How close is Japanese knotweed getting to my home?

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Two centuries ago, when Victorian engineers were designing the latest in transport technology, Japanese knotweed sounded like a very clever idea.

A plant that typically colonised volcanoes in Japan was imported to Britain to help hide, or possibly even stabilise, railway embankments.

Since then its spread has caused much unhappiness amongst home-owners and prospective house purchasers.

It can crack tarmac, block drains, undermine foundations and invade homes. Its presence can be enough to cut a property’s value by up to 20%, or prevent a mortgage lender approving a loan.

But just as new technology created the problem originally, new technology may help to solve it.

How close is it to me?

Five years ago, the Environment Agency commissioned a new app to track Japanese knotweed, using the crowd-sourcing principle.

More than 20,000 people have now downloaded it, and their data has pin-pointed over 6,000 knotweed locations.

“If we can get more people taking an interest and submitting records, so much the better,” says Dave Kilbey, director of Natural Apptitude, which designed and launched the app.

“Hopefully it will mean people will become a bit more aware of the problems, and what to look for.”

So far the results show a particular concentration of knotweed in South Wales, the Midlands, London, Scotland’s central belt and Cornwall – where the plant was also introduced by Victorians into ornamental gardens.

Those looking for a property can use the app to find out if knotweed has been found nearby – but the fact it is not on the map does not mean it is not present; it is simply that no one has reported it.

What if I find knotweed?

Trying to destroy Japanese knotweed by yourself is virtually impossible.

That is because the roots, or rhizomes, spread rapidly underground, and can regenerate from tiny amounts of material. In fact it can grow at the rate of 10cm a day during the summer.

“Digging it out of the ground can just spread it terribly,” warns Stephen Hodgson, the chief executive of the Property Care Association (PCA).

“If you’ve got it in your garden, either leave it alone, or treat it properly.”

The advice is as follows:

  • Do not try to dig it up: Tiny root fragments can regenerate into another plant
  • If you cut down the branches, dispose of them on-site. Compost separately, preferably on plastic sheets
  • Do not take it to your local council dump. It needs specialist waste management
  • Do not dispose of it in the countryside. This is against the law
  • Do not spread the soil. Earth within seven horizontal meters of a plant can be contaminated
  • Take advice from the Invasive Non-Native Specialists Association (INNSA) or the Property Care Association (PCA) on local removal contractors. Many treatments don’t work

 

In an experiment being conducted in South Wales, thousands of plant lice were released last summer, in the hopes that they would help destroy some of the knotweed along river banks.

But otherwise the accepted best-practice treatment is for professionals to inject the plant with industrial-strength weed killer glyphosate.

David Layland, the joint managing director of Japanese Knotweed Control, based in Stockport, says it is the only thing that works.

“Once we inject into it, it transfers into the root system pretty quickly, and then it binds with the roots. Over time, it rots away into the subsoil.”

But professional treatment is costly, starting at about £2,500, and going upwards to £30,000 for a major infestation.

Court case

Just as big a worry for many home-owners is the discovery that your neighbour has Japanese knotweed on his or her property, and refuses to do anything about it.

But under the 2014 Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act, local councils or police forces can now issue a Community Protection Notice (CPN), forcing neighbours to take action, and fining them if they don’t.

“I think when they are enforced – and they are starting to be enforced – CPNs are very effective,” says Stephen Hodgson.

“But they are, and should be, a measure of last resort.”

In the meantime judges at the Court of Appeal are gearing up to provide an important precedent on who should pay if a landowner allows knotweed to encroach on somebody else’s property.

Next year they will rule on the case of Williams v Network Rail – after two homeowners in South Wales were awarded £15,000 to compensate them for knotweed which had spread into their gardens.


Tenth of young adults shun cash, says UK Finance

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A tenth of young adults shun cash and rely instead on cards and digital payments for their day-to-day spending, figures suggest.

More than one in 10 people aged between 25 and 34 used notes and coins no more than once a month last year, according to UK Finance.

The trade body for financial providers said nearly three million people rarely used cash.

But, across all age groups, cash remains the most popular way to pay.

The figures show that 6% of the UK’s adult population used cash no more than once a month last year, but this increased to more than 10% for 25 to 34-year-olds. The proportion drops to 2% for 55 to 64-year-olds.

At the opposite end of the scale, 5% of the UK adult population (2.7 million people) relied almost entirely on cash to make their day-to-day payments during 2016, UK Finance said.

This was relatively evenly spread across different age groups. However, people with lower household incomes were far more likely to rely mainly on cash compared with their more affluent counterparts.

More than half of all consumers who relied predominantly on cash during 2016 had total household incomes of less than £15,000 per year.

Cash accounted for 44% of all payments made by consumers across the UK last year.


Bank of England says Brexit transition desirable for UK, EU banks

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The Bank of England said a transition period after the Britain leaves the European Union would give banks more time to make orderly changes as Brexit poses risks to financial stability.

