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Businessupdate
Isle of Man Examiner OCTOBER
2004
focus
OCTOBER
The
housing
shor tage
WHO’S TO BLAME?
26
14
Inside
IT & I
Your Share
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and much more
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you
all
revved
up
INDEX PAGE 2
2
Businessupdate
Isle of Man Examiner, October 2004
COMMENT
INDEX
JOHN SHERROCKS
FORUM
[email protected]
THE HOUSING
SHORTAGE
Comment
The minister speaks
Glut or a gutful?
Forum thrashes it out
Go urban
PAGE 2
PAGE 3-4
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PAGE 12,13
SPECIAL
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PAGE 22
T
his headline tells the story:
‘Housebuilders feel that
they are being made
scapegoats for the
government’s failure to
meet the housing demand.’
You won’t find it in this newspaper. It
did, in fact, appear in the Financial
Times last week. It does, however, serve
to illustrate that the Isle of Man is not
alone in suffering a housing shortage
or in squabbling over who is to blame.
In the UK, John Prescott is
threatening to invite continental
homebuilders to compete with British
companies in a bid to speed up the
provision of cheaper and better-built
homes for first-time buyers.
The deputy prime minister contends
he could reduce the cost of some
homes for first-time buyers by half if
they were built on surplus public
sector land. Ownership of the land
itself would be retained by the
government and held in trust, allowing
first-time buyers to pay only for the
bricks and mortar. Mr Prescott is
concerned about a 63 per cent rise in
construction costs since 1997 in the
social sector and believes there is no
reason why an affordable home could
not be constructed for £50,000 to
£60,000. Declaring UK housebuilders
to be ‘risk averse’, he said their
practices were tantamount to a cartel.
John Rimington, the Manx
Government minister in charge of
housing, is certainly not suggesting
that cartels are at work in the Island.
He does, however, believe that the cost
of housebuilding in the Island can be
cut and has questioned whether
regulating the housing industry would
not help to bring down costs.
In their defence, homebuilders in the
Island argue that the government’s
decision to become directly involved in
the provision of housing, no matter
how commendable the intention, has
fuelled housing inflation. The
developers can justifiably point out
Have you been A9ed yet?
Branding is all about
making and keeping
promises.
PAGE 24
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PAGE 19
CONTACTS
Editorial
John Sherrocks, Editor 695622
[email protected]
Nick Yates
695689
[email protected]
Penny Kay
[email protected]
Advertising
Sharon MacNamara
695688
[email protected]
COVER
Minister John Rimington
Picture: MIKE WADE
WHAT DO
you
THINK?
Do you have anything to add to the housing debate? Or are
there other issues which you feel need airing? If so let us
know: e-mail [email protected]
that increased regulation and red tape
over the years has added to the cost of
building houses. There is also the valid
point that to get planning applications
approved is a time-consuming process.
One only has to fly into or out of the
Island to realise that there is certainly
no shortage of land. Nimbyism (Not in
My Backyard) is, however, a very real
problem. It is easy to suggest that the
government should ride roughshod
over planning objections in the overall
interests of the Island. However, as I
write this I am enjoying a view of green
fields and the sea from the window of
our modest terraced house. I suspect I
would be sorely tempted to sign any
petition opposing a first-time buyers
housing estate abutting our backyard.
The Island does not have a housing
crisis. Homelessness is not a noticeable
problem. Also, it is considerably easier
to own a property in the Isle of Man
than it is in Jersey.
However, the young person unable to
get a foot on the property ladder or the
single mum forced to live in cramped
conditions might well feel caught up in
a crisis.
It is said that the shortage of houses
is a symptom of our economic success:
young people now have expectations of
owning a property at a far earlier age
than previous generations. We are
living longer, and there are more breakups of families — all of which increases
the demand for housing.
The price of housing is mainly driven
by supply and demand but price is also
ultimately influenced by what
purchasers can afford. On the open
market there are only a few apartments
being offered at £100,000 to £120,000,
and very few houses under £150,000.
PAGE 23
IT & I
Evil in the making
Strategy’s
delay is
deplorable
The average house price is now around
£200,000.
Only three or four years ago, a typical
first-time buyer’s income would have
enabled a property to be bought at
between £50,000 and £100,000. This
calculation is based on a 3.5 times
income multiplier plus a deposit of 5
per cent. Even though mortgage
lenders are now prepared to lend at a
higher multiplier and offer subsidised
mortgages for limited periods,
first-time buyers can rarely find a
property that they can afford.
According to the Department of Local
Government and the Environment
(DoLGE), if house prices stagnate or
fall slightly, it will take around 10 to 15
years for incomes to rise sufficiently
(3% to 5% pa) to make home
ownership affordable without
government support.
Mr Rimington appears to be
genuinely sympathetic to the plight of
those struggling to own a home or
living in a public-sector-owned
property that is urgently in need of
refurbishment or even demolition. And
he has pledged take action. The
government’s first-time buyer purchase
assistance scheme appears to have
eased the situation and the
government has provisions in place to
assist key workers in buying or renting
accommodation.
There is little point in apportioning
blame. Government and the private
sector need to work together in search
of solutions.
That said, it is inexcusable that the
Island is still awaiting an updated
housing strategy — seven years after it
was first mooted. It appears that a lack
of manpower is one of the hurdles to
bringing out this urgently needed
strategic plan. If we can spend
hundreds of thousands on a review of
public sector broadcasting in the
Island, it is difficult to fathom how
extra money cannot be found to help
speed up the provision of housing.
MW040928-28
What is a brand? It’s a
promise. When you fly
Ryanair, you expect a low price
and zero frills. When you buy a
BMW, you assume superior
engineering. Brands which
break promises pay a heavy
price, as Enron and Arthur
Andersen discovered. FedEx
and Tesco are strong brands
because they usually deliver
their promises.
A brand without substance
won’t survive. Some people
wrongly think brands are about
logos, pink ribbons and
advertising. These are the
visible bits, the symbols, of the
promise. To deliver the
substance is what really
matters — things like high
quality, excellent service, great
IT systems, cost effectiveness,
integrity and innovation.
Most brand promises today
are delivered by individuals.
Thirty years ago, brands were
mainly manufactured products.
Today they are more likely to
consist of services or advice,
and depend on the training,
values and motivation of
1
2
3
individuals. Think of banking,
insurance, retailing, education
and healthcare.
Does branding just apply to
companies? No — it’s
relevant to every type of
organisation, from schools to
hospitals, from police forces to
charities. Noble’s Hospital is a
brand, so is Ballakermeen
School. Their branding is the
impression people have, based
on personal experience and
information from others. Save
the Children and Greenpeace
are strong brands. People can
become brands too — look at
David Beckham or Tiger Woods.
Is branding mainly about
trust? Yes, people respect
brands which make and deliver
promises. This creates trust and
loyalty. Readers Digest does an
annual survey of Europe’s most
trusted brands. In the UK,
winners in 2003 were Kellogg,
Nescafé, Colgate and Nokia.
Among institutions, the Armed
Forces came top (86% of
people said they had ‘a great
deal’ or ‘a lot of’ confidence in
them), and the EU came
bottom.
Can you brand countries?
Yes. Like products and
organisations, countries need to
4
5
6
SIX OF
THE BEST
develop a consistent promise
and encourage people to
deliver it. If they promise
inward investors a skilled
workforce and safe
environment but fail to deliver,
trust will dissipate together with
investment. Ireland, Switzerland
and New Zealand have been
very successful in deciding
what they wish to offer the
world and consistently
improving its substance and
quality. This is the purpose of
the ‘Marketing and Branding
the Isle of Man’ project. The Isle
of Man brand is what you find
when you get off the plane at
Ronaldsway, and it is delivered
by 76,000 individuals.
Hugh
Davidson
on
branding
Hugh Davidson was
European president of Playtex,
founder chairman of Oxford
Strategic Marketing, and is now
Visiting Professor of Marketing
at Cranfield University
School of Management
Businessupdate
ISSUE
Isle of Man Examiner, October 2004
3
focus
HOUSING SHORTAGE
OCTOBER
Minister:
Strategy
by next
autumn
DoLGE Minister John Rimington
has set himself a mission which
has thwarted three of his
predecessors: to get a new
strategic plan for housing in
the Island before Tynwald ...
and within 12 months.
JOHN SHERROCKS reports.
J
ohn Rimington, Minister of Local
Government and the Environment, is
determined to introduce the
long-awaited housing strategy within
the next 12 months. It is hoped that
the strategy, which has been on
the backburner for the last seven years,
will help speed up the provision of housing
within the Island.
The former Minister for Agriculture and
Fisheries, who took up his current post in
the recent cabinet reshuffle, said in an
interview with Business Update: ‘It is one of
the department’s key performance
indicators. Whatever I feel about it, the
strategic plan has got to get out there for
better or for worse.
‘We know that no one will agree with all of
it so there’s no point in trying to please
everyone — or to please myself. If I said I
was unhappy with ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ they [the
department] would pull it back and look at
it again which just destroys the whole
process,’ he said.
Asked why the plan has been on the
drawing board for so long, Mr Rimington
said: ‘I don’t know. I guess one of the
HIGH GOALS: Bricklayer Kevin Eastbury’s hard at it building homes,
but he can’t solve the shortage single-handedly
MW040928-8
reasons has been that every new
administration or personnel feel that they
need to look at it afresh. It has been a long
time in coming and everyone is
disappointed that it is not here.’
He expects the proposed strategy to be
published next month. It will then go to a
public inquiry, after which the inspector’s
recommendations will be considered by the
Council of Ministers before Tynwald rules
on it. ‘If the inquiry is held at the beginning
of the year [2005] ... it’s unlikely to get to the
June or July Tynwald ... but it [the strategic
plan] needs to be there for the autumn —
TO PAGE 4
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Businessupdate
ISSUE
4
Isle of Man Examiner, October 2004
focus
HOUSING SHORTAGE
OCTOBER
FROM PAGE 3
it’s got to be there,’ said Mr Rimington.
The strategy will set policies and
principles in a number of areas such as
energy and environmental issues and will
project the Island’s expected housing needs
for the next decade or so.
The strategic plan will provide the overall
brief for the provision of housing within the
Island’s four geographical areas. Until
recently housing was divided between 17
areas — an unsatisfactory situation,
according to Mr Rimington. ‘You can’t scale
down the Island’s housing need and put it
proportionately on each community.’
He said housing is a vital factor in the
continued growth of the Manx economy,
with the cost being a main determinant in
whether employees relocate to the Island.
‘Key individuals, such as teachers, want to
be able to buy a house here. We have lost
people because of that.’
But while Mr Rimington is hopeful that
having an up-to-date strategic plan will go a
long way to speeding up reducing the
housing backlog, he noted that delivery is
still largely down to the developers.
‘The government is not a player in land
generally ... it’s the private sector that is
developing and they will not develop unless
they see demand — with the right returns.
In that sense, there is an ability for them to
influence the marketplace by the rate of
their development.’
Mr Rimington does not believe the Island
is suffering a housing crisis. But he readily
concedes there are ‘a lot of acute
pinchpoints’. The key ones centre on the
difficulty first-time buyers are having
getting on to the property ladder and the
shortage of public-sector housing.
‘The cost of a new house, whatever size, is
very high, and doesn’t relate to their [firsttime buyers’] income. Also, whether it’s a
good thing or a bad thing, there are
increasing expectations among younger
people that they should be able to buy a
house — and that they should be able to get
a house fairly rapidly.
‘The market appears to have stabilised
but it has obviously stabilised at an inflated
level. Whether it will stay at that inflated
level and incomes will catch up or whether
it will increase or there will be a drop in the
market, which is always a possibility, who
knows?
‘It may be that two or three years
down the line there will be a change in
the marketplace. There may be less
immigration, a more stable population and
perhaps prices might drop — unlikely, but
‘Deliver y is down
to the developers’
you never know. That’s the difficult thing
with house prices, in the big picture it’s
better if they are lower but that doesn’t help
the people who bought when they were
higher.’
Mr Rimington said there was a backlog in
the refurbishment of public-sector housing
which had fallen below standard over the
years. ‘That’s pretty key and there is an
extensive programme under way to do that.
I would be very upset if that was blown off
course or pulled back in any dramatic
fashion.
‘The idea is to continue building new
housing stock in the public sector. There
are still a large number of people out there
who can’t get into public housing and are
finding it very difficult to manage in the
private sector ... whether that’s a single
mother living with parents, or renting at
very high cost.
‘Demographically, in the long term we are
beginning to think that if we are going to
build more public sector housing then there
should be an increasing emphasis on the
smaller units suitable for elderly people ...
that in itself will relieve some of the larger
housing stock. But we’re not in the game of
telling people they have to move.’
On the question of public housing, Mr
Rimington agreed that rentals needed to be
reviewed if the deficit the government
suffers is not to mushroom.
Mr Rimington defended the government’s
decision to develop housing for
first-time buyers. The move has been
criticised by private-sector developers. He
said any government had to consider
carefully whether its intervention would
have an impact on the housing market in
the medium to long term.
‘Sometimes a government might
deliberately take action to affect the
marketplace — it might be valid. At the
moment we are reliant to an extent on the
goodwill of developers, saying they will play
ball with us by putting in so many [firsttime buyer properties] in the development.
We’ve got to be grateful for that but to
actually meet our targets we do need to do
some more serious building ourselves.
We’re doing that in Red Gap in Castletown.’
The government currently has two
applications to build further first-time
buyers’ housing in Johnny Watterson’s Lane
and Ballanard Road. The applications are
before a public inquiry.
Mr Rimington said DoLGE intended to
increase the number of planning officers. A
manpower shortage has been identified as
one of the reasons for the delay in delivery
of the strategic plan and the processing of
applications. A staff increase is linked to
reforms to the planning system, due to be
introduced in spring.
Mr Rimington maintained that in the
main the planning system was sound.
‘Most planning applications don’t even go
to the planning committee. They go via the
director of planning, because they are
within the accepted guidelines, or there are
no objections, or no objections from the
department ...
‘One of my roles ... is as the appellate
authority for planning appeals. That job has
EXTRACT FROM
FOCUS DEBATE
McLOUGHLIN: When we and other
developers build first-time buyer
houses on behalf of government we
build them at a subsidy to
government. And we don’t mind, if
that’s what it takes. There is no
reluctance on our part to engage in
providing first-time buyer houses.
RIMINGTON: There’s less profit.
McLOUGHLIN: That’s subsidy. We’re in
business Mr Minister and like any
business in the Isle of Man we must
turn a profit otherwise we die.
RIMINGTON: If there was regulation
in the housing market and people
were looking at acceptable profit
margins I think the price of houses
wouldn’t be anywhere near what they
are.
McLOUGHLIN: But what’s an
acceptable profit margin and who’s
going to determine it?
RIMINGTON: The regulator.
PAGES 6-10
opened my eyes to how the system works.
Yes, people are making objections, but from
my assessment, planning inspectors take
on board people’s objections but balance
them against what they believe is the
overall interest and make judgments
accordingly.
‘I think everyone’s dream is to have a
more “enlightened” planning committee
but that’s unfair on the planning committee
because they can never win. It’s the same
for the inspector and for my role as the final
appeal. Whatever you sign off you are going
to upset somebody. You’ve just got to look
at the quality decisions that are coming
through and try to achieve consistency and
fairness. By and large, I think the planning
system does that.’
Businessupdate
ISSUE
Isle of Man Examiner, October 2004
5
focus
HOUSING SHORTAGE
OCTOBER
Glut or a gutful?
Is the bubble
about to burst
or is the high
cost of housing
in danger of
causing a skills
shortage?
NICK YATES
reports.
T
he double-digit growth in the
Isle of Man economy in recent
years has brought with it
prosperity and improved public
services. However, a downside
for some has been the sharp
increase in house prices that has
accompanied the growth. It has left many
prospective first-time buyers on lower
salaries unable to secure a big enough
mortgage to buy a home. Partly due to
restricted supply, the average house price
in the Island is higher than most parts of
the UK and is more comparable with the
South East of England.
The question that now faces the Manx
government is whether this level of
inaccessibility is likely to damage the
future growth of the economy: will it
discourage businesses and individuals
from relocating and what is the best way to
mitigate the factors that led to such steep
price increases?
John Webster, a prominent Island
economist, thinks the housing market is in
danger of becoming oversupplied as house
building continues apace while economic
growth slows. He has questioned the
quantity of flats being built and is sceptical
about the government’s first-time buyer
waiting list as an accurate indicator of real
demand.
‘The finance industry is having to change
and become more protective and
By NICK YATES
S
everal Island-based businesses have
chosen to tackle the problem of high
house prices head-on by providing
subsidies to staff to aid with
accommodation. The biggest problems are
faced by workers who move to the Isle of
Man from the UK and abroad and are faced
with relocation costs that are higher than
expected, especially if they want to
purchase their own property.
One large financial institution in the
Island provides subsidies to staff to help
with rent and mortgage payments. The
subsidies are based on a percentage of the
employee’s salary and kick in a year after
they have been with the company.
A spokesman for the company said: ‘We
only used to pay mortgage subsidies but
then we felt there were a lot of our staff
members that actually only rented. We
brought in a policy where we subsidised
rental costs as well and that went down
really well with the staff.’
The package currently allows staff who
have served for a year to claim 2 per cent of
their salary as rental subsidy. This amount
increases each year, with a maximum
benefit of 2 per cent of four times their
salary after four years’ service.
John Hellowell, owner of Strand Cleaners,
has bought a property to house staff that
JOHN WEBSTER: Housing
market is in danger of
becoming oversupplied
competitive, all of which is a threat to
traditional income and employment
opportunities. You can see examples of that
now. Having said that, I’m more optimistic
for the first time in several years.
Government has recognised we need to
change and there is a shift from an offshore
finance centre to an offshore business
centre. That is the key task over the next
few years; we are recognising that in the
economic strategy plan and the 2014
debate.
‘There is a lot of noise about first-time
buyer housing being required and it
reminds me of an old phrase “only dead
fish go with the tide”. We are reaching a
level of oversupply. Certainly I know for a
fact that one of the leading estate agents
would say that sales this August were half
the volume of last August’s sales. If you
look at the state of the market, there are
houses hanging around much longer then
they did and people are accepting less than
the asking price, plus the supply of
apartments is increasing dramatically.’
Mr Webster says more information about
MIKE HENTHORN: Pricing
out young people could
cause a skills shortage
the individuals on the first-time buyer list
would yield answers on why there is such
an apparent shortage of affordable
housing.
‘The government says there are more
than 1,000 people on the waiting list, but I
would like to have some analysis of that.
Undersupply is coming to an end and now
our main concentration as a government
priority should be to manage the economic
change and safeguard jobs.’
However, Mike Henthorn, president of
the Isle of Man Chamber of Commerce,
takes a different view.
He is worried the Manx economy could
suffer in the long term if young people
continue to be priced out of the market. He
says the differential between salaries and
house prices is now much greater than it
was for young people 20 or 30 years ago.
He also warned the difference in the price
of equivalent housing in the UK was a
potential barrier to people moving to the
Island, creating possible skill shortages.
‘I do think that the chamber’s view would
be that there is definitely an issue with the
price of new housing and housing
generally for the first-time buyer and
potential newcomers to the Isle of Man.
When people of my era were in our early
twenties we were struggling to get on the
property ladder, but the differential has got
to the stage when people in their late
twenties are struggling to have the
wherewithall to buy a house, which is
definitely a deal-breaker for companies
who are trying to recruit staff to come and
work here.
‘If we compare ourselves with the North
West of England, Northern Ireland, the
Borders and Scotland, the differential for
affordable housing is big. Even if they are
not first-time buyers they can sell a house
for £70,000 in Warrington and the
equivalent is £150,000 on the Isle of Man,
so the finances just don’t work.’
He added: ‘In my early days a first house
was probably about two or three times my
salary; now it is likely to be five or six
times. We [the Chamber of Commerce] are
very keen that everybody has the
opportunity to own their own home. If the
Island is creating an environment where
that is not possible, are we going to see an
exodus on young people into other parts of
the world where they can buy a house.’
Mr Henthorn also raised the possibility
that an artificial housing stock may be
developing in the Isle of Man. He said it
was conceivable that foreign nationals in
unstable countries could be buying up
property in the Island which is viewed
internationally as a safe and secure
location with good transport links.
The evidence suggests that a booming
economy has left workers at the lower end
of the pay scale out in the cold, as far as
housing is concerned. Regardless of
the importance placed on high-value,
low-labour-intensive industry, no economy
can function without its basic services,
provided by lower-paid employees.
Oversupply of the wrong type of housing
may be an issue, but it could be an early
sign of a net outflow from the Island. If
emigration of young and lower-salaried
Manx people is encouraged and
immigration of the same people from
outside is discouraged by housing costs,
the Island’s future may be seriously
compromised.
Firms are having
to help their
homeless workers
come from Europe to work for his firm. He
said the initial cost of housing is
prohibitive, especially for lower-paid
workers such as cleaners. Many of his
employees come from Spain and Portugal
and he actively recruits in that region of
Europe. In the past he has had to support
up to 18 new workers in his companyowned property while they found their feet
and saved enough money to afford rental
or mortgage deposits.
He said: ‘We employ 35 Spanish and
Portuguese staff. They start off as cleaners
and move through to supervisor level and
beyond. Many have become permanent
residents. We bought a guest house
to put them in until they can establish
themselves. The average wage in
Portugal is £1.42 an hour, so you can
see why they come, but a cleaner’s wage
here still isn’t a lot.’
Housing cost is also a problem for
professionally qualified people setting in
the Island. Niall McGarrigle, of McGarrigle
and Jackson Architects, said rental prices in
the Island are 20-30 per cent more than
those in Northern Ireland, where they also
have a presence.
He said his partner, Mike Jackson, felt
obliged to allow a young architect on
secondment from the other office to live in
one of his own properties at a subsidised
rate because of the significantly increased
expense.
‘Because of the difference in rental prices
in Northern Ireland we felt we should
subsidise the rent. My partner could have
rented the property out commercially but
he allowed an architect on secondment
from our Derry office to rent it out at a
discounted rate because of the extra cost,’
he said.
JOHN HELLOWELL: Bought
a property to house staff
Businessupdate
ISSUE
6
Isle of Man Examiner, October 2004
focus
HOUSING SHORTAGE
OCTOBER
The government
and private sector
representatives
taking part in the
Business Update
Forum agreed that
the long overdue
housing strategy
will be key to
tackling the
Island's housing
shortage. But there
were many issues
on which the two
sides did not see
eye to eye. JOHN
SHERROCKS
reports.
IS THERE A SHORTAGE OF
HOUSING IN THE ISLAND
AND WHAT IS THE CAUSE?
JOE McLOUGHLIN of Heritage Homes:
During the 10 years ending in 2003 the
number of new homes provided totalled
3,977. During the 10 years ending in 1993 it
was even greater than that with 4,121
houses being provided. So in the last 10
years we’ve actually built 144 less houses
than in the previous 10, even though the
population has increased by about 18-19
per cent. The numbers on the waiting lists
demonstrate the level of demand.
KEITH KERRUISH of Chrystals: The nub of
the problem is that DoLGE [Department of
Local Government and the Environment] is
working from a housing development plan
that was written 22 years ago for 60,000
people. Mr Rimington’s predecessors —
Quine, Gilbey and Crowe — all promised us
a new strategic plan, next week. I’d be very
pleased if the minister completed it by the
end of next year, never mind next week.
We have these massive housing needs and
loads of land but we’ve got any amount of
nimby (not in my backyard) behaviour
throughout the Island.
A classic example is Castletown. The town
is bounded by the sea, the railway line and
the 1982 development plan. Mr [Eddie]
Lowey, MLC, says no one should cross into
the parish of Malew, as if it was an
independent nation. He strongly feels that
there should be no development in
Castletown. The 1982 plan says there
should be no development in Castletown.
‘The upshot is that government comes
along and says we must get some housing
in Castletown, they must show how good
they are at building houses. So they bid
against the private sector and pay a record
price for land in Red Gap (Ballalough or Y
Vaany Yiarg). There was no need to pay
such a high price for land. All that was
needed was for more land to be freed up
and that should be entirely in the hands of
‘DoLGE
plan
is 22
years
out
of
date’
the minister. But the ’82 plan and all the
paperwork of DoLGE means it’s a case of
the tail wagging the dog. Tynwald can’t
build any houses, Tynwald is absolutely
useless, they can’t change the strategy of
DoLGE.
IAN McCAULEY, director of Planning and
Building Control, DoLGE: You’re really good
on hyperboles but short on fact. You say the
’82 plan doesn’t allow for any land for
housing in Castletown. It does. There’s land
available in Ramsey, there’s land available
in Peel, there’s land available in Castletown
and there’s a lot of land to be brought
forward for development in Douglas. To say
the ’82 plan is holding things up, I’m sorry,
it’s just not correct.
McLOUGHLIN: I’d have to agree with some
of Keith’s points. The majority of the land
in Castletown that has been available since
1982 is located in two areas: Knock Rushen
and Red Gap. The land at Red Gap has
never been available for development as
far as I’m concerned and I’ve been in the
Island since 1988. My company has made
repeated efforts to have that land freed for
development and the owners have said no.
