A Stitch In Time

We remain firmly opposed to the wave upon wave of London overspill housing that is changing the character of our region for the worse. (And destroying in the process the very things that settlers find attractive.) That’s not to say that we think all construction workers should pack up their tools and seek a different line of work. There’s plenty of work that needs doing to mend our battered and broken environment; any parish or town council can draw up a list. It’s just not a priority for the London regime.

One reason for querying why we are putting up so many new buildings is that we seem to be very bad at looking after the buildings we already have. Our tax system is designed to encourage the replacement or alteration of perfectly serviceable buildings, even those that form part of our heritage. It has long been pointed out that it is absurd to charge VAT on housing repairs – the sustainable solution – but not on new housing. The EU-approved answer is to collect the tax and then give it back as a grant. It would be, wouldn’t it? With all the extra bureaucracy this entails, it’s a solution that could only have come from Brussels.

Today’s Western Daily Press highlights Chancellor George Osborne’s recent decision to remove VAT relief on approved alterations to listed buildings. Ministers have claimed the decision is all about stopping millionaires installing swimming pools tax-free. In fact, a sample of 12,049 recent applications revealed only 34 for pools, of which less than half had any chance of qualifying for the VAT relief. (And most folk whose homes are listed are anything but millionaires.) The Government has now decided to provide additional compensation to listed churches and other places of worship. But it still offers nothing to help other community buildings or buildings in private ownership.

Many projects are being put on hold, or cancelled, as owners worry about raising an additional 20%. Pensioners Alan and Carol Hudson’s home is the Grade II listed 14th century Horsey Manor Farm in Bridgwater. Not only does their home require continuous specialist maintenance and repair but plans to convert outbuildings at risk of dereliction have had to be abandoned because of what is now a £50,000 VAT bill. The couple were quoted as follows:

“As champions of heritage in an area where 20% of the regional income is from tourism, we feel betrayed by the nature and method of introduction of this tax. We are repeatedly struck by how often the Government’s decisions appear to show little recognition of the realities of life outside the privileged circles of the City and Parliament.”

EU rules leave little enough discretion as it is – which is why we need a Europe-wide revolution to reform fundamentally self-serving institutions that have failed. It’s still more objectionable when the UK Government makes a mess even of what discretion it does have.

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