The prom: why businesses need you more than ever

If you haven’t said something along the lines of ‘I swear the prom will never be finished’ in the last year or so then what a life you must live. Quickly catching up with ‘I heard it’s gonna rain tomorrow,’ talking about Douglas prom has become the go to small talk for a lot of us on our isle (if that doesn’t just sum up island life though). If you thought it was frustrating having to drive down there to get into town, try having your whole business right next door to a 2-3 year construction project.

With COVID delays, a plethora of road closures and uncertain end dates, we put on our best investigative reporter fedora to find out just what the impact of the roadworks has been on the businesses along the promenade. This is where it can get a little bit ‘numbery’ (not sure if that’s a word but we’ll go with it), as we sent out a survey to as many of the businesses next to the works as we could find contacts for. Although this will not be a complete picture of how business owners feel, we think it allows us to get a general consensus on the issue. We also asked the folks at the Department of Enterprise for figures on the financial grant and loan schemes the government has going to support these businesses whilst the roadworks are ongoing and to clarify the language surrounding their eligibility.

How we got here:

  • Back in the 1870’s, what we know now as Loch promenade was, rather creatively, called ‘Sand Street,’ with houses backing right onto the beach. In 1876, Loch promenade and the horse tram tracks were built, beginning the never-ending job of constructing Douglas promenade. Okay, we may need to fast forward a bit to 2018 if we’re going to get through this.

  • Late 2018 – The current refurbishment scheme on Douglas prom began around this time with the appointment of Auldyn Construction Ltd as the main contractor for the scheme. The original plan was for works to be completed 2 years later in October 2020, so this month. 

  • October 2019 – A year later, then infrastructure minister Ray Harmer, who has since been replaced by Tim Baker, announced a schedule change for the project. This meant that the works would now be expected to finish in April 2021 with an eye towards limiting disruption to businesses.

  • March 2020 – Work on the prom was temporarily stopped this month when the COVID-19 lockdown meant construction was forced to cease for the foreseeable future. 

  • May 2020 – Thankfully, workers returned only a short while later on May 4th following government guidelines on social distancing. 

  • June 2020 – A month later the one way system was brought in to try and make it easier to get sections of the prom done in time.

  • September 2020- As planned, the prom was brought back to two-way on September 8th meaning that cars can now go both ways along the whole length of the area.

  • October 2020- Infrastructure minister Tim Baker admitted that the refurbishment may not be complete by the end of March, claiming the delay is down to an old gas main which needs to be safely removed.

Now that we’re all caught up, let’s have a look at exactly what all of this has done to the businesses we surveyed.

The numbers:

For those who may have passed on that business GCSE, and who can blame them, here’s a little glossary of the words you’ll need to get your head around the following statistics:

  • Revenue – The total amount of money taken in by a business before costs are taken off

  • Footfall – The amount of people actually coming into your business, even if they don’t buy anything

Although there was a mix of responses from the businesses we surveyed, there were a few clear trends. 

  • All businesses reported at least a 20% revenue loss since the works began, with two of them reporting a loss between 80-99%.

  •  In a similar area, all but one of those we surveyed rated their change in footfall as a 4 or lower, with a 0 being a dramatic decrease. 

  • Although most businesses (81.8%) haven’t had to temporarily close as a result of the works, 54.5% are anticipating a revenue uplift once the works have been completed next year. 

  • This same amount, 54.5%, have also had to decrease resources as a response to the ongoing roadworks, by this we mean any redundancies or reductions in employee hours.

  • When asked to rate the communication from project leaders out of ten, just under 3/4 of respondents gave it a 5 or lower, a worrying sign for the government in this area.

  • Although all businesses surveyed were aware of the government’s interest free loan scheme and only one was not aware of the one off grant scheme, only 36.4% had applied for the loan, although 63.6% had applied for the £6,000 grant. This lack of applications may be because all but two of the businesses rated the suitability of the schemes as a 4 or less, showing that the people along the prom are unimpressed by the financial support schemes they’ve been offered.

The two schemes we are referencing here are a one off government grant of £6,000 for businesses that could prove they had been negatively affected by the promenade roadworks, this scheme has recently ended. The other support scheme, with similar terms, is an interest free loan of up to £50,000, payable over a period of ten year beginning the date of receipt but only having to be paid back after the Department of Infrastructure declares the works to be over, clarification hopefully coming on what exactly constitutes the works being ‘over.’ This loan scheme is still available for businesses wanting to apply. Both of these schemes are/were available only to businesses that meet the government criteria and are within the designated zone.

While we all love a moan about the prom, as the stats show, businesses and livelihoods are being affected. It just goes to show, there is no better time to head down to the prom and give the businesses a little bit of love and attention.