Author: Radio News Hub

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Firefighters battling huge industrial fire after reports of explosion
Teams of firefighters have been battling a huge blaze at an industrial building in Kent after reports of an explosion.
Flames and a plume of black smoke could be seen rising from the site in Hoo, near Rochester, on Friday.

Members of the public are being asked to avoid the area as firefighters continue to tackle the incident.

Video on social media shows huge flames from the blaze in Vicarage Lane lighting up the night sky, while people posting online have talked of an explosion.

The fire has continued to burn and at one point on Friday morning a billowing mushroom of fire was seen rising up into the sky.

Joe Discipline, an onlooker from Rochester in Kent, told the PA news agency: “Around 4/4.30am a huge explosion shook the house and windows. I jumped out of bed to see the sky was orange.

“There was then a second explosion just as big and that’s when I started to record.”

As the blaze burned a huge plume of thick black smoke issued hundreds of feet into the air, prompting the fire service to tell nearby members of the public to close windows and doors.

Gas cylinders were involved in the blaze.

No casualties have yet been reported, the fire service said.

Ten fire engines have been sent to the scene as firefighters continue to tackle the blaze.

A spokesperson for Kent Fire and Rescue Service said: “Kent Fire and Rescue Service is at the scene of an industrial building fire on Vicarage Lane in Hoo, near Rochester.

“Ten fire engines and a height vehicle are in attendance, and crews are working to tackle the blaze.

“Firefighters are advising the public to avoid the area while the emergency services deal with the incident.”

Published: 04/09/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Watchdog threatens to take big builders to court for misleading house buyers
Four of the country’s biggest housebuilders could risk court action if they do not commit to changing the way they do business, after the competition watchdog found evidence they had mistreated leasehold buyers.
The Competition and Markets Authority said that it has written to Barratt Developments, Countryside Properties, Persimmon Homes and Taylor Wimpey after uncovering “troubling evidence of potentially unfair terms”.

The regulator said that buyers may have been misled by developers, and been trapped into leaseholds with ground rents that double every decade.

“It is unacceptable for housing developers to mislead or take advantage of homebuyers. That’s why we’ve launched today’s enforcement action,” said CMA boss Andrea Coscelli.

A freeholder owns both the house and the land it is on, while a leaseholder basically rents the property for a fixed period – sometimes centuries.

The watchdog said it was taking action over the mis-selling of leaseholds. It said that developers had not clearly explained what ground rent is and whether it increases over time to some buyers.

When buying a leasehold, rather than a freehold, buyers often have to pay a ground rent to the person or company who owns the freehold on the site.

But when potential buyers asked if they could become the freeholder, some were told that the properties on an estate were only available as leasehold homes.

Homes on the same estates were later sold as freeholds to other buyers, the CMA said.

When buying their home some new homeowners were told that it would be cheap to upgrade from a leasehold to a freehold – but this price later went up by thousands of pounds.

The CMA also said that some ground rents for leasehold sites would double every year.

Mr Coscelli added: “Everyone involved in selling leasehold homes should take note: if our investigation demonstrates that there has been mis-selling or unfair contract terms, these will not be tolerated.”

The CMA said that it would take the companies to court if needed, but they may be able to make the charges go away if they legally commit to change the way they do business.

Barratt said: “The group is committed to putting its customers first and will continue to cooperate with the CMA whilst it completes its investigation.”

Published: 04/09/2020 by Radio NewsHub

UK Government criticised as Portugal and Greece remain on quarantine exempt list
Ministers are under fire from holidaymakers and the travel industry for failing to provide “clarity” after Portugal and Greece retained their places on England’s coronavirus quarantine exemption list.
Wales and Scotland have added restrictions to passengers returning from the summer holiday hotspots, but the UK Government said on Thursday there would be no change to its list.

There had been speculation that Westminster would reimpose the quarantine requirement on Portugal due to a spike in Covid-19 cases, leading many holidaymakers to pay hundreds of pounds to fly home this week.

The Government was also under pressure to reimpose quarantine rules on arrivals from Greece after Scotland and Wales introduced restrictions in recent days.

But Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced on Thursday evening that there were no changes to the Government’s list, though he said he would not “hesitate to remove countries if needed”.

The Welsh Government then revealed that it would remove the exemption from the 14-day self-isolation requirement for travellers returning from Portugal, Gibraltar and seven Greek islands.

The new rule came into force at 4am on Friday.

The Scottish Government has said passengers arriving from Portugal would have to quarantine from 4am on Saturday, as well as those arriving from French Polynesia.

Scotland began requiring travellers from anywhere in Greece to enter quarantine from Thursday.

There were 23 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people in Portugal in the seven days to Wednesday, up from 15.3 a week earlier.

A seven-day rate of 20 is the threshold above which the UK Government has considered triggering quarantine conditions.

Mr Shapps said a number of other factors are taken into account in relation to the list, including the level of change in cases, extent of testing, and whether outbreaks are “contained”.

Industry leaders and holidaymakers criticised the Government, saying travellers are “totally confused” by the different approaches taken in Westminster and the devolved administrations.

Kelly Jones and her family changed their flights home from the Algarve from Saturday to Friday at a cost of £900 to avoid a potential quarantine because she did not want her children to miss out on two weeks of school.

The 45-year-old from Birmingham said the situation was “absolutely disgusting”, telling the PA news agency: “The Government just change the goalposts left, right and centre at the moment. It’s embarrassing.”

Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: “The quarantine policy is in tatters and dividing the United Kingdom.

“Consumers are totally confused by the different approaches and it’s impossible to understand the Government’s own criteria anymore on when to add or remove a country.”

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “Days of speculation around this announcement meant many people rushed to pay extortionate prices for flights back to England to avoid having to quarantine on their return – only to now find out there was no need.

“The Government knows this and yet it continues to offer no clarity around how these decisions are made, all while ignoring the growing evidence suggesting this system is not working.

“If the Government is serious about letting international travel resume while prioritising public health, a major reassessment of its approach is needed.”

It came as figures showed the number of close contacts of people who tested positive for Covid-19 being reached through Test and Trace was at its lowest since the system was launched.

The latest data also indicated that a total of 6,732 new people tested positive for Covid-19 in England in the week to August 26, an increase of 6% in positive cases on the previous week and the highest weekly number since the week to June 3.

Thursday also saw the highest daily total of cases since June 4, with 1,735 positive results in the 24 hours up to 9am.

Meanwhile, the head of England’s testing programme, Baroness Dido Harding, said a “significant” rise in demand for coronavirus testing was behind people being directed to test centres more than 100 miles away.

Some people with Covid-19 symptoms who have tried to book tests online have been directed to centres which would take them more than three hours to reach by car.

Baroness Harding, interim chairwoman of the new National Institute for Health Protection, which incorporates NHS Test and Trace, blamed the problem on rising demand.

She told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme: “Now obviously I don’t want people to be being directed to go miles and miles for a test but the reason that that is happening at the moment is because of a really significant increase in demand off a testing platform that, as I’ve said, is larger than any other in Europe.”

Published: 04/09/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Costa to make major job cuts
Cafe chain Costa has said 1,650 staff are at risk of redundancy as it looks to cut costs amid continued uncertainty over when trade will fully recover.
It told staff on Thursday that it has started consultations which could affect more than a 10th of roles.

The move comes a week after rival Pret A Manger revealed it was slashing 2,800 jobs as part of a restructure of its UK business.

Costa closed nearly all of its 2,700 UK stores for six weeks during the pandemic but has now reopened around 2,400 sites.

The Coca Cola-owned chain said trade is “returning” after being boosted by the Government’s VAT reduction on food and non-alcoholic drinks and the recent Eat Out To Help Out scheme.

However, it said the proposed job cuts had been driven by “high levels of uncertainty as to when trade will recover to pre-Covid levels”.

The restructuring proposes removal of the assistant store manager role across its UK business.

Costa stressed that it will seek to find those at risk alternative jobs in the business where possible, and provide support for those leaving.

The company has also frozen all pay increases within its head office and axed all non-essential expenditure as part of its cost-cutting efforts.

Neil Lake, managing director for Costa Coffee UK & Ireland, said: “Today’s announcement to our store teams was an extremely difficult decision to make.

“Our baristas are the heart of the Costa business and I am truly sorry that many now face uncertainty following today’s news.

“We have had to make these difficult decisions to protect the business and ensure we safeguard as many jobs as possible for our 16,000 team members, whilst emerging stronger ready for future growth.

“As a proud member of the UK high street, we remain committed to the role Costa plays in supporting the economic recovery of the country, but today I want to say a huge thank you to all of our team members that are affected by this announcement and we will be supporting you throughout this process.”

Published: 03/09/2020 by Radio NewsHub

SSE slapped with £2m fine for power plant mistake
Britain’s energy regulator has fined SSE more than £2 million for a 2016 blunder which is likely to have pushed up wholesale electricity costs.

Ofgem said it would send a “strong message” to energy producers that they must share timely information with others on the market.

In February 2016, SSE said it was going to shut three out of four units at Fiddler’s Ferry, a coal-fired power plant in Cheshire with the capacity to provide 3% of Britain’s peak electricity needs.

But a little over a week before the April 1 closing date the electricity giant signed a deal with National Grid that would keep the site online.

However, it was not until the day before the units had been meant to shut down that SSE told the market.

This meant that, for four trading days, traders were unaware there was going to be a lot more electricity in the system the following week than they were expecting.

“Market participants were likely to have paid higher prices than they needed to, and risked undermining confidence in the wholesale electricity market,” said Ofgem chief executive Jonathan Brearley.

It is unclear whether these costs were passed on to British households.

Martin Pibworth, SSE’s energy director, said his employer had acted in “good faith” – a conclusion Ofgem said it had not found any evidence to counter.

He added that SSE’s interpretation of the rules, which were then fairly recent, had been different to that of Ofgem, and called for more clarity.

“We subsequently understood that Ofgem’s interpretation required disclosure to the market at an earlier stage. We admit that our approach was not in line with this requirement,” he said.

“SSE did not benefit from disclosing only once the contract was signed and remains committed to clear and transparent rules for all market participants. We will be pressing regulatory authorities for additional guidance for market participants going forward.”

Mr Brearley added: “This fine sends a strong message to market participants that they must be familiar with, and keep to, their obligations.”

The fine concerns SSE’s generation arm, and not the electricity supplier which was bought by Ovo Energy at the start of this year.

Published: 03/09/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Migrant crossings: Five times a new daily record was set in 2020
At least 409 migrants have crossed to the UK on small boats – a new single-day record.

– September 2: 409 migrants reach the UK

A huge wave of boats departed France on Wednesday, with hundreds of migrants making their way across the sunny and calm English Channel.

The Home Office said Border Force dealt with at least 27 “incidents”, with that number possibly to rise later.

In the House of Commons Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced questions over the Government’s handling of the crisis.

– August 6: 235 migrants reach the UK

Migrants arrived in the UK aboard 17 boats in what was believed to be the highest numbers on record before the latest batch of crossings.

In one incident, Border Force apprehended 15 migrants who had landed at Dungeness beach in Kent.

– July 30: 202 migrants reach the UK

Last week, at least 202 migrants managed to cross to Britain in a surge of 20 boats on July 30.

The migrants said they were from a diverse range of nationalities, including: Yemeni, Palestinian, Ertitrean, Chad, Egyptian, Sudanese, Kuwaiti, Iraqi, Iranian, Indian, and Mali.

– July 12: 180 migrants reach the UK

On the day Priti Patel announced a “new operational approach” to dealing with small boat crossings, a record number of migrants made it to the UK.

At least 180 migrants were able to cross the English Channel to the UK on July 12 in what was then a new single-day record.

They were among more than 380 migrants who attempted the crossing, the rest being intercepted by French authorities and returned to France.

– June 3: 166 migrants reach the UK

More than 160 migrants made the perilous journey across the English Channel in small boats on June 3.

Border Force and partner agencies dealt with eight incidents after being alerted to small boats in the Channel travelling towards the UK.

There were 166 migrants in total, including one boat carrying 48 males and 16 females presenting themselves as Iranian, Iraqi, Kuwaiti and Afghani.

Published: 03/09/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Government commits £500m to boost trials of rapid Covid-19 tests
A new £500 million funding package will support trials of a 20-minute Covid-19 test and efforts to explore the benefits of repeatedly testing people for the virus, the Health Secretary has announced.

Money will go towards launching a new community-wide repeat population testing trial in Salford, Greater Manchester.

Existing trials in Southampton and Hampshire, using a no-swab saliva test and a rapid 20-minute test, will also be expanded through the new funding.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Testing is a vital line of defence in combating this pandemic.

“Over the past six months we have built almost from scratch one of the biggest testing systems in the world.

“We need to use every new innovation at our disposal to expand the use of testing, and build the mass testing capability that can help suppress the virus and enable more of the things that make life worth living.

“We are backing innovative new tests that are fast, accurate and easier to use will maximise the impact and scale of testing, helping us to get back to a more normal way of life.”

It comes as postcode analysis by the BBC of the test booking service suggests some people with symptoms are being redirected to distant testing centres.

The broadcaster said this shows the Goverment is rationing coronavirus tests, while public health experts believe any rationing will lead to the start of new spikes being missed.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said saliva-based testing will be used for the pilot in Salford, which will involve the city council and other local partners.

A select number of residents will be invited for a weekly test, with the pilot performing up to 250 tests a day.

The initial focus will be on high footfall areas of Salford, such as retail areas, public services, transport and faith spaces.

Its aim is to identify positive coronavirus cases early, including for those with no or minor symptoms, so people can self-isolate.

Results will inform how regular repeat community testing could be scaled up across the country.

In Southampton, the second phase of a no-swab saliva test pilot is due to begin this week.

It will see a weekly testing model trialled with more than 2,100 pupils and staff across four schools.

The work is led by a partnership of the University of Southampton, Southampton City Council and the NHS.

Meanwhile in Hampshire the pilot of a rapid 20-minute coronavirus test will be expanded “to further explore the applications of mobile testing in different settings”, the DHSC said.

Funding will also be used to extend capacity for existing polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing currently being used in the UK.

Baroness Dido Harding, interim executive chairwoman of the National Institute for Health Protection, the body replacing Public Health England, said: “New testing technologies and methods are vital to keep the system evolving and improving, especially as we assess how routine testing could help pick up cases of the virus earlier.

“We will continue to scale up our testing capacity by expanding our network of testing sites and investing in new technologies to reach even more people through NHS Test and Trace.”

Published: 03/09/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Johnson and Starmer clash over Government u-turns
Boris Johnson was accused of “governing in hindsight” after presiding over a series of U-turns on coronavirus policy.
He appeared before MPs for the first time since July.

The Prime Minister faced the charge from Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who said Mr Johnson is “tin eared” and “making it up as he goes along”.

Sir Keir said the Prime Minister’s own MPs have “run out of patience”, following criticism from Tory backbenchers which saw one describe events as a “mega-disaster from one day to the next”.

Mr Johnson dubbed his opposite number “Captain Hindsight” following the exam results fiasco, saying he was “leaping on a bandwagon, opposing a policy that he supported two weeks ago”.

But the Labour leader, responding during Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons, said: “The problem is he’s governing in hindsight, that’s why he’s making so many mistakes.”

Mr Johnson was chastised during the exchanges by the Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle who urged him to “try and answer the questions being put to the Prime Minister”.

The Government performed another U-turn as PMQs was under way, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock announcing that coronavirus restrictions in Bolton and Trafford would remain in place on the day they were due to be lifted.

Mr Hancock said: “Following a significant change in the level of infection rates over the last few days, a decision has been taken that Bolton and Trafford will now remain under existing restrictions.”

Mr Johnson has been under fire from Conservative backbenchers over the recent U-turns on issues such as face coverings and exam results.

Along with Chancellor Rishi Sunak, he will later meet with the 2019 intake of Tory MPs – some of whom are said to be “jittery” that they may lose their seats at the next election.

One of those attending the meeting told the PA news agency that the mood among the cohort was “fairly grim”.

“Most are fed up of being made to look stupid and the membership are angry at how we look incompetent,” they said.