McCAULEY: I don’t mind you saying that
land is available for development but there
are constraints upon it — whether that’s an
ownership constraint or an infrastructure
constraint. That’s fine. But to say that
land isn’t identified and planned for
development is absolute nonsense. There
are large areas of land identified in Ramsey.
McLOUGHLIN: The problem with the land
that has been zoned since 1982 is that the
KEITH KERRUISH: Tynwald can’t build any
houses, Tynwald is absolutely useless,
they can’t change the strategy of DoLGE.
good pieces have been cherry picked over
the years. We’re now left with land that is
zoned — about 368 acres or thereabouts —
but most of it is in areas where people don’t
want to live or there are constraints
attached to it that prevent it from being
developed.
Douglas is where the majority of people
wish to live and work; 75 per cent or
thereabouts of the economic activity in the
Island takes place in the capital. But there is
no land available in Douglas for
development.
Currently your department is pursuing a
planning application on two sites on the
outskirts of Douglas, neither of which is
zoned. The whole impediment to
producing homes in any parts of the Island
is a lack of suitably zoned land.
The agent that produces the answer to
these problems is the Department of Local
Government and it would appear to be
woefully slow in producing or forwarding
new local plans for a variety of reasons. I
suspect the principal reason is the lack of
manpower within the department and I
would urge the minister to have a look at
this aspect.
JOHN RIMINGTON, Minister of Local
Government and the Environment: We are
looking at this, it’s an issue which focuses
our minds at this very moment. As you are
well aware one [planning] officer left the
Island and that in itself poses a workload
requirement on just the volume of day-today applications that are coming in, let
alone looking strategically and doing
MW040921-46
forward planning.
McCAULEY: The department is reviewing
changes/modifications to the plan. We are
hoping to get those published next month
with a view to having an inquiry in the early
part of next year, and, subject to Tynwald
approval, getting the plans approved next
year.
I agree there are problems but the
problems aren’t helped by people saying
there isn’t any land available. You’ve only
got to go around Douglas to see what you
guys [developers] have been doing. You’ve
been developing on sites that weren’t
anticipated for development in the Douglas
plan but they were in the urban area and as
a result of a change of the land use they’ve
come forward as apartments.
That’s really good news. It’s meant we’ve
got a lot of development in places where it
needed to happen. If there had been more
greenfields available for easy development
then I know very well that a lot of the
development in town wouldn’t have
happened.
THE PLIGHT OF FIRSTTIME HOMEBUYERS
RICHARD SENIOR, director of Estates and
Housing, DoLGE: Relatively speaking a lot of
the properties that are being built at the
moment are of a size and a standard that
are suitable for first-time buyers but it’s the
affordability issue that’s hitting people a lot
at the moment. I think the department has
done a lot of work in the last couple of years
Businessupdate
Isle of Man Examiner, October 2004
focus
HOUSING SHORTAGE
OCTOBER
‘
In the last 10 years we’ve
actually built 144 less
houses than in the
previous 10 years, even
though the population
has increased by about a
gross 18-19 per cent.
JOE MCLAUGHLIN
to help with this problem of
affordability.
NIALL McGARRIGLE of McGarrigle &
Jackson: Property is essentially a
demand-driven commodity. But I
think in the Island you also have the
added disadvantage that property is
often an investment. Some people
see houses as something to live in,
to value as your own dwelling,
whereas others see them as an
investment opportunity. It would
be interesting to see how many of
the houses [in an estate] are going
to people who actually want to live
in them and how many are being
sold to investors in the buy-to-let
market.
BILL HENDERSON, Minister of
Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry
and outgoing chairman of the
planning committee: There were
some interesting comments made
in Tynwald about that. Treasury
produced some figures and I think
Governor’s Hill was examined.
Although it does cause a problem I
don’t think it’s as big as some people
perceive. Certainly with Governor’s
Hill the survey showed that
something like 10 per cent was
‘company owned’ as opposed to the
perception that more than 50 per
cent of the estate or tranches of
streets are owned by a single
individual.
McLOUGHLIN: The phenomenon of
the investor coming and buying
property is generally a sign of an
unhealthy economy; It means
there’s a scarcity in the housing
commodity ... if you’ve got housing
running at 15-20 per cent per
annum that’s a sure way of making
money. I think that situation is
dying down at the moment. The
rental market is not as buoyant as it
was 18 months, two years ago, and
you’ll find that investors will no
longer be interested ... they want a
short-term return.
ANNE CRAINE, DoLGE member
responsible for Housing and
Estates: There will always be a need
for a rental market in the Island.
McLOUGHLIN: Sure, but that’s
catered for by the indigenous
landlord as opposed to the multinationals that have been here, that
have bought tracts of properties, cut
their profits and gone again. The
long-term rental market plays a vital
role in providing housing for people
in the Isle of Man.
GRAHAM WILSON, of Cowley
Groves: Supply has been a real
problem over the last three or four
years which has hiked up the price
of properties. It has brought more
investors to the market. But of late
our company has about 35-38 per
cent more available properties on
the books than it had last year. So
it’s starting to change a little bit.
But we have less than 10 houses
priced between £80,000 and
£150,000. Having said that we don’t
see nearly as many first-time buyers
as we used to because presumably
the government’s system is
working, they’re on the first-time
buyers’ register.
SHOULD THE
GOVERNMENT
BE INVOLVED
IN BUILDING
HOUSING?
SENIOR: Immigration has driven
demand for housing over the last
few years. Last year I think it was
pretty stagnant in terms of people
coming into the Island. My
understanding is that over the first
six months of this year there has
been a slight increase in
immigration. Also, more families are
breaking up, which creates
additional demand.
But it still comes down to
affordability. No matter how many
houses you build if they’re selling at
£250,000-£300,000 a lot of people
cannot afford to buy them —
people who could have afforded to
get into the market five or six years
ago.
That’s the reason we bought Red
Gap ... to build government-funded
affordable housing.
I’m not saying you [the
developers] are wrong for charging
the prices that you’re charging —
you charge the price the market will
take. All I am saying is you’re not
meeting the demand of an
important sector of the market.
McLOUGHLIN: The impetus for that
has now gone with the introduction
of the buyers’ scheme that you’re
putting forward. Prior to that
developers were more prepared to
accommodate first-time buyers. We
as a company provided the best
part of 1,000 first-time buyer houses
over the period leading up to the
buyers’ assistance scheme. And
suddenly the whole scenario has
changed, and in my opinion, not for
the better.
SENIOR: The reason we stuck at
£90,000 [for the first-time buyers’
scheme] for people buying on the
open market was because the
£75,000 house that was being built
became an £80,000 house, then a
£90,000 house and then a £140,000
house. We did not want to keep
chasing these prices by throwing
more and more grants at them. It
doesn’t build one more house, all it
does is move money out of
government into the developers’
pockets.
McLOUGHLIN: I don’t think
JOE MCLAUGHLIN
government should be involved in
the business of actually building
houses. With Red Gap, in one foul
swoop you substantially increased
the price of developing in the Isle of
Man.
SENIOR: Absolute rubbish, I’m
sorry. When we bought Red Gap just
over two years ago land was
fetching £300,000 to £350,000 an
acre. We paid £400,000. You bid for
it as well.
McLOUGHLIN: Overnight,
unwittingly I admit, you increased
the price of land from say £250,000
to £400,000. We had several
negotiations in the pipeline at the
time which were stopped and
renegotiated.
HENDERSON: We need to get some
perspective on this Joe. You’re giving
it the hard-sell from the privatesector level. The point that Richard’s
making is true to a certain extent.
You have to admit there has been a
first-time buyer shortage and there’s
been huge public pressure on this
government to perform with regard
to providing for first-time buyers.
And one of the ways is to move in
the direction that we have been
moving. I think some of the
comments you’ve been making with
regards to that are unfair.
McLOUGHLIN: Not at all.
Government really has little
business being involved in building
houses. The private sector is geared
to do this. You will find that private
sector development costs are a heck
of a lot less than those that are
developed by government. We are
geared up to produce houses at a
good standard, at a reasonable cost
and in a good time.
CRAINE: You’re saying we shouldn’t
take land and build affordable
housing and that we should leave it
all to you. But then you’d have us
over a barrel. We are finding it
TO PAGE 8
MW040921-21
7
Businessupdate
ISSUE
8
Isle of Man Examiner, October 2004
focus
HOUSING SHORTAGE
OCTOBER
The role
FROM PAGE 7
IAN McCAULEY: I don’t mind you saying that land is
available for development but there are constraints
upon it — whether that’s an ownership constraint
or an infrastructure constraint. That’s fine. But to
say that land isn’t identified and planned for
development is absolute nonsense.
MW040921-29
difficult to persuade developers to
do very much affordable housing.
Yes, they will do a token figure on a
development but there’s a
reluctance to do much more.
McLOUGHLIN: The role of
government is to encourage and
help those who are in a position to
deliver housing at an affordable
cost. And to date this is not
something the government has
pursued.
CRAINE: We are in the position of
trying to provide homes for people.
We are not in the position of
fuelling commercial enterprise.
McLOUGHLIN: But you are fuelling
commercial enterprise. Going back
to Red Gap, that is one of the
biggest factors in fuelling housing
inflation.
SENIOR: We actually easily broke
even on Red Gap paying £400,000
an acre. You would have sold those
houses at £40,000, £50,000, £60,000
more a property than we’re selling
them at.
We’ve never wanted to fuel
inflation where the builders try to
hang behind the market because
we then drive prices up. But we did
raise the maximum [on the firsttime buyers’ assistance scheme] to
£145,000. That has stimulated some
demand but the problem is still
affordability. Most people still can’t
afford to buy — they’re not earning
enough. So unless the government
keeps ploughing more and more
money into it they won’t be able to
purchase. Hence we are building
our own new properties to try to
increase the supply.
McLOUGHLIN: When we and other
developers build first-time buyer
houses on behalf of government we
build them at a subsidy to
government. And we don’t mind, if
that’s what it takes. There is no
reluctance on our part to engage in
providing first-time buyer houses.
RIMINGTON: There’s less profit.
McLOUGHLIN: That’s subsidy. We’re
in business Mr Minister and like
any business in the Isle of Man we
must turn a profit otherwise we die.
RIMINGTON: If there was regulation
in the housing market and people
were looking at acceptable profit
margins I think the price of houses
wouldn’t be anywhere near what
they are.
McLOUGHLIN: But what’s an
acceptable profit margin and who’s
going to determine it?
RIMINGTON: The regulator.
DIFFICULTY OF
GETTING LAND
McLOUGHLIN: There’s a lack of
suitable developable land. That’s
what pushes up prices.
McCAULEY: Joe, your company has
more land in the planning pipeline
capable of being developed. The
question is when you choose to
bring it forward.
McLOUGHLIN: No, the question is
when the department is prepared
to let it go by giving it planning
approval.
McCAULEY: You could put a
planning application in tomorrow
on a lot of the land you’ve got in
‘
McLOUGHLIN: The role of
government is to encourage
and help those who are in a
position to deliver housing at
an affordable cost. And to date
this is not something the
government has pursued.
CRAINE: We are in the position
of trying to provide homes for
people. We are not in the
position of fuelling commercial
enterprise.
McLOUGHLIN: But you are
fuelling commercial enterprise.
ANN CRAINE and JOHN RIMINGTON
Peel. You operate a pipeline for how
your sites come forward.
McLOUGHLIN: This is a story that I
keep hearing that emanates from
the planning department, that we
have got some form of stranglehold
on developable land. That’s not
true.
McCAULEY: You only build to sell a
certain number of houses because
you’ve got a view as to what the
market in Peel can take. You have
control over a lot more land. But I
don’t blame you. You control the
land, therefore you don’t bring it
forward. You could have sold half of
that land off to another developer
to develop that land.
McLOUGHLIN: To use an analogy,
should the Steam Packet sell off half
of its routes to a rival company?
McCAULEY: But you’re saying
there’s a shortage of land. The
Steam Packet’s not saying there’s a
shortage of sea.
CRAINE: There are areas where
you’ve got planning permission
and you’re not building. Poyll
Dooey in Ramsey for example.
McLOUGHLIN: We’ve got a planning
application in Poyll Dooey, which I
think is coming up for its fourth
anniversary.
McCAULEY: I have to agree with
him on that one, which is why, Mrs
Craine, I’m referring to Peel.
Because there is a difference
between the two. I accept there
have been delays on Poyll Dooey.
The land in Peel has far fewer
constraints on it.
MW040921-25
McLOUGHLIN: We’ve been
developing in Peel for the last two
years.
McCAULEY: Poyll Dooey will come
forward once the consultations and
all the rest of it are finished. It will
happen.
