Can you believe blasphemous thieves steal from Churches? Some are electrocuted stealing live wiring. Real estate bubble in 2012? Nah…..forget about it.
by Tim Broadway
For years a bronze statue of Alfred Salter sat on a bench looking out on a quiet bend of the River Thames, a memorial to a doctor who dedicated his life to a London district once infamous for Dickensian levels of poverty and disease.
Now the bench is empty after his statue fell victim to a wave of metal thefts sweeping Britain, threatening artworks and ravaging infrastructure as thieves seek to capitalize on soaring metal prices and a cash-in-hand scrap industry.
Memorial plaques and artworks are unsentimentally lumped together with electrical cables and drain covers in the hunt for illegal metal, which police say costs Britain hundreds of millions of pounds each year and kills two thieves a month.
“He was an inspiration to many people and a tireless campaigner against social injustice and so it’s a great shame that thieves have now taken his memorial,” said Mr. Salter’s last remaining relative, Johanna Crawshaw, who has pledged to double a council reward for information leading to the statue’s return.
Reward posters are plastered all over Bermondsey, once home to a riverside slum depicted by Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist, in the London borough of Southwark.
The borough was also the site of another metal theft earlier this month, from a public park where only two stumps remain of a valuable artwork by renowned British sculptor Barbara Hepworth. The local government called the theft part of a “sickening epidemic.”
Churches have reported the theft of metal war memorials and, Thursday, Britain’s Jewish Chronicle newspaper reported the theft of a bronze memorial commemorating Holocaust victims.
In Wales, University Hospital Llandough was forced to postpone more than 80 operations this month, including on cancer patients, after metal thieves targeted one of its generators.
“Staff and patients alike are appalled by this dangerous and irresponsible act, and it beggars belief that anyone could stoop so low,” said Paul Hollard, deputy chief executive of Cardiff and Vale University Health Board.
The theft of rail-network copper cables has caused thousands of hours of transport delays across the country, and the theft of power cables has plunged thousands of homes into darkness.
Some hapless thieves have been killed trying to steal live electrical cables.
Since January of 2009, the price of the type of copper popular with thieves has more than doubled on the London Metal Exchange. Meanwhile, many more Britons’ finances are being squeezed by the harshest public-spending cuts in a generation, part of government plans to tackle a big budget deficit.
Scrap yards said they pay about $5.50 (U.S.) for a kilo of copper, depending on quality and the market price on the day.
Some media outlets have labelled metal theft an opportunistic “austerity crime” at a time of economic difficulty, but police increasingly point to organized-crime networks using sophisticated techniques.
“Police have found adapted ladders, tools, and even vans that have specially adapted trapdoors to winch up a manhole cover as they drive over it without being observed,” London’s Metropolitan Police service said in a statement.
“In September, 2011, four men were arrested … using two bogus BT [a telecom firm] trucks, a BT van and a winch to steal underground cable,” the statement continued.
Protecting metal from thieves is especially difficult in rural areas, where the police presence is usually small.
The church in the Yorkshire village of Haworth, where the authors and sisters Charlotte and Emily Bronte are buried, has launched an appeal for cash to fix its roof, whose repeated targeting by lead thieves has hastened its disrepair.
“It’s a problem in rural England. These people have free rein to go pretty much undetected. We have a very small police presence. Our neighbourhood policing team is great but there’s only so much they can do. … We’re easy pickings,” said John Huxley, chairman of Haworth Parish Council.
British police are ramping up efforts to tackle the crime, with the Metropolitan Police last week launching a Waste and Metal Theft Task Force, while police across England and Wales this month took part in a national “day of action” against the practice, during which they searched hundreds of scrap yards.
In England’s northeast, which police say is the epicentre of railway metal theft, police are from January testing a system in which scrap sellers must prove their identity so that stolen metal can be traced.
A large chunk of Britain’s £5-billion-a-year scrap-metal industry is cash-based, making it ideal for making money quickly without leaving a paper trail.
Parliament is considering a bill that would toughen scrap-dealing laws, including ending trade for cash and giving greater police and judicial powers to close rogue yards. The British Metal Recycling Association says a cashless system would drive business to illegal yards In the meantime, Southwark Council is carrying out a risk assessment of 165 pieces of public art in the borough, and may use closed-circuit cameras to monitor more valuable pieces or put them in storage until they can be made safe.
Two statues already in storage are of Mr. Salter’s daughter and her cat. Mr. Salter’s seated statue, placed within sight of London’s Tower Bridge, depicted him waving to his daughter in happier times, before she died of scarlet fever at the age of nine.
As global housing markets coughed and sputtered in 2011, Canada’s barrelled ahead, even turning a few nervous heads along the way.
In fact, recently the Economist branded Canada one of the nine countries where “home prices are overvalued by about 25 per cent or more,” and among the four where prices are in line with those in the United States “at the peak of its bubble.”
Is there really a cause for alarm? Are we doomed to ride this white-knuckled rollercoaster in 2012? Probably not, according to Benjamin Tal, deputy chief economist of CIBC.
“The housing market of tomorrow will not be as exciting as the housing market of yesterday,” he said in an interview.
While the current real estate market is overshooting, with home prices far higher than than they should be, we shouldn’t expect a crash either, he explains. As long as interest rates remain relatively low and subprime mortgages kept at bay, the most likely scenario is that the market will plateau.
“Prices are already softening, housing starts aren’t in the sky, MLS [multiple listing service] activity is starting to soften, so it suggests the market is already starting to level off, and that’s what we need,” he said.
How will a more relaxed real estate market affect new homebuyers, investors and renovators in 2012? Here are Mr. Tal’s predictions:
1. First-time home buyers
Affordability and interest rates will be the major concerns in 2012. Prices will continue to be expensive, especially in urban centres like Vancouver and Toronto, since interest rates are likely to remain low for the time being.
But rates won’t stay low forever, which is why you should estimate mortgage payments based on interest rates that are 2 or 3 percentage points higher than current interesst rates, and if you cannot afford that, get a smaller mortgage and buy a less expensive house.
Expect an end to bidding wars, or at least a temporary ceasefire. New home buyers will have the luxury of time in terms of looking at properties without being rushed into decisions. That’s the positive. The negative is that prices continue to be drastically higher than they were five or 10 years ago.
2. Investors and flippers
If you’re in it to flip it – meaning you buy a home hoping the price will rise by just doing minimal changes – those days are over.
In some pockets of the country, you may even see prices go down.
The cost of renovations will not increase significantly so long as interest rates remain at their current level, so it’s a good idea to take advantage of this time to finance these projects.
For those looking to take on a second mortgage, remember to make sure you’re equipped to finance them if interest rates creep up.
Variable-rate mortgages are still a good option for those who are able to withstand fluctuations in the market and “ride the ups and downs without getting a stomach ache.”