YESTERDAY’S Budget announcement by Chancellor Alistair Darling that stamp duty has been axed on house sales under £250,000 for first-time buyers has been greeted with mixed feelings in the region.

The move was branded a “step in the right direction” by one estate agent, but another said it was unlikely to affect many people living locally.

And pub landlords were left angry about hikes in the price of alcohol.

In his speech to the Commons Mr Darling said stronger than expected tax receipts meant that Government borrowing would be £167 billion this year – £11bn down on the £178bn he predicted in the Pre-Budget Report (PBR) in December.

He said the debt would continue to fall faster than previously forecast – dropping to £74bn in 2014-15, down £8bn on his earlier prediction.

In a key move to encourage more first-time buyers, Mr Darling axed stamp duty on house sales under £250,000 for those attempting to get on to the housing ladder.

He told MPs the move, which had previously applied to properties valued up to £125,000, would be funded through the introduction of a new higher stamp duty band of five per cent on properties costing more than £1m from April next year.

Kelly Butler, mortgage adviser at Nicola Jane estate agents in Wrexham, said: “We are just very pleased for first-time buyers. At the end of the day, the high earners are not our end of the market anyway.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction – as long as employment does not increase any more.”

Martin Haywood, of Haywoods, Wrexham, sounded a more cautious note though.

He said: “I’m sure it does help in parts of the country where first-time buyers have a budget of more than £125,000.

“It may have more influence on the Chester market where the first-time buyers are shopping with a bigger budget, but our first-time buyers in Wrexham are not shopping with a budget in excess of £125,000.

“I would much rather see a relaxation of mortgage requirements from the banks.”

Mold resident and estate agent Lynda Lewis Davies, from Town and Country, said: “All things being equal, it should improve it (the housing market) no end. The stamp tax threshold of 250,000 is quite a high amount to go up to.

“The recent stamp duty holiday didn’t seem to have that big of an effect, but then again, things were a lot worse when it was imposed compared to now.

“People are feeling a lot more optimistic this year and by the increase in business since the weather improved, from our position in marketing houses, things are getting better.

“Hopefully the budget will draw in more first-time buyers, who need to be encouraged.”

Duty on beer, wine and spirits will increase as planned from midnight on Sunday, including 10 per cent on cider, with further increases to come on high strength cider.

Alcohol duties will also increase by two per cent above inflation for two further years from 2013.

Alan Hayes, chairman of Wrexham Licensed Victuallers Association and landlord of the Buck House Hotel in Bangor-on-Dee, said: “It’s another kick in the teeth - I thought they were going to do something about the supermarkets and introduce a levy.

“They are not helping pubs whatsoever and the village local will be non-existent if this carries on. They’ve shut the post offices, and now more amenities will close.”

Connah’s Quay resident John Sheen, 27, manager of the town’s Custom House pub, said: “Obviously the rate hike is going to affect our business. I think they (the government) need to take more of a stand on supermarkets and off-licences.

“There is an idea out there that cider is causing a lot of problems, with kids drinking in parks. But when you’re in a pub, it’s regulated by the barman.

“If it was as cheap to drink in pubs as it is to buy alcohol from off-licences or supermarkets, then thinks would be more balanced.

“As it is, beer in pubs has to bare a British stamp, which means we have to pay full rates, whereas supermarkets can import their alcohol.

“They seem to be getting cheaper and cheaper. It would be better if things were more balanced.”

Fuel duty will rise by 3p between April and January 2011, but in stages. It will increase by 1p in April, followed by a further 1p rise in October and the remainder in January.

John O’Keefe, Wrexham taxi driver and secretary of the Hackney Carriage Association, said: “We were expecting something like this. We are in a difficult position because the last time we agreed a rise (in fare rates) with the council was in October 2008.

“We are looking at a situation where if we are talking about the fuel going up to 120p a litre a rise is something we will have to consider. That’s when the pressure will be on.

“We’re not talking about a very great increase for that to happen, so in October, when it comes up to two years, we might have to review the situation again.”