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The UK once led the world in coal production, mining more than 200million tons a year in the early 20th Century. Production still exceeded 100million tons in Margaret Thatcher’s era and, even 20 years ago, the industry, while much diminished, remained a potent force in pockets of the country. 

That was when Gordon Banham took over Hargreaves Services, which mined, processed and transported coal across the UK. Banham was a career coal man, business was good and the company was floated on the junior AIM market in 2006. By 2012, the shares had almost tripled to more than £12. 

Today, the price is just £4.00. Environmental concerns have made coal progressively less popular and Banham was forced to reinvent the business, selling off the final remnants of his coal stock in December 2020. 

Change of direction: Hargreaves went from mining to developing brownfield sites with housebuilders

Change of direction: Hargreaves went from mining to developing brownfield sites with housebuilders

Looking ahead, however, prospects are bright and the stock should rise. Hargreaves now has three divisions – land regeneration, trading and recycling, and industrial services. All three are performing well and growth is expected to accelerate over the next five to ten years. 

Reassuringly too, Christopher Mills, a veteran investor with a history of picking winners, owns 28.5 per cent of the shares, while Banham owns a further 8.2 per cent, so is clearly incentivised to deliver returns. 

As a former mining business, Hargreaves Services owned plenty of land – 17,000 acres a decade ago, equivalent to the size of the city of Hull. Some of that was sold off to generate cash but the group still has 11,000 acres to play with and Banham has been putting it to good use. 

Decades of mining and processing took their toll but the land has been cleaned up and converted for homes and businesses. 

Blindwells is the largest development in the group, a new town just south of Edinburgh, where 8,000 houses will be built over the next 20 years, as well as schools, surgeries and shops. A joint venture with housebuilder Taylor Wimpey, the project will provide Hargreaves with years of annual income, as land is progressively developed and homes are sold. 

A smaller project outside Doncaster is transforming a deep coal mine site into more than 3,000 homes. Meanwhile, in Fife, what was once the largest open coal mine in the UK is set to become an industrial park, powered by a renewable energy plant that will convert waste into electricity.

Several more projects are under way, from wind farms in Scotland to a retail park in Bridlington, East Yorkshire. Taken together, these do not just provide steady recurring income for Hargreaves, they also regenerate swathes of brownfield land, creating homes and jobs in the process. 

Hargreaves’ trading and recycling arm has environmental credentials too. Based near Dusseldorf and co-owned with a German partner, the business acquires dust from steel plants across Europe and converts it into more than 300,000 tons a year of pig iron and zinc concentrate. In the past this dust would have gone into landfill. Now it is sold to big firms for use in construction and manufacturing. 

Commodity prices have soared in recent months so the business is raking in profit and likely to expand materially over the next few years. Aligned to this business, the trading division buys and sells commodities and delivers steady income year in, year out.

Hargreaves’ third arm builds on the group’s heritage to deliver a range of industrial services, from moving earth for the HS2 rail project to maintaining equipment for Drax, the power generation group. 

There is also a long-term contract with Tungsten West, the recently floated tin and tungsten mining group, based near Plymouth. 

Production is expected to start next year and could generate up to £2.5million in annual revenue thereafter. 

Interim results on Wednesday should reassure investors that Hargreaves is on track and brokers forecast turnover of £166million and profit of £12.5million for the year to May 31, 2022, rising substantially next year. 

A 20p dividend has been pencilled in for 2022, putting the stock on a yield of 5 per cent, with payments expected to increase steadily over time.

Midas verdict: Recent years have undoubtedly been harsh for Hargreaves Services but the business has now been transformed, using skills and assets from the past to create a robust and resilient business for the future. At £4.00, the shares are a buy. 

Traded on: AIM Ticker: HSP Contact: hsgplc.co.uk or 0191 373 4485 

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EU piracy clampdown free Netflix Sky TV Prime

EU launches new piracy clampdown measures for free Netflix Sky TV Amazon Prime Video streams (Image: GETTY)

Lawmakers in Brussels this week have turned the screw on internet pirates, putting increasing pressure on those that use free and illegal Netflix, Sky TV and Prime Video streams. It was just a few days ago that Express.co.uk reported that the EU is looking at ways to ban people from looking at websites which promote online piracy at the very first point of access. And now, hot on the heels of that news, it’s been revealed the European Parliament (EP) has taken a vote that will severely dent internet pirates operations.

This week MEPs voted through to approve the Digital Services Act (DSA), which includes various measures to help combat online piracy and bring EU legislation in keeping with the current, modern digital age, TorrentFreak reported.

The DSA includes measures on how takedown notices are dealt with by online services, along with upload filters – which would automatically ban content users try to upload which is deemed illegal.

There was pushback from both sides when the DSA first draft was revealed, with those in favour of more stringent copyright measures feeling it did not go far enough, and others feeling it was too drastic.

Squid Game: Jung-jae Lee stars in trailer for Netflix series

When the vote came to approve the DSA an amendment was tabled which would have effectively banned the use of these controversial upload filters.

