Dean’s battle cry over VAT threat to restoration

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The Dean of Wakefield is stepping up the campaign to stop the introduction of VAT on alterations to listed buildings and last night urged people to join him in the fight to halt the changes.

Fears have been raised that a major restoration project at Wakefield Cathedral, which recently got underway after years of fundraising, could be in jeopardy if the changes are allowed to go ahead.

The Rev Jonathan Greener said: “This is a terrible tragedy for our nation’s rich and varied heritage and it must be stopped.”

After four years of fundraising, work finally started to renew the Grade I listed building on March 19 – including the removal of the pews. Days later the Chancellor, George Osborne, unveiled his plans to charge VAT at 20 per cent on alterations to listed buildings, a move which could paralyse the project.

And now the Dean is urging anyone with an interest in heritage to join the campaign to stop this creeping VAT which, if it goes ahead, will have an impact on every listed building in the country with plans to upgrade or renew.

The Chancellor’s decision means any community group or others joining to raise funds to bring a listed building in their locality back to life in a local community will now have to raise an additional 20 per cent on the cost of the work.

Currently, alterations to listed buildings are VAT free and campaigners in Wakefield say they are now faced with having to raise extra cash to cover the unforeseen tax burden.

The Government has signalled it wants to remove a VAT anomaly whereby VAT is levied on repairs to listed buildings but not on alterations.

Campaigners say that in the vast majority of cases projects are expensive because costly materials and bespoke craftsmen are used on the projects to comply with listed building rules.

Projects can take years to get off the ground because each building has special requirements, they say.

If the 20 per cent hike, which is due to come into force in October, goes ahead it will cost the cathedral at least an extra £200,000.

The two-phase project, which ties in with the cathedral’s 125th birthday next year, is set to cost around £5m. But the current work has only tied up half of that figure.

The project will see the nave transformed with improved lighting, flooring and heating, a bright interior to better reveal the cathedral’s important heritage and the pews will be taken out to create a more flexible open space for worship, public gatherings, concerts and celebrations.

The project has attracted support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) with a successful bid of £1.58m.

In a bid to fight the proposals the Dean’s wife, Pamela, has recorded The VAT Ditty, which she performs in the demolished nave of the cathedral in a video posted on YouTube and which has been sent to the Chancellor’s office.

The song is the latest weapon in the cathedral’s campaign to stop the VAT changes.

The Dean said: “Music is a powerful means of communication which is why it is such an important part of cathedral life.

“So I was delighted that my wife should write this song and make this video to support us all in our campaign to stop this crippling, unfair tax.

“Such short notice has catastrophic consequences for our project here in Wakefield and for any group wanting to preserve, alter or breathe new life into any listed building in this country,” he added.

The Dean is urging as many people as possible to help fight the changes and is urging people to sign an online petition set up to oppose the changes.

Sign the petition by visiting the website: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/32056

joanne.ginley@ypn.co.uk