QUESTION OF
DEVELOPMENT
IN DOUGLAS
HENDERSON: Douglas has seen
some massive developments and
it’s probably outgrown its
boundaries. We’ve seen the
Governor’s Hill estate and the
Cronk-y-Berry estate up in north
Douglas. We’re talking over 1,200
new houses, 50 or 60 per cent firsttime buyers. We’ve seen massive
development of private enterprise
apartments up and down Douglas
promenade. More going on at the
minute. More going on in Lord
Street.
So it’s not correct just to say
nothing’s happening in Douglas.
Douglas is where everyone wants to
live. Douglas has tried to respond
as best it can and some rather
massive developments have gone
on to try to address that.
RIMINGTON: Government might
take a view that it might not want
to allow Douglas and Onchan to
keep mushrooming. In the interests
of the Island as a whole you want
the developments to be more
balanced.
Businessupdate
Isle of Man Examiner, October 2004
9
focus
HOUSING SHORTAGE
OCTOBER
of government
KERRUISH: But you are a democrat,
voted in by the people, and the
people want to live in Douglas.
RIMINGTON: I have a slightly
different view on democracy than
most people have. My view of
democracy is that I am not there as
a civil servant to respond to the
greedy needs of the population,
because the population always has
wants and desires. The job is
actually to look at what is best for
the Isle of Man for the long, long
term. Not to respond necessarily to
immediate issues. They will be
addressed, but within the context of
the bigger picture.
MEET THE PANEL
John Rimington, Minister of Local Government and the
Environment (DoLGE)
Bill Henderson, Minister of Agriculture Fisheries and
Forestry and outgoing chairman of the planning
committee
Anne Craine, DoLGE member with responsibility for
Estates and Housing
Richard Senior, director of Estates and Housing, DoLGE
Ian McCauley, director of Planning and Building Control,
DoLGE
Niall McGarrigle, McGarrigle & Jackson
John Payne, McGarrigle & Jackson
Joe McLoughlin, Heritage Homes
Graham Wilson, Cowley Groves
Keith Kerruish, Chrystals
John Wilson, JG Kelly Homes
THERE IS A
PERCEPTION OF
WIDESCALE ABUSE
OF PUBLIC SECTOR
HOUSING BY
TENANTS WHO
HAVE RELATIVELY
HIGH INCOMES
RIMINGTON: I think the number of
people living in public sector
housing who have got what you
might call high incomes is probably
a lot less than people believe.
We’re going into quite an
ambitious programme in terms of
the rebuild and refurbishment of
public-sector housing ... and
where it is reasonable rentals
should make their contribution
[but] you couldn’t put a market
rental on public-sector
housing.
HENDERSON: The Island has a good
social care history with regard to
public-sector housing and how it’s
helped and assisted the tenants. In
moving forward to free up publicsector housing you’ve got to be
careful and caring with what you
do.
CRAINE: I think it’s very easy to
target public-sector housing
tenants. OK, you can argue that
they are subsidised but then so too
are private-sector purchasers, with
grants and top-up loans.
KERRUISH: We have a prosperous
economy and yet we are forever on
this treadmill of providing more
public authority housing. I accept
that there is old stock that has to be
refurbished. I accept that much of
the local authority stock is
occupied by widows and single
parents and I know the view is that
if Mrs Kelly has stayed in a house
for 40 years she should stay there
until she dies. But I’m sorry, I have
to disagree with that. I think the
scheme in Andreas where they’ve
made room in family-type houses
by building more
retirement-type bungalows is the
way to go. I don’t think there should
be one more unit of public sector
housing built.
SENIOR: I wonder whether we do
need to be building more and more
general public-sector houses. It’s
department policy to have a bias
towards building accommodation
for elderly persons and
encouraging people reaching
retirement age to move into these,
freeing up larger family houses. But
only if they want to move.
When [refurbishment] work on
RICHARD SENIOR: I wonder whether we do need
to be building more and more general public-sector
houses.
MW040921-20
lower Pulrose (Douglas), Lezayre
(Ramsey) and Janet’s Corner
(Castletown) is finished there will
be a bit of a shake-out. There will
be a lot more units actually in use.
Pulrose has taken more than 100
properties out of circulation.
THE PLANNING
PROCESS AND THE
QUALITY OF
HOUSING ESTATES
JOHN PAYNE of McGarrigle &
Jackson: A lot of what you see
being built is fairly soulless — it’s
being built to achieve the greatest
profit margin and it lacks some of
the attractiveness that you find in
some schemes in the UK.
McLOUGHLIN: I have to take issue
with John’s comments about
soulless developments. You have to
bear in mind for starters that the
Isle of Man is a small Island and
one cannot ... expect each area to
have its own architecture. If you
were to look at the older stock in
the Island — the traditional
housing — they’re all the same and
yet they’re scattered throughout the
Island.
There is also the cost element.
Some of the things I suspect John is
referring to would simply be
external decoration which does
nothing to improve the standard of
accommodation. What people want
foremost is good-quality housing at
a reasonable cost. And simply to
start putting pastiche architecture
on to a house to make it look like
something that it’s not, I think is
silly.
PAYNE: I’ve been to see some
mixed-use development schemes
in the UK [where] ... housing
TO PAGE 10
Businessupdate
ISSUE
10
Isle of Man Examiner, October 2004
focus
HOUSING SHORTAGE
OCTOBER
‘I don’t think there should
be one more unit of public
sector housing built’ — KEITH KERRUISH
FROM PAGE 9
KEY
POINTS
association properties were mixed in with
large private development properties. There
was a much higher standard of amenity ...
What I’m saying is that it’s not necessarily
about what people can afford because
house prices here are as dear as anywhere.
It’s what developers are wanting to take out
of schemes.
McGARRIGLE: In Northern Ireland you have
to put in a design concept in the form of a
statement and in sketches [at an early
stage].
McLOUGHLIN: That would not necessarily
add to costs. It depends at what stage such
requirements are made of a developer. If
one knows from the start that certain
criteria are required, it’s fine — you can
build that into your costs. I think planning
has taken a backward step over the last 10
years ... applicants were [once] permitted to
put forward a sketch design for appraisal by
the planning committee. For whatever
reason that was dropped. The problem now
is that the planning committee often sees a
development for the first time on the
boardroom table. They haven’t had a
chance to consider it ... and very often
because they don’t understand it, they will
refuse or defer it. I think that system of presubmission should come back because I
think it would make everyone’s lives a hell
of a lot simpler.
McGARRIGLE: There are some weaknesses
in the system but everywhere, everyone
complains about how slow it is to get plans
through. I’ve worked in Spain and in Italy.
The paperwork in Italy is unbelievable.
McCAULEY: People value the environment
they live in and actually they put more
value on that environment the more
disposable income they’ve got. What’s
happened in a number of places around the
Island is that people are buying more
farmland to make sure that,
notwithstanding what I do as a planner,
they own the land, they control it, they’re
not going to have any development on it.
For the average homeowner, what
happens very close to them is very dear to
them. We’ve got an educated, articulate
society and given the opportunity to
comment they will comment. The planning
process is not just evaluating the
application but taking into account their
comments.
STATE OF THE
PROPERTY MARKET
WILSON: It has levelled off over the summer
period. I would have thought you are
looking at an average growth of 6-7 per
cent. Whether that’s sustainable to the end
❐ More resources
for the planners to
help speed up the
long-awaited Isle of
Man Strategic and
Local Area Plan.
❐ Less unreasonable
‘Nimbyism’
❐ An ‘enlightened’
planning committee
we’re pretty confident. So much so that ...
we’re about to embark on a new corporate
headquarters for ourselves at the business
park. We do a lot of work in the UK now —
notably London and Manchester and
Edinburgh — and of course the Channel
Islands, but we have nominated the Isle of
Man to be our corporate headquarters.
HOUSING
STRATEGIC PLAN
BILL HENDERSON: In moving forward to free up public-sector
housing you’ve got to be careful and caring with what you do.
MW040921-30
of the year remains to be seen.
McLOUGHLIN: We would share that view.
There has been a slight levelling off but in
the last few months it has begun to rise
again. As far as the long-term view is
concerned from our company’s perspective
McLOUGHLIN: One must bear in mind that
this is possibly the seventh or eighth draft
of the strategic plan. I think it started
around ’96-97. It will make a significant
difference. I suppose you could compare it
to an amateur cook baking a dainty cake
without a recipe. The strategic plan would
be the recipe which will guide all of the
other local plans.
McCAULEY: We know there are problems in
the system. I don’t disagree that it is taking
us too long to produce the plans ... but
having said that they are part of the
democratic process and people have the
right to be heard when decisions are being
made about the strategic development of
land.
We’ve now said that we are going to
produce four local area plans but it takes
quite a long time to produce a plan because
of the various stages that we have to go
through. We’ve got grand plans in the wings
at the moment but if it wasn’t for potential
legal challenges we’d probably have the
inspector’s report out before now and the
proposed modifications sorted out. Those
are the sort of problems that we are having
to deal with. I accept that we have failed to
deliver but there are good reasons.
‘I accept that we have failed to
deliver but there are good reasons.’
— IAN McCAULEY
Isle of Man Examiner, October D;2004
Businessupdate
11
Businessupdate
ISSUE
12
focus
HOUSING SHORTAGE
OCTOBER
Concept of
sustainable
urban living
One way to
address the
housing
shortage
is for
government
to convince
people that,
despite its
drawbacks,
urban living
has many
attractive
options.
NICK YATES
reports.
Businessupdate
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Isle of Man Examiner, October 2004
O
ne of the solutions to the
pressing need for affordable
housing in the Island is the
concept of sustainable urban
living. There has been an
increase in suburban
developments in recent years but there are
many fine urban buildings that could be
converted into stylish residential properties.
For inspiration, the Isle of Man could look
to big cities such as Manchester and
Liverpool where many of the old mill and
factory buildings are being renovated into
apartment blocks and loft dwellings. The old
industrial heritage of Douglas, Castletown,
Peel and Ramsey has left some large
well-constructed buildings in fantastic
locations lying dormant.
The challenge for the government is to
convince people that urban living, although
affording less privacy and space than
suburban dwellings, does have many
attractive options such as access to
amenities, transport links and a sense of
community.
Hugh Logan, of Castletown-based Hugh
Logan Architects, was heavily involved in the
development of brownfield sites during his
time as an architect with Dandara. Now he
has set up his own practice and is committed
to helping the Island to realise the potential
of its urban areas. He also works extensively
in Liverpool and believes that some of the
projects to reinvigorate that city are
transferable to the Isle of Man.
‘The Isle of Man is quite a curious place
when it comes to brownfield sites, since it is
the government’s policy to look at them, but
there is no grant scheme — as there is in the
UK and Ireland — to encourage building in
these areas. Sustainable housing requires
what you do to be socially and economically
viable. Urban environments are denser and
this creates problems of closeness and
privacy, but that is where we come in as
designers.
‘There is a lot of land in Douglas around
the harbour which was historically built for
industrial use. Those sites would be much
better put to mixed residential use, with
shops, restaurants and bars. The planning
and development department is actively
encouraging older industrial users to
relocate from those areas.’
Mr Logan is also an advocate of infilling
disused brownfield sites with newly
constructed buildings. He believes that this is
more efficient than building on greenfield
sites. ‘Building in urban environments is a
more efficient use of land. Sensitive design
can be achieved that adheres to the
conservation orders placed on the built fabric
in places like Castletown. The Red Gap
development is part of a government project
to build public housing within the borders of
towns. The development will help to solve the
vicious circle of a self-sustaining community
within the town.’
He believes that educating people about
urban living is essential to stop the
phenomenon of dormitory towns that the
dominance of Douglas has created.
‘To my mind, the only way to stop
suburban development is to create truly
economically sustainable towns. People who
live there don’t necessarily want more people
in their towns and villages but they have to
accept that re-using old buildings will result
in more money being spent by a larger
population.’
Businessupdate
Isle of Man Examiner, October 2004
13
focus
HOUSING SHORTAGE
OCTOBER
ONE SOLUTION TO AFFORDABLE HOMES
Educating people about urban living
is essential to stop the phenomenon
of dormitory towns that the
dominance of Douglas has created.
— architect HUGH LOGAN
JM040828-35
Businessupdate
TOPIC
14
Isle of Man Examin
specialreport
OCTOBER
JURBY RACING POTENTIAL
Most of us are motorspor t
mad, but wouldn’t you
just love to give it a tr y?
M
otorsports are a
big part of the Isle of Man’s identity
and attract thousands of visitors
every year. Events such as the TT,
Manx Grand Prix and Manx Rally
are also very popular with Island
residents, borne out by statistics
that suggest one in every 10 owns a
motorcycle.