However, despite the late bid to stop these measures MEPs voted against banning upload filters – with 434 against and 242 in favour.

The news came as a disappointment to Pirate Party MEP Patrick Breyer, who is on the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties.

Breyer tweeted: “Internet corporations use unreliable upload filters against supposedly illegal content – with much collateral damage. The majority won‘t even limit automated censorship to content that is manifestly illegal irrespective of its context.”

IS IT ILLEGAL TO STREAM MOVIES, TV SHOWS OR SPORTS FOR FREE?

Streaming movies, TV shows or sports that you should be paying for to watch is illegal.

It violates the copyright holders rights and can end up costing you far more in the long-run – with cases of rights holders in the past getting in touch with people that illegally streamed their content and demanding hefty damages.

Besides the legal dangers, watching illegal free streams online poses other risks. Free movie and TV show sites can be filled with dangerous malware that you may download onto your device without even realising it.

Malware can lead to the performance of your device being seriously slowed down, while malicious software can also lead to your sensitive personal or financial data being stolen.

Besides illegal streaming websites, IPTV devices are another popular piracy tool. IPTV stands for internet protocol television, and as the name suggests this is a TV service delivered over the internet.

There are legal IPTV services out there (such as Sky’s contract-free NOW service) but there are also plenty of illicit IPTV offerings.

And the latter illegal services pose some surprise dangers, such as graphic content like violent horror movies or pornography being displayed alongside movies or TV shows that children would want to watch.

So if you have youngsters in your house using an illegal IPTV service can open kids up to content you wouldn’t want them viewing.

European Parliament

The European Parliament voted on the latest anti-piracy measures (Image: GETTY)

Squid Game

If everyone watched content illegally, shows such as smash hit Squid Game wouldn’t be possible (Image: NETFLIX)

In recent years copyright holders have been ramping up anti-piracy efforts, with major Hollywood studios such as Netflix and Disney teaming up to form the Motion Picture Association (MPA), who – along with its anti-piracy partner the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE) – have led the charge to block hundreds of piracy websites used by millions of people.

While you may be tempted by websites that offer free streams of paid-for content, watching any such streams, or downloading pirated torrents, is illegal and no different to stealing a Blu-Ray from your local high street entertainment store.

Besides being against the law, not paying for content legitimately means money doesn’t end up going to the content creators themselves and doesn’t help fund their work. Without this, you wouldn’t have shows such as last year’s smash hit Squid Game being possible.

News of the recent vote on piracy measures comes days after it was revealed the EU was working on a new programme that would ban internet users from visiting websites that promote piracy at the very first point of access.

The way this works revolves around the Domain Name System (DNS), which is an essential part of the way the internet operates – and has been for decades.

A crucial component of this are DNS resolvers, which let people easily access and locate any website on the net. This system used to be dubbed the internet’s phone book. These days the DNS resolver market is largely dominated by US firms such as Google, Cloudflare and Norton.

But to combat this the EU has been looking at launching its own DNS resolver under the DNS4EU project. The EU-operated DNS resolvers are meant to protect users privacy, keep them secure from malware and phishing attempts, as well as comply with privacy regulations such as GDPR and stop user data from being monetised.

But the European Commission (EC) – who are the EU’s legislative branch – could also make sure the EU’s DNS resolvers automatically block users from accessing any websites deemed “illegal” – which could encompass sites that facilitate piracy.

So that would mean websites that offer free Netflix, Prime Video, Sky TV streams and more, plus torrent download portals.

Online piracy

There are no two ways about it, online piracy is illegal (Image: GETTY)

Speaking about URL filters, the documentation for the DNS4EU project says: “Filtering of URLs leading to illegal content based on legal requirements applicable in the EU or in national jurisdictions (e.g. based on court orders), in full compliance with EU rules.”

Responding to the news, Breyer said infringing content should be removed instead of blocked due to the risk of overblocking.

Breyer said: “Illegal content should be removed where it is hosted.”

The MEP also added: “A government-run DSA scheme comes with the risk of online censorship.

“Access blocking leaves content online and therefore can easily be circumvented and often results in overblocking and collateral suppression of legal speech hosted on the same website, by the same provider or via the same network.”




After Microsoft’s £50bn swoop for Call of Duty maker Activision Blizzard, investor attention turns to group’s second-quarter results










Microsoft hit the headlines last week when it unveiled plans to buy Call of Duty maker Activision Blizzard in a monster merger worth over £50billion. 

While the gaming and tech sector continues to debate the implications of the swoop, which will make the technology giant the world’s third largest computer game company, investor attention will instead shift towards the group’s second-quarter results due out on Tuesday. 

Microsoft is predicted to report income for the period of around $17.5billion and revenues of about $50.9billion. 

A key area of interest is likely to be the company’s outlook for the gaming market, the area Activision will fall under when the acquisition completes next year. 

Microsoft’s cloud business will also be in focus, with the firm having invested heavily as its tries to compete against rivals in the space including Amazon’s Web Services arm. 