With UK due to leave the bloc in March 2019, the BoE’s Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) said it faces heavy demands from Brexit fallout on banks and insurers.

BoE Deputy Governor and PRA Chief Executive Sam Woods said “some form of implementation period is desirable” between Britain leaving the bloc and start of new trading terms to “give UK and EU firms” more time to make necessary changes.

But he stopped short of saying what sort of transition he wanted in a reply to Nicky Morgan, new chair of parliament’s Treasury Select Committee, who asked him this month for his views on the design of such a period.

The UK government has not presented the EU with any firm request for a transition period as it still seeks internal consensus.

UK-based firms are not waiting for clarity and are announcing new hubs in the EU27 to be sure of serving customers there after March 2019 – and avoid the destabilising ruptures in financial links the BoE fears.

Woods had asked banks to spell out how they would cope in particular with a “hard” Brexit where Britain crashes out of the EU with no transition or trading deal.

In a letter to Morgan made public on Wednesday, he said 401 responses were received, which revealed “significant issues for many firms” and the BoE will reach a view on the plans in the autumn.

The submissions provided “further evidence” of risks the BoE had already identified, specifically relating to the continued servicing and performance of existing contracts and restriction on data transfers.

There could be a sharp rise in the number of insurance policies shifted from one country to another, a switch that involves the courts, he said.

“Re-structuring by firms to mitigate risks to their business will in general increase complexity.” Dislocation and fragmentation of markets could bump up costs and cut activity.

The BoE will need to ensure that supervising firms with links between the EU and a Britain outside the bloc, is still doable, he added.

The PRA faces having to authorise and supervise a significant number of additional firms, which could place a material extra burden on resources, Woods said.

London is home to branches of banks from continental Europe and they face having to become subsidiaries, meaning they would be directly supervised by the PRA.

Woods said the issues set out in his response to Morgan “pose a material risk” to the PRA’s objectives as a supervisor, and that this work is a top priority.

“It is incumbent on us to manage this burden but we may have to make some difficult prioritisation decisions in order to accommodate it,” Woods said.


Hull telecoms firm KCOM fined over 999 call failures

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Communications provider KCOM has been fined £900,000 after flooding caused by Storm Eva led to the failure of 74 emergency calls.

Ofcom found “serious weaknesses” in the Hull-based firm’s emergency call service which meant people in the area could not make calls to 999 or 112.

The regulator found it had broken rules to ensure people can contact emergency services at all times.

KCOM operates the main telephone and broadband network in Hull.

It is the only UK city not served by BT’s Openreach, which controls the telecoms network.

Ofcom said KCOM notified the regulator on 28 December 2015 that its emergency call service for the Hull area had failed for around four hours.

It said the failure was because of flooding at one of the BT’s telephone exchanges in York in the wake of Storm Eva.

However, Ofcom found that all emergency calls from customers in that area relied on the flooded telephone exchange in York.

Under Ofcom rules, the telephone and broadband operator should have been able to automatically divert emergency calls via back-up routes.

The investigation found that although the firm did have back-up routes in place, these also relied on the flooded telephone exchange in York.

Ofcom said KCOM created an alternative route to carry emergency calls that bypassed the flooded telephone exchange in York within two hours of identifying the problem.

The regulator said it expected telephone companies’ services to be resilient enough “to the greatest extent possible” to connect emergency calls at all times, even in challenging circumstances.


Firms face £17m fine if they fail to protect against hackers

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Firms could face fines of up to £17m or 4% of global turnover if they fail to protect themselves from cyber-attacks, the government has warned.

The crackdown is aimed at making sure essential services such as water, energy, transport and health firms are safeguarded against hacking attempts.

Firms will also be required to show they have a strategy to cover power failures and environmental disasters.

Digital Minister Matt Hancock said any fines would be a last resort.

They would not apply to firms which had put safeguards in place but still suffered an attack, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said.

‘Safest place in the world’

Mr Hancock, who is launching a consultation on the plans, said: “We want the UK to be the safest place in the world to live and be online, with our essential services and infrastructure prepared for the increasing risk of cyber-attack.”

The DCMS said firms that take cyber-security seriously should already have measures in place to prevent attacks or systems failures.

It said the consultation was aimed at determining how to implement the Network and Information Systems (NIS) directive which becomes law across the EU next May.

It is separate from the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), which are aimed at protecting data, rather than services.

The GDPR will replace the UK’s Data Protection Act 1998 from 25 May next year and the government has confirmed that the UK’s decision to leave the EU will not change this.

Earlier this year, NHS services across England and Scotland were hit by a large-scale cyber-attack that disrupted hospital and GP appointments.

And the threat to firms from cyber-attacks appears to have grown.

Nearly half (46%) of British businesses discovered at least one cyber-security breach or attack in the past year, a government survey earlier this year found.

That proportion rose to two-thirds among medium and large companies.

Most often, these breaches involved fraudulent emails being sent to staff or security issues relating to viruses, spyware or malware.


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