As the Isle of Man is so renowned
for its love of the combustion
engine, it is unusual that, until
recently, there was no facility for
members of the public to give
racing a try and slip into
competitive mode in a safe
environment. Motorsport has led to
a proliferation of racetracks around
the UK offering track days in
high-performance cars to the
general public, but it has also led to
the development of karting as a
sensible, less dangerous way for
ordinary people to experience
some of the adrenalin rush of the
professional racer.
It took the cancellation of the TT
and the Grand Prix in 2001, due to
foot-and-mouth, to kickstart the
government into looking at a
different angle to attract motor
racing enthusiasts to the Island. As
a result of co-operation between
the Department of Tourism and
Tromode-based Duke Racing, the
Jurby airfield is now the Island’s
first venue of this type, and the
benefits and potential have
certainly exceeded initial
expectations.
Peter Duke, managing director of
Duke Racing, is confident that
Duke Track Days can be turned into
a long-term viable proposition.
‘We rented the land from the
Department of Transport (DoT) to
build a 300 metre kart track. We
Stalled
on the
start
grid
Duke Racing has ambitious plans
for Jurby Airfield but everything
depends on persuading the
government to agree funding
for a public-private partnership.
NICK YATES reports
ADRENALIN RUSH: ‘We are approaching 10,000 custom
them a lunatic.’ — MD Peter Duke
have invested a five-figure sum
building the track and buying in
karts and equipment. That part of
our business is just about there and
is starting to wash its own face and
return a profit. We are approaching
10,000 customers through the
straights and sits alongside the
karting track. Its usage is managed
by the Andreas Racing Association
and Duke’s only have access to
certain dates on the calendar. They
have put together a package of
bike, car and kart weekends with
doors as a tourist amenity: if
anyone had said we would achieve
that three years ago, I would have
called them a lunatic,’ said Mr
Duke.
The main Jurby track is 1.5 miles
long with two 120mph-plus
Magic Holidays, but Mr Duke said
the potential for the site is
enormous if they can secure the
co-operation of the DoT and the
Department of Local Government
and the Environment (DoLGE).
‘The big question mark before we
Businessupdate
TOPIC
16
Isle of Man Examiner, October 2004
specialreport
OCTOBER
JURBY RACING POTENTIAL
Progress is slow
on the future
of the raceway
FROM PAGE 15
metres but we have plans to
build a 1,200 metre track that
would be suitable to hold a
round of the British Karting
Championships. It would be the
equivalent of a karting TT with
machines travelling at 130mph.’
He would also like to provide
a driver training facility at Jurby
to teach new drivers crucial
elements of road safety,
including driving on busy dual
carriageways and motorways,
that are only a ferry ride away.
The current track would require
an extension to achieve this,
which is yet another investment
in a site that still has a question
mark hanging over its future.
The DoT, which owns the site,
issued a strategy report in late
2002 that seemed encouraging,
but Mr Duke is disappointed
with the lack of progress since
then.
The report states: ‘There is
one facility which, for a variety
of reasons, mainly historical,
has been subject to a lack of
investment and management.
In recent years the Department
TEAM DUKE: Gavin Smith, Peter Duke and Phil Hawes pore over future plans
of Tourism and Leisure has
taken on the day-to-day
running of leisure facilities at
Jurby under an informal
arrangement with the present
owner, the Department of
Transport. The overall
philosophy has, due to both
resourcing issues and lack of
future certainty, been “make do
and mend” and little has been
done to market or maximise the
facility.’
The report goes on to discuss
the development of an
international race circuit
costing between £30-£50
million and acknowledges the
massive public sector spending
investment required.
Its policy statement said:
‘Government should recognise
that in order to meet the
aspirations of its people it
needs to underpin the provision
of major leisure facilities, while
at the same time establishing a
climate which encourages
private sector investment
wherever possible.’
Mike Ball, director of leisure,
said the department is still
pursuing the strategy laid down
two years ago: ‘Taking that
recommendation forward is
going to be a series of small
steps rather than one big one.
We plan to feed resources into
Jurby, working with interested
parties. Whether we will achieve
it within 10 years in the current
environment we don’t know,
because it has to compete with
many other priorities in the
sports and arts sectors that
require funding.’
He added that the recent track
extension was a leap forward in
providing a national UK
standard circuit.
Mr Duke said the new prison
development on the Jurby site
has also contributed to
removing any chance of
developing the site into an
international level racetrack.
‘The prison should have been
built elsewhere but the Nimbys
(Not in My Back Yard) won that
argument. It is being built at
Jurby because there were too
many clashes of interest. The
reduced space available means
that an international track is no
longer possible, but it still has
potential for national level
competition with up to 4,0005,000 spectators.
MP040920-15
Karting: a
corporate
perspective
VICKY HEWISON
marketing manager, HSBC
K
ALL SET: Vicky Hewison
prepares for battle
JM040919-75
‘The racing at Jurby during TT
week in 2003 certainly
generated quite a bit of interest,
but the investment required is a
seven-figure sum.’
Mr Ball is adamant that the
land used for the prison has
made no difference to the
ability of Jurby to be developed
to an international standard.
‘Forgetting about the prison
issue, the land in government
ownership at Jurby is not big
enough to develop an
international race circuit . We
would have had to purchase a
substantial amount of land, so
the prison isn’t going to be a
significant problem.’
The TT lost its status as a
round of the World Motorcycle
GP in 1976 and, although it has
maintained international
recognition, it isn’t formally
recognised by the world’s
motorsport regulators. Peter
Duke’s dream is to bring that
prestige back to the Island, but
unfortunately the Jurby track
will never fulfill that role. With
the right co-operation and
investment it could still bring
back national level competition
to the Isle of Man in various
motorsports and provide a
first-class, safe, well regulated
facility for its residents.
A public-private partnership is
a very feasible option, and, as
Mr Duke said: ‘We have put our
hands up and said yes we want
to talk to somebody — it’s just
when they want to talk to us.’
arting is excellent. It enables you to
entertain a relatively small number
of clients. The bank hosted a karting
event for the first time last year and
the feedback was fantastic. The staff enjoy it
and they can build a rapport with clients so
that when it’s time to negotiate they have
already had quality time together.
Some of our guests do terrific amounts of
business with HSBC so it’s nice for them to
get a little something else from their bank —
to actually feel like a valued customer.
We split it into five teams of three so there
is always the opportunity to have a chat with
a fellow team mate. Paintball and laser quest
are good games, but you are usually all
playing at once. With karting you have more
of an opportunity for one-on-one
interaction.
We have four women, so it is not
something that is just for the men: they get
just as much out of it as the blokes.
You cannot fail to be competitive but it’s a
very well-run event and very safe. If I say to
the managers, we have karting who wants to
go, all 10 will be jostling for position.
Karting: an
individual
point of view
NICK YATES
I
t may sound a little bizarre but sitting in
a six horse power kart in a boiler suit
with a pair of 1970s goalie gloves really
does feel good.
Pulling on to the starting grid on a
windswept airfield in Jurby might not sound
inspiring, but it might as well be the
Nurburgring judging from the determined
faces of your fellow racers — is that Michael
Schumacher under that helmet or the local
bank manager?
When the racing starts, it’s no holds barred
and as the competitive streak takes over.
Men never actually grow up.
That’s not to say the women in my race
weren’t able competitors but there is just
something about competing against
peers, especially office mates, in a physical
way that brings out the little boy in every
bloke.
Businessupdate
PEOPLE
Isle of Man Examiner, October 2004
PRINT/E-MEDIA:
I read the Telegraph nearly
every day, and often visit their
website to update; the FT and
BBC websites are also good. I
make a point of reading the
business section of The Sunday
Times, which is usually
interesting and informative
(particularly the advice given to
small businesses) and the Isle
of Man Examiner to keep up
with local news.
In recent months I’ve also read
several editions of The
Newspaper which is aimed at a
younger audience but provides
a mature and balanced view of
all major topical issues.
MAGAZINES
For pleasure I often read auto
magazines, especially Car;
Wanderlust, an excellent
magazine aimed at travellers
rather than tourists; magazines
on France and French living;
and occasionally the odd glance
at Hello magazine when my
wife leaves it lying around.
On a more serious note, the
Economist, Management Today
and Financial World keep me
up to date from a business
perspective on most relevant
issues. The Economist is
particularly well written and a
publication I’d recommend to
anyone looking for objective,
impartial reporting.
BOOKS
Recent favourites are
autobiographies Into Thin Air
by Jon Krakauer, High Exposure
by David Breashears and Put
Me Back on My Bike - In Search
17
HOW
I GET
MY
NEWS
DAVID
BOULTER
Area manager, Isle of Man,
HSBC Bank
which have great reporting and
analysis.
of Tom Simpson, by William
Fotheringham, the great British
cyclist. The first two include a
description of the same
climbing disaster on Mount
Everest in 1996 but from
different perspectives. The
third is an amusing but
ultimately tragic story of a
great competitor driven to
his limits to succeed.
Recent fiction discoveries
include Blackberry Wine and
Five Quarters of the Orange by
Joanne Harris which combine
fact and fantasy in a unique and
compelling manner — great to
read on holiday.
TV
A great failing; I am an avid
armchair sports viewer
and can unintentionally spend
several hours watching an
action-packed sports
programme. For news, I often
watch Channel 4 News at 7 pm
or Newsnight on BBC2, both of
RADIO
I usually listen to Radio 4’s
Today programme on the way
into work in the morning (the
interviews by John Humphrys
and James Naughtie are
excellent) and Manx Radio at
weekends.
ADVERTS
An all-time favourite was the
Saatchi ‘Live Life with a
Passion’ ad on TV when we
lived in Hong Kong. I am also a
big fan of our own HSBC
worldwide ads which are fun
and informative.
Businessupdate
SOCIALLY
18
Isle of Man Examiner, October 2004
SO WHAT’S THE BIG OCCASION?
Business
&pleasure
IT’S THE BUSINESS UPDATE BASH
The popular Three Waiters entertained guests at Business Update’s official launch
party which raised more than £19,000 for Hospice in the Isle of Man.
ROYAL SKANDIA’S 25TH BIRTHDAY PARTY
Staff of Island-based
Royal Skandia
celebrated the
Skandia group’s 25th
anniversary with a
family-day bash at
King William's
College, attended by
nearly 1,000 people.
The event culminated
in long-serving
employee Aidan
Moore winning a
brand new silver
Mini Cooper S.
Pictured with Mr
Moore is finance
director John
Hollis.
Isle of Man Examiner, October 2004
Businessupdate
19
MAKING A SPLASH
More than 50
guests
attended a
function at
which the star
turn was the
Aquada, the
amphibian
vehicle which
Richard
Branson used
to smash the
time record
for crossing
the Channel in
a car. In
James Bond
style, guests
got to drive
around
Castletown
and down the
slipway into
the town’s
harbour.
Business
&pleasure
MEET AND GREET
Recruitment
company
Search &
Select threw
a cocktail
party for
clients
recently.
Managing
director
Alan
Burman
chats to
Gordon
Lloyd-West
and Keith
Green.
Search &
Select staff
Dee Bennett,
Tina Fielding
and Sally
English.
Businessupdate
BOOKS
20
Isle of Man Examiner, October 2004
‘I got on ver y well with Stephen Byers but I ... suspect I hastened his
going rather dramatically. Throughout my career I have had to badly let
down people who hoped they were friends, and that is a moral dilemma.’
Andrew Marr,
My Trade
A short story of
British journalism,
published by
Macmillan,
priced £20.00,
out now
Review
LINDESAY IRVINE
Power
is his
trade
S
ome people lust after
celebrity, ready to suffer
any indignity in order to
get on TV. Not Andrew
Marr. The BBC’s political
editor, whose cheerfully
incisive reports reach millions, has
a horror of becoming a star.
Speaking in a rare free moment
between delivering his Six O’Clock
News report and catching his three
children before bedtime, Andrew
shudders at a recent description of
himself as a ‘celebrity journalist’.
‘I don’t like it,’ he says. ‘I don’t
think journalists are or should be
celebrities, constantly in front of
the public because of their clothes
or their personal lives.’
He does seem wearily resigned
to being a public figure, though, if
not a “personality”. ‘If you’re on TV,
yes, you’re going to get recognised
a lot, and people are going to feel
they know you, though they don’t,
just because you’re there a lot of
the time. I guess the important
thing is not to play up to it.’
Certainly, however often he’s on
TV, Andrew is not about to grow
vain about his personal
appearance. His distinctive,
almost cartoonishly alert
appearance, with FA Cup ears,
receding hairline and chin
vanishing beneath cheery jowls,
has been ridiculed in the past, but
he’s happy to join in.
‘I agree with that. I’m hideous!
Completely hideous,’ he says. ‘The
kids take the piss out of me the
whole time about it. It’s quite
amusing.’
