Tax ‘time bomb’ threatening region’s listed building heritage

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OWNERS of listed homes have warned the scrapping of zero-rated VAT on alterations is a “ticking time bomb” for Yorkshire’s architectural heritage.

John Walker said he could not have carried out a £60,000 restoration project on his Grade II listed terraced house in York without the relief, which enabled him to recoup £9,000.

The 50-year-old said he would have to carefully consider any future alterations to the Georgian property.

“Not all listed buildings are on the scale of Castle Howard or Harewood House,” he said.

“Many, like my own, are modest homes that nevertheless have architectural or cultural merit and need to be looked after as part of our shared heritage for generations to come.”

He fears the 20 per cent price hike may put others off taking on listed building projects, which are already costly due to the need to employ specialist trades and use heritage-sensitive materials.

“I’m happy to pay these extra costs but if we are to make a contribution to the preservation of our heritage the VAT relief really can make a difference in offsetting other costs of ownership and maintenance,” said Mr Walker.

“I really do think in future it may be a ticking time bomb, that people will think twice about taking on a listed building and it could ultimately lead to the loss of houses of character that are a vital part of our cultural heritage.”

Christopher Cobley, 62, said he could not have afforded to convert barns next to his Grade II-listed Georgian home in Bubwith, near Selby, for his 92-year-old father to live in without the the VAT relief.

The Yorkshire Buildings Preservation Trust member said it was “immensely useful and in some cases necessary” to compensate for the cost of the work required.

“In principle, those fortunate enough to own or live in listed buildings are happy to do this work to a high standard, but the beneficiaries are actually the general public, because the most important aspect is generally the exterior, which can be seen and enjoyed by them” he said.

“So it seems not unreasonable that the extra cost should be borne in some small measure by the tax system.”

Russ Dickinson, from Nawton, North Yorkshire, is renovating a dilapidated Grade II listed cottage in nearby Kirkbymoorside which he bought for £80,000 with a £20,0000 restoration budget.

As well as paying more for traditional materials, such as hydraulic lime, he also had to employ a specialist conservation expert to advise him at a cost of £3,000.

The 53-year-old said: “The Government and councils lay down all sorts of rules about what you’ve got to do, and what they expect you to do is preserve Britain’s heritage - but at your expense.”

Not everyone opposes the changes, which take effect from October, however - like Nicholas Burrows and wife Heather, who own Grade II-listed Coulton Mill in Hovingham, North Yorkshire.

The couple, who are restoring agricultural buildings there as a working farm, believe it has addressed a tax system that favoured conversion over restoration.

Mr Burrows said: “Under current legislation, if we converted our farm buildings to holiday cottages we would pay no VAT - but if we dedicate our lives to restoring the barns and farm buildings to house animals as they were always intended we have to pay. This makes no sense at all.

“Our countryside and architectural heritage in Yorkshire is a scarce and valuable resource that needs to be protected and nurtured. What we need is a system of tax benefits that rewards the restoration and conservation of our built heritage, not its destruction.”