Guernsey Press

Chasing the Guernsey Dream

With high house prices making it increasingly difficult for the average local to get on the property ladder, Horace Camp fears for the future of our community.


THE American Dream is the idea that if you work hard, you can achieve success and have a good life in America. It means you can own a house, have a good job, and take care of your family.

People from all over the world go to America because they believe in the American Dream. But what is the Guernsey Dream?

My Guernsey Dream was of a cottage with a few vergees and a couple of hundred feet of glass where my family could enjoy a simple but happy life. I would keep my family from the proceeds of some self-employed endeavour and avoid the stigma of wage slavery.

In essence, not that far from the principle of the American Dream.

But I’m something of a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma and hardly representative of normal Sarnians. I therefore turned to social media and asked Guernsey people to tell me what their dream is.

The common dream is to be able to buy a house, or for children to be able to buy a house, or finally for grandchildren to be able to buy a house.

Well, it would seem those dreams are hardly going to turn into reality in the foreseeable future. Though all about house ownership, I believe there is a deeper concern which is the real Guernsey Dream, or possibly Nightmare.

I believe the real Guernsey Dream is that we keep our people here on this island. We fear our children and our grandchildren will leave to seek out lands where they can buy their part of it, which is no longer possible in the land of their forefathers.

Just after the war, when everyone was as poor as a church mouse and the island’s infrastructure was in a worse condition than it is now, the representatives of the people realised two things. Firstly, we needed incomers to bring much needed money here to help us recover, and secondly, we had to ensure the islanders they were brought in to assist were not driven out by their money.

Remember, the sole purpose of encouraging rich people here was to benefit what I will call ‘locals’. If the locals were driven out, then the policy would have failed.

Some bright spark came up with a good idea. We, the States, must ensure that locals will always be able to afford a home. We can do that by ringfencing a whole lot of houses just for locals, and in that way money coming from outside the island would not be injected into that market and house prices and wages earned by locals would drive the market price of the reserved housing.

Accordingly, the housing market was split into two, with one called the local market and the other the open market. You see, back then discriminating in favour of local people wasn’t seen as evil. What a primitive time, eh? This concept that Guernsey was its people, rather than a rock in the Channel with favourable tax charters, has very much gone out of fashion in the 21st century.

The local market, to all intents and purposes, no longer exists. Which means it is now awash with non-local money. Which means that house prices are no longer linked to what the 60% or so of the population it was designed to protect earn and so locals are the ones most likely to be unable to buy a stake in their own island.

Consider that if you are invited to work here to generate income which can benefit locals, you are hardly likely to come if you cannot afford to put a roof, either rented or owned, over your head. That option is not possible if you are born here. Which is why I speculate locals, as defined in 1940-something, are in a worse position than non-locals.

Even our own dear States of Guernsey treats locals differently. It could even be called discrimination, but as it negatively affects locals, that is acceptable.

Here’s an example of negative discrimination. Two nurses, one local the other not. They do the same job. They are paid the same. Both can access the local market for housing. Both find local housing far too expensive for their modest earnings. One is left to struggle. The other receives generous financial aid to make their life a bit easier. Guess which one is local.

Now, I’m not trying to start a civil war. And I imagine now Jersey locals are on the verge of becoming the minority, they will show us the way to any benefits accruing to being born on Jersey being removed purely down to majorities making the rules.

I’m not xenophobic – I married an English woman and many of my ancestors came from England and, I’m ashamed to say, Jersey.

But I confess to being a Guernsey nationalist – in a good way, not like Nigel Farage or the shaved-headed thugs. And I do think Guernsey is its people, not the rock. And industries which cannot serve the people or drive the people out serve no purpose to us.

The average Guernsey wage is just under £40,000. Let us say the average Guernsey couple earns £80,000. Putting aside the old standard that mortgage borrowing should be three times main plus second income and adopting a more reasonable five times joint earnings, then a family house needs to be about £400,000 or less.

Given how people, both young and old, are increasingly more likely to be living alone, then we need homes that singletons can buy to be priced at £200,000 or less.

Just across the water, average house prices at the end of 2022 were £315,000 in England, £222,000 in Wales, and £187,000 in Scotland.

Our children and grandchildren are educated here from the age of four to 18 with the mantra that to achieve their greatness they have to leave the island. Then how do we get them back once they look in estate agents’ windows over there?

The States, by both inaction and action, has caused this problem. And the problem is not house prices, but the demise of the Sarnian. How long before third-generation islanders no longer exist?

The likely pattern we are moving to is first generation comes to Guernsey, settles here, produces a second generation which is the first local generation of that family. That second generation can’t afford to live here so emigrates. It’s almost the idea of a nomadic community.

The only solution is a terrible one. We have to recreate the local market. A market with house prices linked to locals’ earnings, which was the original intent. Such a market would see a devastating drop in house prices, which could be catastrophic for us all.

I wonder if P&R have even considered the mess our community’s future prospects are in. Or are they more focused on the industry than the people it is meant to serve? The very people who are being driven out by it.