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Hip saga rumbles on

Little did I know that I would be writing about Home Information Packs here for the second week running but with just one week to go, the Government made a humiliating last-minute climbdown on Tuesday delaying the packs for two months.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has probably been congratulating itself on the success of its last-ditch attempt to derail Hips with the commencement of a judicial review the main reason behind the emergency announcement in Parliament.

Department for Communities and Local Government Secretary Ruth Kelly faced the heckles and jeers of the opposition parties when she confirmed they would be withdrawing Hip legislation in order to clear the way for successful implementation of revised arrangements.

Kelly told MPs last Thursday it had received an interim order from the judge involved in the RICS judicial review proceedings which would have prevented the introduction of energy performance certificates on 1 June, while the case was being considered.

She said the Government did not believe it would be acceptable or practical to delay EPCs in this way. She added that in order to avoid delay it had agreed with RICS on a way forward for Hips.

But despite Kelly announcing new plans for Hips which will see the packs and EPCs implemented on a phased basis starting with houses with four bedrooms or more from August 1, RICS’s own statement has not sounded as agreeable.

RICS housing spokesman Jeremy Leaf warns the judicial review has only been stayed and can be reactivated if the Government fails to deliver on its obligations.

RICS says it has only agreed to the Government providing a 12-week consultation period on EPCs, publishing a regulatory impact assessment and it paying RICS’s legal costs. This is quite a lot of ‘ifs’ and seems to show the power RICS is now wielding on the Government.

So this may mean the industry is still not over the uncertainty of the last 18 months. A lot of commentators have pointed out that EPCs do not need to be brought in until 1 January 2009, under a European directive, so there remains plenty of time, with no need for the Government to rush the newly planned consultation.

Kelly also admitted to MPs that it currently had just 520 fully accredited energy assessors, noting that this was not enough to meet the Government’s needs for the original June 1 implementation.

However, with 2,500 in training, a further 3,200 who have passed their exams and 1,500 who have been accredited or have applied for accreditation, there will be a lot of disgruntled energy assessors who will not have any work for the next two months or perhaps longer. The Government may have the added trouble of dealing with yet further complaints.

Other news this week has seen Kensington Group announce to the stock exchange that it is in advanced discussions regarding a takeover offer. It has been well known that the group was considering its options which saw it confirm on March 23 that it was in discussions with a limited number of parties who had approached it.

This latest update will continue to fuel speculation on who the potential buyer is with many fingers pointing at Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers as among the contenders. However, the group made clear in the statement that if an offer is made it is likely to be below its current value. The fate of Kensington Group will just have to remain to be seen.

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