could chase investors away from the bonds, raising borrowing costs for municipalities across the nation. To pay for that, cities would have to pass off the cost to residents in the form of higher rates, or by putting off needed improvements to infrastructure.
“You would have higher borrowing costs for issuers, which would ultimately be passed on to taxpayers,” said Peter Hayes, who heads BlackRock’s municipal bonds group. “In some cases, the increased costs would be very detrimental to municipalities’ budgets.”
Riverside would be one of those cases. Unlike the majority of California municipalities, the city, located about 60 miles east of Los Angeles, runs its own electric and water companies. It is an expensive undertaking that swallows about half its $1bn budget. The city regularly issues debt to help pay for that, and plans to go to the market several times next year.
Should borrowing costs rise, the city, which is known for its famous Mission Inn hotel and as the birthplace of California’s citrus industry, would raise utility rates on residents and might also postpone plans to improve electric and water infrastructure.
Local officials say they don’t think Washington understands how much its possible approach to solving the country’s fiscal woes will end up hurting its own local governments.
“This is going to make life more difficult for us on Main Street,” Riverside mayor Rusty Bailey said in an interview. “They think it’s another revenue source but I don’t think they realize it’ll increase the interest cost for every city.”
It’s not a good time to make it harder for California’s cities to get funds. Many of them are still reeling from heavy unemployment and the rash of foreclosures caused by the financial crisis. Some have been firing city workers and a handful – such as Riverside’s neighbor San Bernardino – even filed for bankruptcy. As a result, many cities have already been putting off projects to improve their infrastructure.
What’s notable about the federal proposal is that it wouldn’t only affect the municipalities already in trouble. Those most impacted would be the ones that plan to issue bonds in coming months and years, said William Holder, dean of the USC Leventhal School of Accounting. Many of those cities are fiscally healthy.
“They’ll pay more for debt service,” Holder said. “They may forgo an attractive capital project: building a new fire station or a civil center.”
Riverside, for example, has maintained solid finances throughout the economic crisis, even with an unemployment rate currently at 12%. The city earned an AA- rating on its general obligation bonds from Standard & Poor’s, which said it showed “strong financial management practices.”
Right now, the city can get financing through a 30-year bond at around 4.5% interest. That rate could rise to 6.5 or 7% under current market conditions if the tax exemption were removed, said Brent Mason, the city’s finance director.
“We’re a regular issuer in the bond market, so the cost of capital is of endless importance to us and to our citizens, who are the rate payers,” Mason said. “You can see why they’d be interested in removing the tax exempt rate, but it’s a huge cost to us.”
The changes wouldn’t only affect utilities. “I look at the calendar of stuff to do six months from now, and there are always things to do,” Mason said. “The economy is starting to recover and people will start flooding in again to the region. They’ll be a demand for this or that.”
One such project that city officials are considering is a $20m upgrade to Riverside’s downtown public library. That plan would likely be put on hold amid higher borrowing costs, as would the jobs the remodel could create.
The library was built in 1965 and hasn’t been upgraded to cater to modern technology or to provide more space for community programs. The second-floor area that gets the best wireless internet reception doesn’t have any access to outlets for laptop computers, and users aren’t allowed to access certain websites because the server could overload. Indeed, on a recent afternoon, no visitors were using the area to work on their own computer.
“The building needs updating to meet the needs of our customers,” library director Tonya Kennon said.
To be sure, some analysts and investors consider it more likely that federal officials would cap the tax break rather than eliminate it.
Laura Milner, senior investment manager on the fixed income strategies team at Wells Fargo Private Bank, said a cap wouldn’t stop her group from continuing to buy municipal bonds for their high net-worth clients because they would remain safe investments compared with other fixed-income products and because their yields would still be more attractive than other taxable debt such as corporate bonds.
“There might not be as much as an adjustment as you’d think,” Milner said.
But Riverside believes the cost of borrowing would still rise even if the interest is only capped, Mason said. “It’s the same effect but not as dramatic. In either case, it makes it substantially more expensive to borrow funds. We’re certainly opposed to that.”
If he’s right, local attitudes towards Washington might deteriorate.
“I have no confidence in the federal congress,” said Susan Heath, 69, a retired clinical lab scientist who was shopping at the Home Depot. “At a local level, we’re going to be hard pressed to get things done.”
