Speak up for Suffolk’s historic churches (and all other listed buildings!)

(The photo is of Magdalen College, Oxford: see explanation at end of article)

One of the main characteristics of the March 2012 Budget was its intense “sneakiness”: far reaching changes were buried in the detail or simply glossed over in the Chancellor’s speech. This meant that the very first reactions to the Budget were often incomplete: the ‘pasty tax’ and the ‘granny tax’ hit the headlines fast enough but the Government’s decision to place 20% VAT on alterations to Listed Buildings and deal with other ‘anomalies’ took a while to sink in.

The second main characteristic has been haste: the Chancellor has allowed HMRC to halve their normal consultation period (see previous article on this) thus severely denting the chances of organising a strong response. Thankfully a number of organisations like the Heritage Alliance and IHBC (Institute of Historic Building Conservation) are raising the flag but there are now only 13 days left to send responses to David Roberts, HMRC, VAT Projects Team, 3C/10, 100 Parliament Street, London, SWIA 2BQ.

The proposed changes will potentially impact on every Listed Building in the country and particularly on Christian places of worship. This is because a staggering 45% of Grade I Listed Buildings are churches or cathedrals. HMRC neatly bypass this statistic by claiming that their “evidence suggests that places of worship form only a small minority of the total number of listed properties in the UK” and they dismiss the overall macroeconomic impact as ‘negligible’. This view is hotly contested by those who have responsibility for the fabric of historic churches.

One of the main concerns  is that these alterations often centre round the provision of a kitchen, or toilets or disabled access: in other words facilities to help churches  serve the local community better.The Archbishop of Wales, Barry Morgan, made an appeal about this a few days ago stating that alterations enabled visitor access, special needs groups, community space for meetings, social enterprise, even Post Offices:

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2012/04/17/vat-listed-buildings-axe-will-hit-churches-hard-says-archbishop-of-wales-barry-morgan-91466-30778383/

The Church of England has  also made representations to the Treasury. The Bishop of London has sent in a detailed letter and the wife of the Dean of Wakefield has composed and performed a complete VAT song in the environs of the cathedral itself!

http://www.churchofengland.org/media-centre/news/2012/04/going-for-a-song-cofe-youtube-recording-calls-on-government-to-bring-back-zero-rate-vat-on-alterations-to-listed-buildings.aspx

Here in Suffolk there will be a gradual impact on the whole character of our county and an adverse affect on tourism: you only have to glance at the Visit Suffolk website to see what a strong part heritage plays in Suffolk’s general appeal to those who plan to make a trip here.

The Heritage Alliance is urging people to contact their MP’s, sign the relevant petitions and respond to HMRC. (david.roberts4@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk)

The deadline for responses to HMRC is 4th May 2012

http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/32229  (Listed Churches)

Save our Heritage:Say No to VAT on Listed Buildings

http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/32056

I suppose we can understand George Osborne’s lack of appreciation for heritage: after all he only attended university at Magdalen College, Oxford (pictured at the start of this article) and works in the Houses of Parliament, within sight of Westminster Abbey.

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6 Responses

  1. The latest Private Eye has raised this issue: see No.1312 (Piloti’s Nooks and Corners)

  2. Great post. Thanks for this vital information.

    • Thank you; I spent a lot of time on this particular post because the proposed VAT measures, as they currently stand, are going to have a major effect on our heritage.

      There is a full page article by Lord Hurd in today’s Sunday Telegraph on this subject
      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9218868/Renovation-tax-will-harm-our-churches-warns-Hurd.html

  3. There’s probably bigger issues within the Church of England. For instance, a parish church needing a faculty from the diocese to put a hook in a wall.

    • The article is relevant to all Listed Buildings, so 20% VAT increase will affect a lot of different kinds of Suffolk architecture (and beyond of course) as well those who work and specialise in that field: craftsmen, renovators etc

  4. Two very good letters on restoration and heritage in today’s Daily Telegraph:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/letters/9221595/A-reformed-House-of-Lords-would-gobble-up-power-and-pick-a-fight-with-constituency-MPs.html

    Scroll down to the last two Letters.

    The Government is trying to give the impression that the Grant scheme for Churches will offset the increased VAT but it won’t; this all strikes me as strangely familiar:

    Closer to home Community Rents in Ipswich have been increased to 20% of the estimated full market rate, with the council claiming that groups can apply for a grant to cover the increase. The catch is that there is no certainty of the grant being granted and therefore the full impact of the rent increase will fall on the community group affected. (I will write a full article on this because I believe that over a period of time this will adversely affect community work in Ipswich).

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