On Tuesday, Mr Johnson told ministers that in the last few months they have been “sailing into the teeth of a gale, no question” when chairing his first Cabinet meeting after the return.

He said: “And I am no great nautical expert, but sometimes it is necessary to tack here and there in response to the facts as they change, in response to the wind’s change, but we have been going steadily in the direction, in the course we set out, and we have not been blown off that course.”

Published: 02/09/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Parts of Greater Manchester to remain in lockdown
Coronavirus restrictions in Bolton and Trafford are to remain in place following a “significant change” in infection rates in both areas.
The U-turn from Health Secretary Matt Hancock came after council leaders in both boroughs had pleaded for the ban on two households mixing to be maintained.

Mr Hancock said: “Following a significant change in the level of infection rates over the last few days, a decision has been taken that Bolton and Trafford will now remain under existing restrictions.

“This decision has been made in collaboration with local leaders after reviewing the latest data.

“We continually monitor outbreaks across the country, and have seen infection rates increase more than three times in Bolton in under a week, and double in Trafford since the last review.

“We have always been clear we will take swift and decisive action where needed to contain outbreaks.

“We can bring the rates down if we continue to work together and I urge everyone to continue to play their part by following the rules – get tested if you have symptoms, self-isolate and practice social distancing.”

The statement was released by the Department of Health and Social Care shortly after midday on Wednesday, the point at which it said the restrictions had been due to be lifted in the two Greater Manchester boroughs.

However, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham was under the impression they had already been lifted overnight.

Before the U-turn was announced, Mr Burnham had described the decision to lift the restrictions as “completely illogical” while council leaders accused ministers of bowing to pressure from Tory MPs rather than listening to local health experts.

Bolton and Trafford had been set to join other parts of northern England in resuming social gatherings in two households for the first time in weeks, along with Stockport, Burnley, Hyndburn and parts of Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees.

Published: 02/09/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Andy Murray buoyed by support in US Open stands during first-round comeback win
Andy Murray’s heroics on his return to grand slam singles action managed to draw a crowd even though the stands were empty at Flushing Meadows.

As Murray began his comeback from two sets down in his US Open first-round match against Japanese world number 49 Yoshihito Nishioka, some notable spectators began to appear outside the hospitality boxes in the Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Dominic Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev were among the interested onlookers along with fellow Brit Kyle Edmund and Murray’s brother Jamie.

The 33-year-old, who usually feeds off the tension of playing in front of a packed crowd, was as flat as the atmosphere in the opening two sets.

But in front his new fan club, Murray dug deep to pull off an epic 4-6 4-6 7-6 (5) 7-6 (4) 6-4 victory.

He said: “That for me was one of the things that helped. It’s rare that you have lots of players watching your match.

“In some ways that can be a little bit distracting if you look up and you’ve got guys that are in the top five, top 10 in the world watching you and stuff.

“But for me, I had my father-in-law there. He was up in the suite watching me. I had my brother there with his coach watching. There were a few of the British players that came out to watch and support, as well.

“Although the atmosphere was very flat overall, at the end of the match and as I was starting to turn it around, I could at least look up and see some faces in different points of the court to give me a little bit of encouragement, which definitely, definitely helped.”

It was 20 months ago that Murray made his tearful admission in Australia that his longstanding hip injury could force him to quit the sport.

A few days later the Scot lost a punishing five-setter to Roberto Bautista Agut, and then watched a montage of happy retirement messages from his fellow competitors on the big screen.

But 596 days, a metal hip, a brief but enjoyable doubles sojourn and a global pandemic later, Murray was back playing singles at a grand slam, a triumph in itself.

And the two-time Wimbledon champion clearly did not go through two surgeries and months and months of rehabilitation just to get turfed out in the opening round.

“Physically I actually did pretty well,” he added. “My toes and stuff were hurting. Actually I did pretty well for being such a long match.

“I don’t know if that was because I maybe didn’t use up so much energy the first couple sets because I was sort of pacing myself a little bit. But I did quite well physically.”

Murray will face 20-year-old Felix Auger Aliassime, the world number 21, in the second round.

Published: 02/09/2020 by Radio NewsHub

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