Providing High-Speed 4G Services to Residents and Businesses
Using data from Wealth Insight, we have visualised the number of multimillionaire residents in US cities and states at the end of 2011, as well as proportional changes since 2007
HSBC has closed 45 local branches this year with another 23 due for the chop soon. But one town and its MP are fighting back
It may be “the world’s local bank”, but HSBC is abandoning communities across Britain at an alarming rate, say campaigners. Guardian Money can reveal that it is closing more than one branch a week.
Campaigners this week named the banking giant as the worst of the “big four” banks when it comes to branch closures over the past decade, with 50 shut last year alone. Yet this trend seems to be accelerating, with 45 branches axed so far this year and a further 23 due for the chop between the end of this month and mid-December.
In many cases the branch it is shutting is the last remaining one in that town, leaving residents and small businesses forced to travel several miles to get to their nearest bank.
One such community is Shildon in County Durham, a town with a population of around 10,000 known as “the cradle of the railways” because of the part it played in the birth of the industry. Shildon lost its Barclays last year and is due to lose its last bank, an HSBC, on 12 October. But residents have decided they are not going to let their bank go without a struggle.
A petition has been started and a demonstration outside the branch is planned for 26 September. The local Labour MP, Helen Goodman, has tabled an early day motion calling on HSBC to urgently review the decision. Last week in the House of Commons she highlighted the “disgraceful” proposal and called for a debate on how banks treat ordinary people.
Perhaps more symbolically, Goodman is putting her money where her mouth is, and is ditching the account she has held with the bank for 24 years. “I’m moving to The Co-operative Bank,” she told Money. It is, she says, “a small personal sign of protest, but I will be taking it further. Banks can’t be allowed to simply abandon loyal customers and whole communities.”
If and when the branch goes, many residents will face a three-mile journey to their nearest branch in Bishop Auckland, which costs £2.10 each way on the bus.
One of those who helped to kick off the “save our bank” campaign was Roy Merryweather, 32, who lives in Blackburn but is originally from Shildon and has family there. He has set up a Facebook page. Merryweather says Shildon is “a typical north-eastern town,” and that sometimes there is a sense “we are downtrodden and we are beaten … we just submit. I thought, no, on this one I don’t think we should. The high street is quite busy and has lots of independent local shops, but it needs a bank, otherwise it’s just in danger of dying, really.” He is also an HSBC customer “but I won’t be if it goes”.
Derek French, who runs the Campaign for Community Banking Services (CCBS) pressure group, says HSBC is a “prolific closer of branches”. He estimates it has shut 386 over the past decade, compared with 150 and 161 for NatWest and Barclays respectively.
French says HSBC is also the only one of the big four that has refused to give any sort of pledge regarding “last bank in town” protection, though it did this week announce that personal customers will be able to access their accounts at Post Office counters from spring 2013 (see page 2).
According to the CCBS, around 1,200 communities have lost all their banks, and hundreds more will do so in the next five years. As a partial solution, it has long campaigned for neutral “shared branches”, with a counter service covering all banks.
Goodman says HSBC’s decision is especially deplorable bearing in mind that it made a pre-tax profit of £13.7bn last year and paid its chief executive almost £8m. She adds that the bank talks about how people can use telephone banking, but her own experience of HSBC’s phone banking was that it was “shambolic”.
It is of course true that many people don’t visit their branch very often – or ever. French accepts that, but says: “There are still a lot of people who are branch-dependent.” They include many elderly and disabled people. However, it is small businesses, such as shops, that often visit every day to bank takings, that particularly suffer when their branch closes.
In a statement, HSBC told Money that its network was very important, but “we do need to ensure our branches are in the right locations for our customers”. It added: “On occasions this means we need to close some where customer footfall has fallen dramatically. Our Shildon branch is a case in point. It is currently only open for very limited hours during the week and not at weekends. Customer usage has fallen very significantly over the past few years.”
A spokeswoman said the decision “was not taken lightly,” and it was working with the “small number” of customers who use the branch to help reorganise their finances. “Customers will be able to use our Bishop Auckland and Darlington branches.”
She added that when a branch was the last one in town, “we will leave an ATM wherever possible – sometimes this is down to planning permission – so customers are not left without access to fee-free cash”.
The 23 branches closing are: Darwen; Hove; Corwen; Halesworth; London: St Paul’s, Leadenhall and Barnes; Shildon; Edenbridge; Caerleon; Liverpool Hunts Cross; Swaffham; Kibworth; Helmsley; Chipping Campden; Appleby; Polegate; St David’s; Leamington Spa; Falsgrave; Plymouth Mutley Plain; Llandovery; Weymouth Wyke Regis.