For Andrew, what is fascinating
about his job is the stories he
finds, the people he meets, and
their proximity to real power.
He’s spent two decades in
journalism, rising to become The
Independent’s political
correspondent while still in his
twenties. At 36, he became — for a
brief and traumatic period — a
very young editor of the paper,
before being sacked a couple of
years later. Regrouping as a
columnist, he went on to be
appointed as the BBC’s political
editor, where his friendly but
penetrating despatches from the
Westminster village have made
him a firm favourite with viewers.
After two decades on the
political beat, his enthusiasm for
the job is, if anything, keener than
ever. ‘What the BBC political
editor job gives you is this
amazing range of things you can
do. You can see almost anyone you
want to in Government and
Opposition, and talk to them
publicly or privately. I feel
genuinely privileged to be doing
it.’
But if he’s enjoying himself, he’s
also aware of some heavy question
marks which hang over his chosen
trade — and it’s this which has
inspired him to write My Trade, a
very personal and approachable
history of journalism.
‘There aren’t any books for the
general reader who just wants to
know what we get up to, what we
do and what it’s like. And so I
really genuinely thought it would
fill a hole.’
In characteristic fashion, the
book trips along with almost
puppyish enthusiasm, in a plain
and approachable style, but also
asks some searching questions.
‘I think everybody would accept
that we live in a media culture in
which journalism is enormously
powerful, and yet because we
journalists tend to set the terms of
the debate, we very rarely talk
about our power.’
At the moment, he says, there
are some ‘severe problems’ —
with public trust in journalism
declining in tandem with
circulations.
‘Probably the biggest problem
we’ve got isn’t actually lack of
privacy laws or corruption or
FACTFILE
Name: Andrew Marr
Birth date: July 31, 1959
Significant other: Married to journalist Jackie
Ashley
Career high: Being appointed editor of The
Independent
Career low: Being sacked two years later
Famous for: BBC politics reports
Words of wisdom: ‘Producing a TV news bulletin
is a very odd art. It’s sort of like a meal — there
has to be a range of tastes and textures to keep
people watching.’
anything like that. It’s actually that
we’re too office-bound: we Google
too much, we’re under too much
pressure to be productive in a kind
of banal way. And as a result, we
are regurgitating too much, doing
far too many stories which are
simply secondhand.’
More happily, however, the
history shows that many of what
people consider recently acquired
journalistic vices have actually
been around since the printing
press. ‘Absolutely everybody has
always wanted to read sex stories.
Journalists have always cheated,
they’ve almost always been
regarded as a bit shabby.’
And, although the Hutton
Report’s damning verdict on the
BBC’s reporting was, he says, ‘a
wrenching and potentially
devastating episode’, being in
bother with government is hardly
a novelty.
‘I think the BBC has mostly been
at war with government one way
or another, with rare intervals of
armistice,’ he says.
With his theoretical neutrality to
remember, Andrew tries to be as
diplomatic as he can about Lord
Hutton’s conclusions over the
controversial reports which
preceded the apparent suicide of
Iraqi weapons expert Dr David
Kelly — but it’s clearly hard work.
‘How can I put this? All I can
really say is that I was surprised by
the language of his report. I’m not
saying that he was got at or
anything like that but like most
people in the BBC I was pretty
staggered.
‘I don’t think any of us had
expected it to be, or to appear to
be quite so one-sided.’
That said, he actually feels
relations with politicians are
improving from a few years ago.
‘I think we journalists became
utterly contemptuous at times of
Downing Street, and Downing
Street behaved pretty appallingly
at times to us. And I think both
sides have realised that doesn’t do
journalism any good and it
certainly doesn’t do politics any
good.’
This doesn’t mean a return to
the more deferential style of
interviewing that some have
called for.
‘You’ve got to look at the history
of all these things. Why does John
Humphrys keep jabbing away at
politicians? Answer, because
they’ve all been taught how not to
answer questions.
‘And they’ve been told it’s clever
to say the same thing 97 times
because that way it gets into the
viewers’ minds, and never to
answer the question because
they’re told to say what YOU want
to say. And if they carry on doing
that then it drives interviewers,
quite properly, nuts.’
So, he says, relations between
politicians and journalists are
always, and should be, ‘uneasy
and edgy and difficult’.
This edginess extends, in a very
personal way, into Andrew’s own
working life as a political
journalist.
Partly, this is a matter of
resisting political pressure. He
says it’s very important not to give
way to pressure to deliver a
certain angle. ‘You mustn’t show
any sign of fear or of that being
effective. Once you do that, you’ve
had it.’ (He happily owns up to
having been bawled out by
Labour spin chief Alastair
Campbell: ‘I bawled back.’)
But it’s also a matter of not
allowing personal friendships with
politicians to compromise his
reporting.
‘I got on very well with Stephen
Byers, but I did a package which I
suspect hastened his going rather
dramatically. Throughout my
career I have had to badly let
down people who hoped they
were friends, and that is a moral
dilemma.’
But such scruples won’t put him
off the job, and he dismisses
rumours that he’s thinking of
leaving.
‘I’ve never had a career plan.
My only principle has been that as
soon as you’re bored, you move
on. And I’m not bored.’
Businessupdate
SPOTLIGHT
Isle of Man Examiner, October 2004
21
Island companies
A LOOK AT
PROTOURS IoM
What’s
next,
coach?
Survival in the coach
industry has required
major changes in
direction, as NICK
YATES discovered
when he talked to
Protours chairman
Roy Lightfoot.
I
n its tourist heyday
the Isle of Man was a
popular holiday
destination for
people all over the
north of England.
Many would come on foot
via boat and the influx
resulted in a flourishing
Manx coach industry.
However holidays abroad
and a growing car culture
has now meant coach
companies, including the
biggest in the Island, have
had to differentiate to
survive.
Protours Isle Of Man
started life in 1969 as Tours
(Isle of Man) and grew
rapidly on the back of the
tourism industry, running
53 vehicles at its peak. With
the reduction of that sector
of business, the company
has expanded into Island
life and now has contracts
with the Department of
Education for school
activities, the Department
of Health for disabled
transport, and even runs a
late night weekend bus
service between Douglas
and Ramsey.
The company became
Protours in 2003 when it
was bought out by a South
African company. The newly
branded firm is now
controlled through
Island-based Phoenix
Securities, and is managed
on a day-to-day basis by the
chairman Roy Lightfoot,
who has been with the
company in its various
incarnations since 1978.
Mr Lightfoot is a
Manxman with an affinity
for the old days when coach
tourism was a major way of
life, but he has recognised
that the company must
grow and change with the
times.
‘Our fleet dropped to 20
during the 80s so we began
to diversify. We first took a
party off the Island in 1982
and we now run 20 coach
holidays throughout
Europe, Ireland and the UK
between May and
December. We also do
conference travel for the
finance houses, we have a
welfare arm that runs
mini-buses for the
disadvantaged and we do a
lot of weddings and
funerals. Seven or eight
years ago we took the
decision to fit seatbelts in
all our coaches. This has
paid dividends as we now
also provide transport for
school parties and school
runs.’
He added: ‘In the early 80s
commercial work had to fit
in with our tourist
requirements but by the
late 80s it was our bread
and butter. Until 1982
English coaches were not
allowed into the Isle of
Man, but the UK rail strike
changed that. The strike
together with the
popularity of roll-on roll-off
car ferries, created a
problem for our business.’
Mr Lightfoot says that the
Island’s economy has
changed but he believes
there are always
opportunities for a coach
company. He has started to
cater for different types of
tourists, such as golfers,
and is working bus routes
in partnership with the
government. He has also
found an opportunity to
capitalise on the film
industry.
‘We run an express bus
service to Ramsey and the
south and we like to think
we complement the bus
company. For example we
run a bus service to Port
Erin and Ramsey from
Douglas at 5.40pm during
ROY LIGHTFOOT: Recognised the company had to change with the times
the week. I have also
capitalised on the film
industry. Some of the
recent films shot in the
Island have featured our
old 1950s char-a-bancs —
they hire them if they are
shooting a period film.’
Protours has found that
one new area of endeavour
has not been as successful
as hoped, considering the
level of public support it
received. The late-night bus
between Ramsey and
Douglas is a service that
many Island residents had
campaigned for, but Mr
Lightfoot says the current
uptake has been
dissapointing.
‘Our late-night weekend
bus service to Ramsey hasn’t
worked despite all the
vociferous noise there has
been. The bus company
doesn’t operate out of
Douglas after 10.50pm so
we provide a bus from
Douglas to Ramsey at
12.30am and 02.15am and
one from Ramsey at
12.20am, but the support for
the service is so low that it
just isn’t viable to continue.’
A focus on new markets
has helped Protours to
grow its fleet to 32 vehicles
and produce a turnover of
£1.5 million this year. Mr
Lightfoot says that it
remains profitable and he
hopes it is set to increase
following the purchase in
April of a Wirral-based
coach company, now called
Protours UK Limited. The
new company already runs
15 vehicles, and the recent
investment of £500,000 in
two new luxury coaches
signifies its plans to expand
further into the lucrative
UK market.
MW040922-2
Businessupdate
YOUR PORTFOLIO
22
Isle of Man Examiner, October 2004
PETER SHARKEY
[email protected]
EXAMINING THE P/Es
A
s autumn approaches,
the objective observer,
perusing the
collection of weighted
values that constitute
the FTSE 100 index
may conclude that, as it has traded
within relatively narrow
parameters since the beginning of
the year, its constituent parts, i.e.
share values, must have surely
stagnated.
Over the last 10 months, the
index has occasionally threatened
to either break loose and career
upwards or else to plummet into
the darkest recesses deep below
the 3,500 mark. Neither scenario
has transpired, yet while the index
has traded within parameters less
than 300 points apart, behind the
scenes, share values have actually
been getting progressively cheaper.
This proves that trying to establish
absolute truths from subjective
measures (share values) is a tricky
business because in the case of the
stock market, the FTSE 100 index
performance during 2004 reveals
only half the story.
As an alternative (some would
say more reliable) indicator of
company performance, many
analysts prefer to use average
price/earnings (p/e) ratios to
determine whether a stock market
is under or overvalued. Company
earnings are actuals while share
prices are subjective, determined
Bigger
picture is rosy
UK shares are the cheapest in a long time
by market sentiment.
It follows that if a company share
price is 100p and it reports
earnings per share of 10p for the
past year and anticipated earnings
of 12.5p for the coming year, its
p/e ratios are 10 for the past year
and 8 for the coming one. As this
ratio can be calculated for all
quoted companies, the market
average can also be established.
Significantly, the average p/e
ratio for FTSE 100 companies has
been falling for over four years; at
the peak of the dotcom boom, it
stood at nearly 32, but by January
2004, it had fallen to 18.5. Today, it
stands at less than 15 and
projected earnings for the next 12
months suggest that by October
2005, the average p/e ratio of a
FTSE 100 organisation will be 13.
But what does this mean for the
investor?
One positive answer is to be
found by taking a look at the
‘bigger picture’. As British p/e
ratios have been falling, so too has
the yield on US Treasury Bonds, to
around 4.3 per cent, which in turn
has resulted in a shift in
international investor
expectations. Because there has
been a reduction in the returns
investors may reasonably expect,
suddenly, the apparently stagnant
British stock market has begun to
look full of value, particularly as
average yields now exceed 3.3 per
cent.
It’s entirely possible that other
factors are influencing the fall in
p/e ratios, not least of which is the
fact that some investors consider
shares to be too risky and are
simply prepared to pay less for
them. Similarly, the increasing
obligation companies have to
underwrite pension liabilities is
also a concern. These are
important considerations, but as
the income-generating capacity of
an asset, in this case shares, is one
of its major determinants of value,
perhaps the pendulum has begun
to swing in the investor’s favour.
Average FTSE 100 companies are
expected to deliver strong growth
over the next 12 months, increasing
earnings per share by a hefty 14 per
cent. Granted, share buyback
schemes tend to distort earnings in
the positive sense, but they cannot
fully account for what appears to
be handsome growth prospects.
Stock market investors who have
stayed the equities course may not
necessarily feel any better off this
year, but they would have to
conclude that today, UK shares are
as cheap as they have been for
some considerable time.
THE PROPERTY MARKET
P
roperty investors have
been listening to the siren
calls of gloom and doom,
those which consistently
predict the forthcoming collapse
of the property market on the
jagged rocks of rising interest
rates, for around 18 months now.
The calls have become louder and
increasingly doom-laden of late,
particularly after one of Britain’s
largest lenders, Halifax,
announced that prices had fallen
in August by 0.6 per cent.
However, it’s important to
differentiate between
homeowners and property
investors because such falls in
value can have entirely different
consequences.
