Page last updated at 23:02 GMT, Monday, 8 June 2009 00:02 UK

Is it bloom or bust for the economy?

By Kevin Peachey
Personal finance reporter, BBC News, Hillingdon

Barry Wapling
Barry Wapling has lived in the area for most of his adult life

Perhaps embattled Chancellor Alistair Darling ought to visit the allotments in the village of Ickenham. It is peaceful, friendly, and there are green shoots everywhere you look.

"This year we are growing potatoes, leeks, celeriac, parsnips, sweetcorn ...," says Barry Wapling, 62, as he takes a break from tending his plot in the summer sunshine.

"... asparagus, runner beans, onions, shallots, strawberries, raspberries, cabbage. That's probably enough," continues his wife Trish, a retired healthcare assistant, without missing a beat.

And it is not just here among the compost, wheelbarrows and sprouting vegetables that there are signs of renewal.

Ickenham is in the London borough of Hillingdon, where house prices rose by 1% in April compared with March. Prices fell over the year by 11.9%, well below the average of 16.2% across England and Wales.

Street scene

Walk the streets of the area and there are some clues as to why prices have held up better than in some other areas.

Matt Young
Matt Young is hoping to save some money by growing food

The average home here, in the South East of England commuter belt, costs £245,760 - but it seems as though very few of them are for sale.

Some commentators have pointed to a lack of supply of good quality homes in certain areas as a general reason for the uplift in prices across the UK in recent weeks.

Two prominent housing surveys - by the Halifax and the Nationwide Building Society - reported month-on-month property price rises of 2.6% and 1.2% respectively in May.

Of course, perception plays a big part in the mood surrounding players in the housing market. Down at the allotment there are a range of views and theories about the local property market.

"The economy is a bit flat in this area although we have seen that a number of houses that were up for sale have actually been sold. But I'm not sure whether they got what they asked for," says Mr Wapling.

"But a lot have been put up for rent instead of for sale," adds Mrs Wapling. "And I've not heard of any repossessions."

UK annual house prices graph

Fifty yards away Matt Young, 35, is weeding furiously. While still in full-time work as a BT planner, he knows that not everyone has been so lucky and he hopes to see some green shoots in the economy soon after he harvests his onions.

"It [the local economy] seems to have steadied out, things do not look any worse anyway. Hopefully we should start seeing something soon, hopefully by the end of the year at least," he says.

"House prices have remained pretty steady, but food prices have gone up slightly and people are not getting any pay rises so that is affecting people. A few are losing their jobs."

Like many of the younger allotment-holders, mostly newcomers to the hobby, he is hoping to "save a few quid" by growing his own greens - along with living a healthier lifestyle.

These newcomers have boosted numbers at the Ickenham site, where there is now a waiting list for plots despite nearly 400 being available in the borough as a whole.


Narharidas Patel has been tackling his plot for longer than Alistair Darling has been looking after the economy.

Narharidas Patel
I seem to see a lot of happy people here
Narharidas Patel

"I've had it for three years. It was overgrown and neglected when I took it over but I think I've now got it under control," says Mr Patel, not Mr Darling.

The 49-year-old is an accountant but was made redundant two-and-a-half years ago, and decided to take a sabbatical to spend time with his young children.

In that time, he has seen more people who he assumes are looking for work but is full of praise for the community spirit in the area, and his neighbours often benefit from a bumper crop at the allotment.

"It is primarily a residential area," he says, as a butterfly flutters past. "There is no real industry here, such as factories or offices, so you don't see them closing down.

"In the housing market prices have dropped... but like the rest of the country things are picking up because houses are getting sold, when six months ago they were not getting sold.

"You've got people living for 30, 40 or 50 years in the area. I seem to see a lot of happy people here."

None happier, one would suspect, than Anna Joyce, who works as a negotiator at local estate agents Turbervilles.

Anna Joyce
We were selling four or five houses a month at the start of this year, now it is more like 12
Anna Joyce, Turbervilles estate agents

Staff have just reopened one of their three offices. It closed a year ago as the UK housing market fell into its slump.

"We were selling four or five houses a month at the start of this year, now it is more like 12," she says.

A growth in demand had seen prices levelling out, she says, although they were still down from their peak. At one local housing estate, she explains, family homes had been fetching £300,000 at one stage, before dropping to something close to £235,000.

"Investors who have got money which is not doing anything in the bank [because of low interest rates] are looking at anywhere that might need doing up a bit," she says.

The lack of supply means that sales are being made after five viewings rather one sale in 20 viewings that was recently the case.

A stone's throw from the Turbervilles office is another allotments site.

But this one is overgrown, deserted and in need of some serious attention. It is a reminder that, for all the green shoots, there is a still a lot of hard graft needed to bring things back under control.

Now that's a scene Alistair Darling will recognise.

Print Sponsor

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2020 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific