Christopher Booker's notebook
Prescott plans a new disaster for house sales
John Prescott, the man who doesn't pay his council tax, will soon face another major embarrassment. This is the chaos he will unleash by introducing a serious new complication to homebuying, due to cost homeowners £1 billion a year - all because he wishes to disguise his need to obey a Brussels directive.
From June 2007, it will be illegal for anyone to offer a house or flat for sale without paying up to £2,000 for a 100-page "Home Information Pack", prepared by a certified inspector. This "HIP" will contain details of legal and council searches, and a "Home Condition Report", checklisting the kind of details obvious to a fairly rudimentary visual inspection. (Buyers will still need to commission a full structural survey and valuation.)
This is a flimsy cover, however, for the real motive behind Mr Prescott's HIP scheme - his obligation to comply with EC directive 2002/91 requiring every home put on the market to have an "Energy Performance Certificate", based on a formula which measures the size of a property against recent fuel bills.
The more closely surveyors, estate agents and lawyers look into Mr Prescott's scheme, the more horrified they become, not just by its pointlessness, but by the damage it is likely to inflict on the property market. According to his officials, it will require up to 7,500 inspectors, each needing 18 months' training. The latest figure for inspectors in the pipeline is only 1,800, so when the scheme comes into force in 18 months, less than a quarter of the required number will be available.
Nevertheless, anyone caught by trading standards officials selling a home without an HIP will be liable to a summary penalty up to £500. The shortage of inspectors means that, unless Mr Prescott is allowed a postponement from Brussels, delays of months, even years, will be inevitable, creating havoc across the domestic property market.
The initial cost of commissioning an HIP will be incurred by the estate agent, to be added to the bill when the property is sold. Although the Government's estimated cost for an "average" property is only £700 including VAT (quite onerous enough for sellers on low incomes), in many cases the cost will be as high as £2,000, and perhaps even more. Few vendors will wish to pay such sums more than once, particularly when the cost of copying a 100-page report for each prospective buyer could be £15 or more. Gone will be the days of offering a home through more than one agent.
One horrified observer of this "disaster waiting to happen" is Philip Collings, formerly the IT director for Railtrack, who has just launched a website (www.hipfreehomes.com), explaining some of the more glaring flaws in the scheme. He points out that, of the £1 billion a year it will cost to run, the Government will take £87 million in VAT, and that the details of each property will have to be registered on a Government website, making it easier to carry out revaluations for council tax.
But Mr Collings also believes he has spotted a loophole in the scheme, by which homeowners could avoid having to pay for HIPs. Although he is not revealing the details yet, for fear of counter-action by Mr Prescott, he is inviting property owners who are likely to sell within two years to register their interest on his website, so that in due course he can sign them up, for a modest fee, to an arrangement which he believes could save them thousands of pounds and months of hassle.
Google here, Dave, to see the price of wind power
When David Cameron lined up members of the shadow cabinet to announce that they were all going to buy their electricity from nPower because it sells electricity from "renewables", they merely betrayed their extraordinary ignorance of how the electricity market works. Under a statutory order, all electricity companies are forced to buy power from windfarms, under the so-called renewables obligation. This is one of the two hidden subsidies which underpin the Great Wind Scam, whereby we must all pay inflated prices for wind power through our electricity bills.
What our new "Not-the-Conservative Party" does not seem to have grasped is that wind power is not only absurdly expensive and inefficient but ends up saving no CO2 emissions at all, because power stations must be kept permanently operating to make up for the three-quarters of the time when wind conditions are insufficient to supply power.
But equally naive was last week's speech by Elliott Morley, the environment minister, attacking the "blanket opposition" to wind turbines and curiously arguing that one of their virtues is that, unlike nuclear power stations, they are "quick and easy to remove". Does our environment minister not realise that the concrete foundations for a turbine may weigh 1,000 tonnes, buried more than 100 feet in the earth?
Anyone who thinks that wind factories are environmentally friendly should Google "Cefn Croes Photo Gallery", to see 100 chilling pictures showing how many miles of unspoiled Welsh countryside were disfigured to create the largest industrial site in Britain: all to "save" annually less than a quarter of the CO2 emissions from a single jumbo jet.
A month after the deadline for responses to the Home Office, not one of the 43 police forces in England Wales has given approval to the Government's plans for the most radical restructuring of our policing since 1829. Charles Clarke and Hazel Blears wish to merge the 43 forces into 12 regional "super forces" as part of John Prescott's grand design to divide up the United Kingdom into "Euro-regions", each under its own government.
No chief constable has been more forthright in opposition to this plan than Paul West, whose West Mercia force, serving Shropshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire, is officially rated as the best-performing force in the country. Last week Mr West was taken by a local MP, Owen Paterson, to put his case to Ms Blears at the Home Office. Dismissing his force's exceptional record, it soon became apparent that she attached no significance to his views. It was painfully clear that "consultation" is only a charade. The Government is bent on forcing through its regional agenda regardless.
Following the overwhelming rejection of an elected regional assembly by the voters of the North-East, it seems the Government is hoping to reach its goal the other way round. So many powers are now being passed upwards from local authorities to unelected regional bodies - from police and planning to fire and ambulance services - that eventually, it is hoped, people will demand that these are made democratically accountable through elected regional governments.
The greatest revolution in local government for 1,000 years will be complete - without the Government ever having had to admit openly what it was up to.