For the investor who wants to
capitalise on his property gain,
the obvious negative with which
he now has to contend is liquidity,
or rather a lack of it. Conversely,
investors content with their yields
and the cost of money will
continue to benefit from changing
demographics and the tendency
of younger people to buy into the
property market later than say, 15
years ago.
Not a bad time to buy
That buy-to-let could be good for 17
years if you aim for the right tenant
Taking a long-term investment
view of the property market has
always been essential, but is even
more so today as information
regarding prices is right up to date
and widely dispersed. It’s difficult
to acquire a property in the UK for
£50,000 less than it is worth and
then quickly sell it on at a profit
when the overwhelming majority
of people know the value of their
property to within £2.50.
UK property values have risen in
spectacular fashion over the past
50 years. In 1953, an average
house cost £1,891; today, it is a
shade over £153,000. Even taking
account of inflation and running
costs and assuming a reasonably
constant yield, the real rate of
return on property has been near
to 7 per cent a year.
Yet inevitably, property has not
been a one-way bet. During the
same 50-year period, there have
been marked dips in property
market performance. Prices fell
between 1974 and 1977 and again
between 1980 and 1982; more
recently, when values began
tumbling in 1989, they eventually
fell by an average of 38 per cent.
If property investors seek to
realise profits in the current
market, matters could prove a tad
sticky due to a noticeable absence
of liquidity, the immediate
consequence of falling prices.
Putting a property on the market
with a 7 per cent yield could easily
result in prospective purchasers,
understandably anticipating a
November rise in interest rates,
making offers based on 8 per cent
or even 9 per cent returns. This
would reduce the selling price of
the property by 12 per cent and 22
per cent respectively.
However, property investors
who have no need to sell will want
to sit tight and may even come to
see the falling market as an
opportunity because, unlike
previous occasions when prices
have tumbled, demand for
property, particularly new houses,
is actually rising. According to the
Office of the Deputy Prime
Minister, the number of new
households will increase at the
rate of 189,000 a year, at least until
2021. Yet while planning
regulations remain tight and
housebuilders rein back plans to
boost output as a consequence of
the market downturn, it follows
that one sector of the rental
market, i.e. people aged between
22-34, should remain relatively
buoyant.
Ploughing money into
buy-to-let properties is a
complicated affair, especially
when the market shows signs of
falling, and the investor should
have a clear view of the type of
tenant who will want to rent his
property. As more people are, out
of necessity, renting for longer,
this may not be a fantastic time
to be selling property, but with
estimated demand for property
remaining fairly constant for the
next 17 years, when interest rates
next begin their downward move,
it may not be a bad time to
consider buying.
Businessupdate
SURVEY
Isle of Man Examiner, October 2004
23
Share dealing poll reveals some enlightening facts
Investors' predictions of FTSE
value in 6 months’ time:
Women do it better
FTSE Value
Below 3,500
3,501 to 3,650
3,651 to 3,800
3,801 to 3,950
3,951 to 4,100
4,101 to 4,250
4,251 to 4,400
4,401 to 4,550
4,551 to 4,700
4,701 to 4,850
4,851 to 5,000
Above 5,000
When it comes
to investing in
shares, women
have the edge
over men ...
and confidence
in the FTSE
remains strong.
W
omen are more
successful at
managing their
share portfolios
than men and older investors
are more likely to make money
on the stock market than
younger groups, according to
research conducted by Halifax
Share Dealing. The poll of
regular stockmarket players
showed that confidence in the
FTSE remains strong and
investors are predicting month
on month increases in value.
As part of a new monthly
survey into investors’ attitudes
and predictions, the firm
questioned more than 500
investors in August on their
views of FTSE performance,
investment trends and topical
issues.
According to the survey, 72
per cent of women’s portfolios
stayed at the same value or
rose, compared with 66 per cent
of men’s portfolios. Overall,
‘grey haired investors’ were
more successful than younger
groups with 43 per cent of the
65-74 age group reporting their
portfolios had risen in value
compared with just 29 per cent
of 25-34-year-olds.
Investors were asked what
value they thought the FTSE
would reach in the future.
Overall, confidence in the FTSE
was strong with 85 per cent of
investors predicting the value
would stay the same or increase
in six months’ time, when
compared with the value of
4,306 on July 22, 2004. More
than one third of respondents
predicted a FTSE value of
4,401-4,551 would be reached in
six months. When asked to
make predictions over the next
12 months, the majority of
investors (29%) thought the
value would reach 4,400-4,550
points. Only 13 per cent of
investors thought the value
would fall in one year's time
and 12 per cent predicted a
value of 5,000-5,150 points
would be reached.
The research also asked
investors what effect they
thought the recent hike in oil
prices would have on the value
of the FTSE. Overall, 48 per cent
of investors predicted the
increases would have no effect
on the value of the FTSE while
22 per cent predicted the value
would increase and 30 per cent
predicted the FTSE would fall in
value. The 65-74 age group was
the most optimistic with 29 per
cent predicting the oil prices
would make the FTSE go up
compared with 18 per cent of
25-34-year-olds.
Sue Concannon, managing
director of Halifax Share
Dealing, said: ‘This research is a
fascinating view into investors’
predictions and attitudes of
FTSE performance.
‘It is interesting that we are
seeing women managing their
portfolios better than men. The
results suggest that women and
older investors are generally
more cautious which, in the
current climate, seems to
be a winning formula. It is
encouraging that investors are
optimistic in their predictions
of the FTSE value and it will be
interesting to see if their
confidence will be proved
right.’
Percentage
0.39%
0.00%
0.39%
1.17%
5.66%
6.84%
29.10%
35.94%
12.89%
3.71%
2.93%
0.98%
Investors' predictions of FTSE
value in one year's time:
FTSE Value
Below 4100
4,101 to 4,250
4,251 to 4,400
4,401 to 4,550
4,551 to 4,700
4,701 to 4,850
4,851 to 5,000
5,001 to 5,150
5,151 to 5,300
Above 5,300
Percentage
4.51%
2.35%
6.47%
29.02%
16.08%
19.80%
3.14%
11.57%
3.73%
3.33%
Investors' predictions of FTSE
value in five years’ time:
FTSE Value
Below 4,500
4,501 to 4,800
4,801 to 5,100
5,101 to 5,400
5,401 to 5,700
5,701 to 6,000
6,001 to 6,300
6,301 to 6,600
6,601 to 6,900
6,901 to 7,200
7,201 to 7,500
Above 7,500
Percentage
3.43%
9.88%
18.15%
6.65%
14.52%
21.77%
3.23%
8.47%
1.01%
6.65%
2.62%
3.63%
Businessupdate
IT & I
24
Isle of Man Examiner, October 2004
Giles Turnbull takes a look at the new
Amazon search machine and
comes to the
conclusion
that, well
— use it
for a day
instead
of Google,
and see what
you think ...
Have
you
A9ed anyone yet?
browsing
around
■ JK Rowling’s
official website is
full of fun
www.jkrowling.com
■ Birdtrack is a
new service for
twitchers
www.birdtrack.net
■ Learn some
tricks from some
trades
www.tradetricks.org
■ Fading
photographs from
rural Romania
www.nobodaddy.org
■ Giles Turnbull
has a website at
gorjuss.com
W
hen online
bookseller Amazon announced a
new search engine, a9.com, a few
months ago, there was an initial
flurry of excitement.
This was something worth getting
excited about: arguably the world’s
best known internet retailer getting
in on the search act. One of the few
companies with the clout to
threaten Google’s status as search
site number one had actually gone
ahead and created a search site.
The initial excitement died down;
few people took to using a9 instead
of Google. People didn’t start
talking about how they ‘a9ed’ a
person or a thing, the way they
talked about ‘Googling’ or ‘being
Googled’.
To be fair, the first announcement
was of A9 as a development project.
Just as Google did in its early days,
it had ‘beta’ written large and clear
on its front page, indicating in
traditional geekspeak that what was
on offer was not yet complete.
Now, several months down the
line, that’s all changed and a9.com
has been officially declared open
for business.
The beta stage has been used to
put the software through its paces
and to create some innovative new
features. But are they Googlebeaters?
A9’s front page is Google-like in its
simplicity, but hints at underlying
depths. Visitors are asked to sign in
for more features, and there are
buttons on the right side of the
window labelled ‘history’,
‘Bookmarks’, ‘Discover’ and ‘Diary’.
What’s going on?
Slap in a search term and the
FIREFOX
A BETTER
BROWSER
efficiency starts to emerge. If there
are associated images, A9 loads
them up in a column of their own.
It turns out that each of the buttons
on the right switches on (or off ) a
particular sub-set of search results.
Every search you make on A9 is
remembered. You can flick back
through past searches in the
History section. You can add notes
and annotations, and store
thoughts about what you see in
your A9 Diary.
Years ago, there was talk of
software migrating to the internet.
People claimed that we’d all stop
using traditional word processors
and switch to web-based software
that did the same job.
Initial attempts to make such
‘webapps’ took the wrong approach
— they tried to make the web page
look like a application. If it looked
like Word, people would be able to
type in it.
But these early efforts failed,
because they were contained within
a web browser window, and users
had trouble understanding the idea
of an app within an app.
A9 is one of a new generation of
webapps that takes the opposite
route. It deliberately keeps the web
page like a web page, because that’s
what people browsing the web
expect to see.
The features it offers, and the
interface it uses (involving lots of
options for dragging things from
one box to another), are very
similar to the icons-and-windows
approach used on millions of
computers all over the world.
People are well used to the idea
of dragging something from one
box to another, and are happy to
do it within a web page. Trying to
make that web page look like a
normal program only confuses
them.
It remains to be seen if A9 can
lure people away from the trusted
arms of Google. Its close ties with
Amazon will be seen as a blessing
by some, and a cause for suspicion
by others.
The best thing for normal web
users like you and I to do is give it a
try. Use it for a day or so instead of
Google, and see what you think.
FIREFOX, the alternative web
browser, has finally reached
version 1.0 and is available for
download from
mozilla.org/projects/firefox.
Why download it? It’s free, and
it’s much better than your default
browser, Internet Explorer, in
many respects.
It automatically blocks pop-up
adverts, it lets you browse in
multiple tabs (so you can have 10
websites loading in the
background while you read
another one in front), and is far
more secure and safe to use.
Do yourself and your computer
a favour, and grab a copy today.
GET OFFLINE
AND TRY
TALKING
RELATE, the relationships charity,
claims that the internet is partly
to blame for increasing divorce
rates.
It’s all too easy for people to
secretly contact old flames and
make new friends online,
without their spouses knowing, it
says.
A good excuse, perhaps, to
switch off the PC as well as the
TV, and sit down for a nice
romantic meal.
Businessupdate
IoM LINE
Isle of Man Examiner, October 2004
25
ALISTAIR RAMSAY
IoM Government press officer
To a prosperous future
T
he Island has
experienced
unprecedented
economic success over
the past decade, with
the annual gross
domestic product more than
doubling in real terms. GDP per
head in the Isle of Man now exceeds
that of the United Kingdom by 7 per
cent and the average for the
European Union
(the EU 15) by 10 per cent.
The period 1993-2000 saw
economic growth accelerating
before slowing in 2000/01. Since
that year the economy has
continued to grow at around 5 or
6 per cent per annum.
In each of the last 20 years,
therefore, the Isle of Man
economy has recorded real growth
— a remarkable achievement.
This growth rate, one of the
highest in Europe, has produced
full employment and the revenue
This month we look at
government’s economic strategy,
which might be summarised as
taking a more focused approach to
increasing the Isle of Man’s
prosperity and standard of living.
to modernise public services.
However, the expansion has
drawn in a considerable amount
of imported labour, leading to
concerns about rising population
and pressures on the local
infrastructure.
The emphasis of the new
economic strategy is to maximise
productivity but minimise the
requirement for large volumes of
additional staff, while maintaining
a flexible response to the
fluctuating demands of the labour
market.
By and large the strategy
incorporates policy priorities
that already exist. At its core
are the concepts of growth,
diversification, low direct tax, and
free markets and an awareness of
the importance of external factors.
The strategy would not alter the
fiscal and monetary fundamentals
of the economy, including the
customs agreement, government’s
statutory budget surplus, and the
long-standing monetary union
with the UK.
One of the Island’s major assets,
of course, is its people. A central
plank of the strategy is the need
to make the most of the
community’s ‘human resources’
(to use that unattractive modern
expression) in the form of the
existing and potential workforce
already resident here.
Thus training and education are
key themes, alongside measures
to encourage more people to
enter, or return to, the labour
market. There may also be scope
for more incentives to
productivity, such as profit
sharing.