There may also be questions around whether a global shortage of semiconductors, computer chips that are used in everything from smartphones to car braking systems, has affected the group’s ability to keep making its tab- let computers and Xbox gaming consoles.

Additionally, investors will want to check that Microsoft’s Office software suite, which includes programs such as Word, Excel and Powerpoint, is managing to retain its market dominance. 

However, there could be talk about a potential sale of Office after former Microsoft executive Ben Slivka said earlier this month that the company should offload the software franchise as well as its Windows business in order to fuel its investments in cloud computing. 

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Reinventing the wheel! The amazing Japanese bus… that turns into a train in 15 seconds flat

  • The DMV bus, operated by Asa Seaside Railways, will link the Tokushima and Kochi prefectures in Shikoku
  • To drive on the tracks, the driver activates a ‘mode interchange’ to lower the bus’s rail-friendly steel wheels
  • It’s hoped that the DMV bus will boost tourism, with the route travelling past hot springs and coastal scenery 

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Japan can always be counted on to conjure up a wacky contraption – and the latest is a gem. 

Behold the bus that can turn into a train. 

This dual-mode vehicle, or ‘DMV’ for short, can transform from a road-going bus to a track-travelling train in just 15 seconds thanks to steel wheels that can be lowered onto the track at the press of a button. This ‘mode interchange’ goes into reverse when returning to the road, with the steel wheels retracting so the rubber tyres can take the lead.

The DMV bus (pictured above) can turn into a train in a matter of seconds

The DMV bus (pictured above) can turn into a train in a matter of seconds

The DMV can carry 23 people – including the driver – and measures around eight metres (26ft) in length. It weighs just 5,850kg (5.85 tons), making it significantly lighter than a regular train carriage.

On the tracks, it can travel at speeds of 60kmph (37mph), but on the road, it can go faster, depending on the speed limit.

It’s due to start operating on Christmas Day under Asa Seaside Railways, and will link the Tokushima and Kochi prefectures in Shikoku, one of the four main islands of Japan. 

The innovative dual-mode vehicle is due to start operating on Christmas Day under Asa Seaside Railways

The innovative dual-mode vehicle is due to start operating on Christmas Day under Asa Seaside Railways

The bus is equipped with road-friendly rubber tyres and steel wheels that can run on railway tracks

The bus is equipped with road-friendly rubber tyres and steel wheels that can run on railway tracks

Asa Seaside Railways currently has a fleet of three DMV buses - each brightly coloured in shades of green, red and blue

Asa Seaside Railways currently has a fleet of three DMV buses – each brightly coloured in shades of green, red and blue

A map showing where the DMV will operate

A map showing where the DMV will operate

Once up and running, the bus will travel from Awa Kainan Bunka Mura in the Tokushima prefecture to Umi no Eki Toromu in the Kochi prefecture. 

Asa Seaside Railways currently has a fleet of three DMV buses – each brightly coloured in shades of green, red and blue. 

The madcap form of transport is intended to attract tourism to the district and to ‘curb the depopulation’ of the area. 

Along the route, passengers can stop off at the Shishikui hot springs, one of the area’s biggest tourist draws.

It passes by beaches, the small rural town of Kaiyo, and a part of the coast that faces out onto the Pacific Ocean that’s ’ideal for sightseeing’, according to Asa Seaside Railways.

What’s more, the DMV can be used in the event of an earthquake, providing ‘rapid assistance’ to victims by either road or rail. 

Asa Seaside Railways also hopes that the DMV will strengthen the local transport system, particularly helping out the elderly local population.

A statement from Asa Seaside Railways reads: ‘The DMV is the “world’s first vehicle” that can run on both tracks and roads, making local transport more convenient.’ 

The madcap form of transport is intended to attract tourists and to ‘curb depopulation’

The madcap form of transport is intended to attract tourists and to ‘curb depopulation’

Asa Seaside Railways hopes that the DMV will strengthen the local transport system

Asa Seaside Railways hopes that the DMV will strengthen the local transport system

Dual-mode vehicles, also known as ‘road–rail vehicles’ or ‘hi-rail’, aren’t a new invention. They are most commonly used for maintenance and inspection purposes on railway tracks. 

Back in the 1930s, Britain trialled a road-rail bus – a modified single-decker bus – called the ‘Karrier Ro-Railer’ on the Nickey Line, a disused line in Hertfordshire. Though it was in operation for a few months, it proved unsuccessful. 

The concept has since been implemented across the globe with varying degrees of success – New South Wales Government Railways tried out a road-rail bus in Australia in the 1970s, and in Germany, the Schi-Stra-Bus was in operation from the 1950s to the 1970s.

The Schi-Stra-Bus, pictured above, was in operation from the 1950s to the 1970s in Germany. Picture courtesy of Creative Commons

The Schi-Stra-Bus, pictured above, was in operation from the 1950s to the 1970s in Germany. Picture courtesy of Creative Commons 

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