Teatime news February 18

Prime minister Gordon Brown has defended Chancellor Alistair Darling over plans to nationalise Northern Rock. The move has infuriated shareholders and the two private bidders hoping to take over the stricken mortgage lender. Industry analysts expect a ‘significant shrinking’ of the bank’s sales force and high street presence when new bank boss Ron Sandler unveils a plan to restructure the company. Mr Brown said the Government would have been failing in its duty if it had rejected the private takeover proposals without considering them fully, and he denied suggestions that he received official advice to nationalise the bank in the autumn. Parliament will begin debating emergency legislation to nationalise the bank today.

The asking price for houses increased last month but property is takinglonger to sell, according to new figures out today. Homes are lingering on the market for 93 days, 15 days longer than last year, and agents have an average of 64 properties on their books, up from 54 last February, according to Rightmove, the property website. The company’s latest survey for the month to February 9 shows that asking prices rose 3.2 per cent to £237,856. The rise, averaging £7,428, pushed the annual rate of growth up to 5.8 per cent, from 3.4 per cent in January. However, Miles Shipside, commercial director of Rightmove, said: ‘It’s not the start of another price boom, but the interest rate cuts have no doubt given some sellers headier hopes.’

Britain’s biggest mortgage-lenders were accused of profiteering yesterday for putting up tracker mortgage rates despite two recent interest rate cuts. Halifax, Britain’s biggest mortgage lender, has raised its tracker rates on 22 products for new customers by 0.2 per cent. Cheltenham & Gloucester is to raise its rates on new two-year trackers by up to 0.2 per cent. Rates on comparable products at Lloyds TSB are also expected to rise by the same amounts. Experts believe more lenders will follow suit, despite pleas by Gordon Brown and the Chancellor, for them to pass on interest rate cuts by the Bank of England in an attempt to stop the economy stalling. Eddie Weatherill, chairman of the campaign group Independent Banking Advisory Service, said the banks were greedily trying to retain their profit margins. ‘But it’s now impacting on customers in a very, very serious way,’ he added.

Building standards must be improved if they are to meet the government’s zero carbon target by 2016 concludes a report by Leeds Metropolitan University and University College, London. A seven-year study funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government and the National Trust tested 700 ‘eco-homes’ being built at Stamford Brook, once part of the National Trust’s Dunham Massey estate near Altrincham, Cheshire. It found that even when homes used 60 per cent less energy than the average, heat still escaped around windows and across insulated cavity walls.

Professor Philip James, chairman of the International Obesity Task Force, has called on urban planners to redesign towns and cities to combat obesity by encouraging more public transport and less car use.Planners had created an ‘obesogenic environment’ by designing public spaces around the car, he said. Professor James cited Oslo in Norway as an example of a ‘slim city’, where the built environment is structured to discourage car use and encourage walking and cycling.