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U.K. builder Persimmon loses millions in 2008 as recession wears on

London (AP) — British homebuilder Persimmon PLC on Tuesday reported a loss of $833 million in 2008 and a sharp drop in revenue as the nation’s housing market suffered the brunt of recession.

The number of homes completed fell 36 percent to 10,202, and the average selling price was down 8.7 percent.

A report on Tuesday from the Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply cast doubt on hopes for a healthy rebound in the market this year.

“Abysmal February data from the U.K. construction sector marks a whole year of decline in the industry and has put paid to any hopes of improvement following a slight rise in the (Construction Purchasing Managers’ Index) last month,” said Roy Ayliffe, the institute’s director.

“House-building performance was appalling amid reports from numerous constructors about the impact that the difficulty in securing mortgages was having on demand. Meanwhile commercial activity took a further tumble — falling at the fastest rate in the survey’s history,” he said.

Nine arrested in U.K. airport environmental protest

London (AP) — Scottish police arrested nine environmental activists who broke through a fence at an airport early Tuesday to protest expansion plans, officials said. A dozen flights were canceled.

Aberdeen Airport’s international arrivals hall is being upgraded, and the runway is on track to be extended to accommodate more travelers. The airport serves about 3 million passengers a year.

The protesters, who belong to the group Plane Stupid, said the airport’s expansion would increase greenhouse gases linked to global warming. They broke through a perimeter fence and set up a barricade on a helicopter taxi-way.

Officials said about a dozen flights were canceled.

The demonstrators were dressed as golfers — a reference to real estate magnate Donald Trump’s plans to build a hotly-debated golf resort in the area.

Trump’s plans have come under fire from environmentalists, because it will be built on a stretch of shifting sand dunes that are home to some of the country’s rarest wildlife, including skylarks and otters.

Photos on the group’s Web site show them playing golf with plastic clubs at the airport after surrounding themselves with metal fences.

Pending home sales fall 7.7 percent to new low in January

Washington (AP) — The National Association of Realtors said pending U.S. home sales sank to a new record low in January as economic woes turned buyers away from the staggering housing market.

The trade group said Tuesday its seasonally adjusted index of pending sales for previously owned homes for January fell 7.7 percent to 80.4 from a downwardly revised December reading of 87.1.

The previous low of 82.5 was set in November. January’s reading was far worse than the 85.1 economists expected, according to Thomson Reuters.

The index, which started in 2001, tracks signed contracts to purchase existing homes. Typically there is a one- to two-month lag between a contract and a done deal.

U.K. government bails out key construction projects to fulfill initiative

London (AP) — The British government pledged funds Tuesday to rescue $18.3 billion worth of key public infrastructure projects being built by private companies that are at risk of collapse because of the economic downturn.

The deal is designed to ensure the construction of schools, roads, hospitals and waste facilities goes ahead as planned under the so-called Private Finance Initiative.

There are currently 110 outstanding projects under the initiative, which has private companies build public sector projects.

The government said its financial pledge would ensure investment in the projects that will be necessary to Britain for any future economic recovery and avoid potential delays to construction caused by seeking alternative deals.

Treasury Minister Yvette Cooper said the temporary loans would be made to companies that could not raise the money on acceptable terms and the money would be repaid at a commercial rate.

UW System proposes changes to speed up building projects

Madison (AP) — University of Wisconsin System officials are proposing changes to speed up the construction of new buildings while holding down costs.

A report released Tuesday said laws and rules governing the state building program are outdated, overly burdensome and time-consuming.

The report recommends raising the level at which projects need approval from the Building Commission and lawmakers. The recommendations also would revamp the way the projects are funded and contractors are hired.

Gov. Jim Doyle embraced some, but not all, of the recommendations in his two-year budget plan. Some lawmakers already are balking at giving up the oversight.

Bump in Wisconsin unemployment benefits delayed due to computer glitch

Madison (AP) — Wisconsinites are still waiting for a $25 per week increase in their unemployment benefits.

The increase was supposed to take effect Feb. 22. But the state is still working on computer program changes needed to get the money out.

Department of Workforce Development spokesman Chris Marschman said the state is making the changes as quickly as possible.

In the meantime, unemployed workers are receiving benefits under the old levels. Those are capped at $363 per week.

Marschman says unemployed workers who qualify for the $25 increase will get a lump sum to cover the weeks they miss.

The increase comes from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Fishing clubs offer reward to catch ice shanty vandals

Oshkosh (AP) — Oshkosh area fishing clubs are offering a reward to help catch the people who have been vandalizing and stealing items from ice shanties on Lake Winnebago.

Four clubs have put up a $1,200 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction. The clubs are the Otter Street Fishing Club in Oshkosh, Payne’s Point Hook and Spear Club, West Shore Fishing Club and Quinney Fishing Club.

Otter Street Fishing Club President Scott Engel said vandalism has included people dragging shanties behind vehicles and running them into snow banks, ice shoves and other shacks.

He said cameras, ice drills and other items also have been taken from shanties.

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