Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Interview with Mr A.G. Langlois

From the Jersey Topic, 1965, an interview which gives an interesting slant on how different the Island was back then. I'm not sure when housing price control ceased, and I was not even aware it existed until I read this article.

After the abolition of price control, the market was not tightly regulated, but there was still an economic constraint. Affordable homes remained pegged to some degree by the States Loan system. As the loans increased, the bottom rung of the ladder increased in price. I remember when it went up from around £30,000 to around £75,000 and the price charged by developers jumped by the same amount overnight; from struggling to realise a profit, they could now take a pretty high return.

After the States Loan was abolished, the affordable homes at the bottom of the market went up very rapidly, no longer having any economic constraints, so much that the term "affordable" certainly means something very different from what it did back in the 1980s and early 1990s. I think that is regrettable, and an example of the States being unaware of the unintended consequences of their actions: while trying to free the market for affordable homes, "affordability" became something out of many more people's range. I think that was a wrong direction to have taken.

Interview with Mr A.G. Langlois
Governing Director of Langlois Limited

He sat in an office surrounded by busts. And he apologised for them. "I don't normally have my office decorated like this, but we've been renovating and at the moment we have nowhere else to put them. Anyway I think they give the place some character".

"That one there" he told me, pointing to a lovely bronze Siamese woman, "is a beautiful piece of work. I discovered it in a warehouse in London where it was part of Mrs. McClean's collection. It had been listed as a metal bust and no value was attached to it. In fact it is Epstein's Rani Rama and is worth about £1,000."

Mr. A. G. Langlois shares his expansive office with his two sons, Tony, who is 24 and John who is 22. Both of them have studied at the London College of Distributive Trades and both are beginning to play an important part in running one of the largest businesses in the Channel Islands.

,lust how large is this business? "We have a staff of over 100 in Jersey and about 35 in Guernsey. Our business started in 1936 when I setup as an estate agent and auctioneer. As the years went by we went into the furniture business and then removals, Now we have over 35,000 square feet of showrooms, large depositories and considerable property in both islands. The side of the business in which I am most actively engaged is valuation and auctions. I especially enjoy, of course, the antiques".

I asked him what he considered to be the island's most pressing problem. "Undoubtedly housing" he replied quickly.

"It has been a problem for as many years as I care to remember, and it will go on being a problem. Somehow we never seem to be able to keep pace with the demand. I think that the Housing Committee these last three years are really getting to grips with the problem after being in the doldrums for so long not seeming to know which way they were going, but it is still terribly difficult for young people to find living accommodation".

As President of the Jersey Association of Auctioneers and Estate Agents I expected him to have some strong views about the current controls being exercised over the sale of property by the Housing Committee. I was not disappointed.

"The present position is far from satisfactory. Estate agents have no idea where they stand. A person comes to see us to buy a property and we may spend a lot of time with them. A deal is agreed and then that person has to go to the Housing Committee, who can veto the sale on the grounds that the price is too high. This is surely ridiculous".

Did he not think that controls were necessary? "Indeed I do. In times of land famine I think that controls are essential but they must be sensible. Surely the idea of controls is to make sure that the Jerseyman is not priced out of the market when it comes to buying a house. I think Guernsey has a much more sensible method of control in that property over and above a certain rateable value becomes de-controlled. We could institute a system in Jersey based on price. Property under £10,000 should be controlled but over that they should be allowed to be sold on the open market".

He was, he said, delighted that local estate agents had decided to form a solid and professional body for the protection of the public against unscrupulous operators. "I first mooted this idea over 20 years ago, but we could never get all of the agents to agree to come in. Now the association has been formed and this can only be for the common good of all concerned. It will give the public some form of redress against members who break the code of conduct and act unethically. Any association that protects the public is good".

I then asked him why he had never stood as a member of the States, "After the war I was a member of the Jersey Progressive Party and we actively campaigned for a re-constitution of the Jersey States. What we set out to do was to bring some system of democracy into a system of government that was frankly feudal. We put up twelve members and it was agreed that I should be one of them. But the business was growing all the time and I found I just could not spare the time to do it".

Was he happy about the present governmental set-up which the Progressive Party had helped to create? "Yes, I think it works well.What is beginning to worry me though is that more and more of the important work is being left to a smaller number of members and what is going to happen when these members retire from public life. There are so few young men coming through with an interest in politics".

He would not, he said, support the payment for members. "I believe stoutly in the honorary system and would not like to see this go. However should a wage earner be elected to the States some means should be found to compensate his loss of earnings while serving his constituents".

As a yachtsman and a former Commodore of St. Helier Yacht Club his efforts to promote good relations between Jersey and France are very well known in the island. "I think it is important that we have good relations with them," he said. "After all they are our next-door neighbours". He was, he said, shocked to hear a St. Helier Centenier make a public statement that French yachtsmen came to Jersey to steal.

"This was a disgraceful and irresponsible statement" he said. "I have no doubt that the Committees of both yacht clubs will take this matter further".

I left this enthusiastic, likeable man preparing for the biggest series of antique sales that he has ever conducted.

And I could not help feeling that it was a pity his business had claimed so much of his time. He would have made a colourful and responsible politician.

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