Market access — sustaining
existing markets and exploring
new ones — is a major
consideration, as are initiatives in
the direction of higher value and
diversified activity. A strategic and
co-ordinated approach to
marketing is also identified as
important.
‘Red tape’ is not the political hot
topic in the Isle of Man that it is in
the UK, but the effect of
compliance on business
competitiveness is a real issue. The
formalisation of current legislative
impact assessments may be one
outcome of the strategy.
When it comes to measuring
success, the strategy sets such
indicators as maintaining the
Island’s GDP per head growth
above the EU average and keeping
unemployment below 2 per cent.
Both of these are being achieved
comfortably at present.
The strategy reflects confidence
that the Manx economy is now
sufficiently robust and mature to
allow a more targeted and
selective approach to future
development. It is a confidence
based on the existing strengths
and attractions of the Isle of Man,
the ability of government and
business to work together, and the
Island’s reputation as a
competitive but responsible
centre for international business.
Businessupdate
MOTORING
26
Isle of Man Examiner, October 2004
Ever yone’s flocking to buy the Mazda RX-8
Join the club
The
rotar y
club
Buyers are flocking
to join the rotary
club — and no
wonder, writes PHIL
VAUGHAN. Mazda’s
long’n’low RX-8,
with its unique rotary
engine, is a world
class coupe at a price
that is as stunning as
the sportster itself.
At £22,100 for the
more powerful of
the two versions, a
good deal simply
becomes a steal ...
M
otoring magazine
heavyweights such as Top Gear, What Car?
and Auto Express have awarded the RX-8
their Coupe of the Year titles, no mean feat
when you’re up against the likes of the
excellent Audi TT, and the superlative
Nissan 350Z.
The rotary engine in the RX-8 is the
Renesis development, which stands for
rotary engine genesis. It’s a compact,
lightweight unit, using twin rotors, each
with a chamber capacity of 654cc,
combining to form a powerful 1.3 litre unit.
That might sound a small capacity, but the
engine note emphasises the Mazda’s might.
The RX-8 can punch in two big-hitter
divisions, 228bhp and 189bhp.
The maximum kick on the 228bhp
six-speed manual transmission RX-8 is
achieved at just over 8,000rpm — how many
cars have you seen with a rev counter that
registers 10,000rpm? — and it is capable of
146mph.
The 0-62mph sprint is done in just 6.4
seconds, further testimony to the engine’s
power efficiency, which, sadly, is not
matched by fuel efficiency. Poor economy is
one of the RX-8’s two drawbacks: the lowly
24.8 combined mpg figure is matched by the
high 35 per cent tax rating, which comes on
the back of the 284g per km emissions
figure.
But if the Inland Revenue holds no fears
for you, then payback time comes out on
the open road. The rear-drive RX-8 has the
poise of a ballerina, and can burn through
B-road bends without losing a millimetre of
line, gripping tarmac like a limpet.
Mazda has designed the RX-8's shape into
a car of two halves. The two big front wheel
arches frame a bonnet and grille that hints
at a classic early Lotus look, giving it a very
macho stance. That’s in complete contrast
to the pert rear end, with gentler arches and
more of a feminine look.
Those reverse-opening doors become a
sort of outsize B-pillar when closed, adding
some solid back-up to the integral structural
safety. What’s more, they provide easier
access into the back seats, which themselves
offer a far more comfortable alternative to
other two-plus-two rivals.
Given the unbeatable levels of safety and
fitting-out, there’s just four optional extras
for the RX-8: a £500 electric sunroof, leather
upholstery at £1,500, a pack that provides
both leather seating and a DVD satnav
system for £3,000, and mica/metallic paint
for £300.
Standard RX-8
bumper
to
bumper
Mazda RX-8 228bhp, £22,100.
189bhp version, £20,100.
Bodyshell/drivetrain: 4.43m by
1.77m, 4-dr coupe; 654cc x 2
rotors (1.3 litre), 228bhp rotary
engine, driving rear wheels
through 6-speed manual
gearbox.
Company car tax liability: 284g
per km C02 emissions (35% of
cost of car when new, taxed).
Performance/economy: top
speed 146mph, 0-62mph in 6.4
seconds.
Official fuel figures: city
17.9mpg, country 31.7mpg,
combined 24.8mpg.
Fuel tank: 61 litres.
Insurance group: 16.
Warranty: three years/60,000
miles.
Website: www.mazda.co.uk
228bhp features are airbags all round, a
BOSE audio system with six-disc
autochanger, climate control, xenon
headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels, anti-lock
brakes with electronic force distribution,
and a pretty, but unnecessary, alloy pedal
set — no one ever sees them.
There is, of course, an excellent range of
bespoke accessories besides, including air
dam skirts — and a special website,
www.mazdarx8.co.uk, will provide a
full list.
With 25 international motoring
awards under its belt so far, a strong
foothold already on the race scene,
and unbelievably reasonable
pricing, the RX-8 is destined to
eclipse the success of the RX-7, a
million-plus seller between the 1978
and 2002 production years.
Finally, if you’re thinking of steaming
into your local Mazda showroom and
demanding a discount, then forget it.
They’re selling RX-8s as fast as they can get
them on to garage forecourts, so it’ll be next
year at least before the mania for this
particular Mazda settles down enough for
price-cut purposes.
For trivia collectors: Mazda’s Wankel rotary
engine first powered the Cosmo Sport 110S in
1967, and has since appeared in a total of 18
models, including coupés, saloons, a pickup,
and even a bus — the Parkway Rotary 26.
Businessupdate
Isle of Man Examiner, October 2004
27
Businessupdate
professional services directory
ACCOUNTANTS
AIRLINES AND TRAVEL
THE STEAM PACKET
COMPANY.
GOING YOUR WAY.
For our latest fare offers and to
book call 661 661, visit
www.steam-packet.com
or
contact your travel agent.
For freight enquiries
call 645 620
BANKING AND FINANCE
PRINT AND DESIGN
Bank of Scotland
Bridson and
Horrox Limited
International
Prospect Hill, Douglas
T 01624 644119
E [email protected]
bankofscotlandint.iom
PKF (Isle of Man) Limited
PKF (Isle of Man) LLC
Analyst House
20-26 Peel Road
Douglas
TEL: 652000
e-mail: [email protected]
www.pkfiom.com
PO Box 34, 12/13 Hill Street
Douglas, Isle of Man IM99 1BW
T 01624 637777
F 01624 637778/9
W www.bankofbermuda.com
Alliance &
Leicester
19/21 Prospect Hill, Douglas
T 01624 663566
W www.alil.co.im
T 01624 663311
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Page 17
businessupdate
Isle of Man Examiner, October 2004
28
with:
JOHN SHERROCKS
Am I a grumpy old man
who’s missing something
or is reality TV plain
voyeurism, mindless
rubbish, or worse, as
John Humphrys warns?
R
eality TV turns human
beings into freaks for us
to gawk at, according to
John Humphrys. The
erudite Today presenter
believes Channel 4’s hit
series Big Brother is ‘damaging’ and
said the latest show had ‘bequested
us a legacy; the way to get ratings is
to get evil’.
Humphrys told an audience of
media executives at the Edinburgh
TV festival that reality TV has ‘eroded
the distinction between the public
and private, which is a profoundly
important aspect of our culture’. He
expressed incredulity that
programmes such as Your Face or
Mine, The Pilot Show, Banzai and
Nip/Tuck are considered quality TV.
His address must have gone down
like a thermometer in an Antarctic
winter but the knowledge that I have
something in common with the
highly respected broadcaster left me
feeling pretty chuffed. For my wife —
an addict of the first Big Brother
show — the shared opinion was
merely confirmation that grumpy
old men have closed minds.
That sparked a rant from me about
voyeurism and mindless rubbish,
but it did nothing to dislodge the
niggling doubt that I’m missing
something. Reality TV has swept the
world. Millions of Brits enjoy I’m a
Celebrity Get Me out of Here or Wife
Swap, a version of which debuted in
the US last week to rave reviews. In
Britain, viewing figures for the Big
Brother 5 show peaked at nine
million with total voting topping 14.7
million.
When I started in newspapers I
had it drummed into me that people
like reading about people. Isn’t that
what reality TV is all about?
The popularity of reality TV is said
to reflect changing audience
expectations and new technologies;
the Big Brother internet site gives
followers the chance to customise
their viewing — and to spy on cast
Evil in
the making
members at any time of the day or
night. The growth is also an
indication just how far TV producers
are willing to go to push up viewing
figures.
Gary Carter of Endemol, a key
figure in the global distribution of
Big Brother and Who Wants to be a
Millionaire, believes viewers now
want a degree of control over TV
programmes and determining the
final outcome of a show enables
that. He attributes Big Brother’s huge
success to this phenomenon.
There’s also the ‘15 minutes of
fame’ factor. The appearance of
seemingly everyday people on TV
makes us feel we are them and they
are us. In a culture that showers so
much attention and so many
rewards on celebrities, the attraction
is obvious. With reality TV, talent is a
largely irrevelant factor.
Then there’s the question of
conversation around the water
cooler. Knowing who got voted off
Big Brother or was axed from I’m a
Celebrity Get Me out of Here is
essential pop-culture knowledge
these days.
According to some experts these
programmes benefit us. The theory
is that we learn from watching
people overcome fears, strategise,
assert themselves, acquire
something they need and get people
to co-operate with them.
One of these proponents even
likened reality TV to the
‘cinematherapy’ technique some
psychologists use when they
recommend certain films to
patients: the movie’s message
becomes more acceptable because
it’s coded as entertainment.
As for the question of voyeurism,
Robert Thompson, head of the
Centre for the Study of Popular
Television at Syracuse University,
maintains the tendency is nothing
new. He said: ‘I’d argue ... there were
cavemen peeking into the caves of
others thousands of years ago.’
All that’s happened since is that
technology has allowed us to perve
far beyond our neighbour’s cave and
society has a far more relaxed
attitude.
It is, however, interesting to note
Thompson’s point that in America,
Survivor, a more edited, cleaned-up
programme, is the highest rated
show, while Big Brother, which is
‘hard core’ as far as voyeurism is
concerned, is struggling to keep an
audience. ‘For most people, it seems,
the closer we get to true voyeurism,
the more bored we become. I know
there are days in my life that not one
thing I do in an entire 24 hour period
would make anything close to
compelling viewing,’ concludes
Thompson. I know exactly how he
feels.
There’s also a claim that reality TV
is helping to bridge political and
cultural divides around the world.
Last year Big Brother Africa —
which featured contestants from a
dozen African countries — united
viewers across the continent. A Time
magazine article noted that three
decades after the concept of
Pan-Africanism fizzled out, satellite
TV is working where liberation
philosophy did not: connecting and
modernising Africa. ‘Shows like this
may be superficial but they show
Africans coming together in a way
that’s often ahead of governments,’
David Mafabi, director of political
affairs at the Uganda-based
Secretariat of the Pan-African
Movement, told Time.
Some even argue that reality TV
will help apathetic voters get to the
ballot boxes. ITV is preparing to
launch a new show next year called
‘Vote for Me’. The show will select 10
parliamentary hopefuls from
auditions around the country before
they are whittled down to a winner
by a Pop Idol-style public vote. The
TV station is claiming the show will
‘enrich’ democracy by getting people
engaged in politics.
The judging panel is to be chaired
by former ITN political editor John
Sergeant. Spin doctor Alastair
Campbell believes the show will
further undermine the public’s faith
in the political system. He branded
it’crass’ and ‘yet another crap reality
TV show’. I couldn’t agree more. I
also find the involvement of
someone such as Sergeant will go a
long way to blurring the gap
between ‘news’ and ‘reality TV’.
My wife would argue that we
watch these shows purely for
amusement and suspend disbelief
just as we do when we go to the
theatre. Having listened to the fans, I
still remain convinced that these
shows appeal to our baser instincts,
including our perverse pleasure in
seeing other people embarrass
themselves.
The evolution of reality TV has
reinforced this belief. In America, the
show Gana La Verda, features a
13-year-old Mexican girl swallowing
38 grams of live tequila worms. Her
incentive was the promise of a Green
Card. For other contestants the list of
challenges has included munching
live scorpions and lying in a sealed
coffin with 500 rats. Bumfights is one
of the most disgusting examples of
TV, turning human suffering into
so-called entertainment. The show
features tramps brawling or
engaging in bizarre stunts in
exchange for food, alcohol and
money.
Humphrys believes TV is now a
‘battle between people who are
concerned about society and those
whose overwhelming interest is
simply to make programmes that
make money’. He believes there
should be greater regulation of
terrestrial TV and even possible
government intervention to ensure
standards are maintained. I feel
that’s a step too far, preferring to take
comfort from the fact that my wife’s
interest in reality TV waned after the
first show. Surely people will
eventually get bored?

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