The Chancellor's announcement of an extra £30m for the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme is very welcome news for listed churches.
But this announcement does nothing to address the 'bigger picture' of the Government's decision to levy VAT on approved alterations to all listed buildings, and will leave communities across the UK unsure of the future.Churches are a very important part of the historic environment and they face acute challenges, but secular listed buildings – such as community centres and village halls – face similar challenges in raising money to alter their buildings to give them a viable twenty first century lease of life. Levying VAT on these alterations will inevitably sound the death knell for plans to revive cherished buildings, as construction projects are mothballed or lost – damaging local economies, streetscapes and community services. The heritage movement is not a preservationist lobby – sympathetic adaptation is the primary strategy for securing the future of our listed buildings. Rather than curtailing an anomaly that allows wealthy owners to avoid tax on alterations to their listed homes, this 'heritage tax' will hit the far greater majority of modest owners and community groups working hard to reuse listed buildings, by adding an extra 20 per cent to the cost of keeping them going.Chief Executive of The Heritage Alliance, Kate Pugh, said: "Listed buildings are by definition public goods. They're valuable for the unique character they bring to our cities, towns and villages, and their economic contribution – through the fast-growing tourism industry and the construction sector – is significant."Whilst an extra £30m for listed churches is of course good news, it does not address the big picture of the potentially disastrous impact of the Government's VAT proposals on all listed buildings. Failure properly to address this issue threatens to undermine the positive initiatives in the Penfold Review and the National Planning Policy Framework, and leaves a question mark hanging over a range of Government initiatives, from the asset transfer programme and the philanthropy drive to the Big Society agenda."The Heritage Alliance will continue to call on Government to reverse entirely this misguided proposal for all listed buildings, irrespective of type or ownership. I believe a proper review of the policy objectives behind the measure, using an adequate evidence base, is vital before such an important change – which is irreversible under EU law. I look forward to discussing with Government how they intend to address the needs of all listed buildings."