Plus: TV show blamed for oak shortage, Barratt confident for second half and workmen find Dietrich earing in Blackpool

Crest set to accept increased offer from Castle Bidco

Saturday’s Financial Times reported that Crest Nicholson will recommend an increased indicative offer of £713m from Castle Bidco, the consortium led by Scottish entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter and HBOS. The offer would value the housebuilder at 629.7p a share. Crest had previously opposed a lower-priced takeover from the consortium of 585p a share.

Grand Designs to blame for oak shortage

England’s supplies of oak are so low that it is being imported from France and Germany, according to The Observer. The shortage is partly due to an explosion in demand for timber-framed houses and wooden floors which feature heavily in TV programmes such as Grand Designs. Opposition to the felling of oak is also to blame, and the Forestry Commission is launching a public campaign to reduce it.

House price growth to cool down this year

House price inflation has fallen for the first time in 15 months, said Saturday’s Financial Times, and the recent spate of interest rate rises can only further slow down house price growth. City analysts concerned about the “unsustainable” 10% rate of house price inflation last year cautiously welcomed the Bank of England’s surprise main rate increase of a quarter per cent as it is expected to reinforce the slowdown.

Barratt shows confidence for second half

Barratt Development said it was well positioned for the second half of the year thanks to a strong order book, reported Saturday’s Daily Telegraph and Financial Times. Barratt CEO Mark Clare said the quarter point rise in interest rates was unlikely to affect the market because of strong market fundamentals and ongoing difficulties with planning. Barratt saw a 2.9 per cent rise in completions and a £165,000 selling price during the first half.

BBC move to Manchester in jeopardy

The BBC’s planned move to Manchester could fall through unless the Treasury allows it to double its borrowing limit, said The Sunday Times. A source says the renegotiated licence fee, expected to be £600m a year less than the BBC wanted, will not provide enough to fund the move. The BBC’s borrowing limit has been set at £200m since 1992.

Steel baron to bail out Labour with £2m

Steel baron Lakshmi Mittal is on the verge of pledging £2m to Labour to save it from financial ruin, reported the Sunday Times. The donation from Britain’s richest man will help Labour pay off the loans taken from wealthy businessmen before the last general election. Tony Blair controversially backed Mittal’s bid for the Romanian steel industry in 2001 after the billionaire gave the party £125,000. The deal is thought to have been negotiated with the help of Lord Levy, Blair’s chief fundraiser and the central figure in the ‘cash-for-honours’ scandal.

Ritblats reunite for £2.6bn property investment fund

The Sunday Times said former chairman of British Land Sir John Ritblat will join forces with his son Jamie to launch a European property investment fund worth e4bn (£2.6bn). The pair have not worked together since Jamie Ritblat left British Land to set up private property company Delancey in 1995. Sir John will now chair the Delancey advisory board. The fund will be structured as an evergreen investment vehice, in which backers provide long-term capital for longer term investments. The backers are still being finalised but billionaire financier George Soros is expected to be involved.

Slough Estates Reit conversion an ‘anti-climax’

The CEO of Slough Estates International has avoided £460m worth of corporation tax by turning the FTSE100 company into a real estate investment trust (Reit), but told the Sunday Telegraph the result was an ‘anti-climax’. Ian Coull lobbied the Treasury to create the tax havens, but admitted feeling disappointed after Slough’s shares rocketed on the day but later retreated. “Coming into work it was, well, ‘is this it?’” he told the paper.

Egyptians bid for Tarmac still on the table

Egyptian finaciers the Sawiris brothers have made an approach to buy Tarmac from Anglo American. The offer, thought to have been worth £1.5bn, was rejected but the Sunday Times said talks could be re-opened when Cynthia Carroll takes over as Anglo’s CEO in March. Carroll comes to Anglo from Canadian group Alco, and analysts are convinced Tarmac will be her first big disposal, said the paper.

Workmen find a piece of Hollywood history

Construction workers dredging a lake at Blackpool Pleasure Beach found a pearl earring thought to belong to Hollywood actress Marlene Dietrich, reported Saturday’s Independent. The German star of The Blue Angel lost the piece of jewellery when she rode the Big Dipper in 1934. Other items that were discovered in the lake were a toupee, three dolls, a glass eye and a brassiere.