“We must continue to speak up for the preservation of listed properties in the UK and raise awareness in Parliament of the role played by listed property owners in protecting the nation’s heritage.” – Craig Mackinlay, MP for South Thanet.
Craig Mackinlay has been a strong supporter of listed property owners in Parliament. His work as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Listed Properties has been a huge part of the Club’s success in Westminster. The group is a unique place where we can communicate directly with MPs and bring owner’s issues to their attention.
As featured in the last issue of Listed Heritage, Craig gave the Club an exclusive interview to discuss his work and his plans for future.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO SEE THE APPG ACHIEVE IN 2021 AND WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE BIGGEST ISSUE TO TACKLE FOR LISTED PROPERTY OWNERS?
We must continue to speak up for the preservation of listed properties in the UK and raise awareness in Parliament of the role played by listed property owners in protecting the nation’s heritage. As I always say – we’re only borrowing these homes. We must persuade the government to be more sympathetic to supporting owners to preserve their listed property by, for example, reforming the tax and planning systems. In essence, we would like to see a reduction in VAT on all listed building planning alterations and repairs back to zero rate from the current 20% rate, or the introduction of a form of VAT relief similar to the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme.
Of course, the Government cannot currently reduce the rate of VAT on the repair and maintenance of commercial buildings under EU law. But as we exit the transition period and fully take back control of our laws from the EU, a key advantage for us will be the ability to set VAT rates in line with the UK’s unique needs and interests. The Treasury should use this ability to ensure the VAT system safeguards our listed buildings and that private ownership remains viable.
WHAT DID THE GROUP ACHIEVE IN 2020?
We secured a Westminster Hall debate on the issue of VAT on Listed Properties on Wednesday, 4th March just a couple of weeks before the national lockdown. During my speech I called for a reduction in VAT to help protect our nation’s heritage. In response the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Jesse Norman MP, recognised the social, cultural, and economic importance of listed properties as part of our heritage, but did confirm that the Treasury had no current plans to change the treatment of VAT on listed buildings. These things, however, are always kept under review and I am determined to lead the fight for change.
FOLLOWING ON FROM THE DRINKS RECEPTION IN 2019 AT WESTMINSTER, INCONSISTENCIES WITH THE PLANNING SYSTEM AND THE POWER OF CONSERVATION OFFICERS CAME UP QUITE HEAVILY. HAS ANY HEADWAY BEEN MADE ON THESE ISSUES?
At the reception we agreed that VAT relief on listed properties would align the interests of planners and owners by rewarding genuine conservation efforts and supporting owners who properly follow the regulations. It has to be recognised that any agreed works undertaken on listed properties are more likely bespoke, often requiring more expensive materials and contractors with specialist skills.
Unfortunately frustrations remain with the planning system. There is the benefit of no planning application fee, but whatever saving this represents is almost always consumed by more extensive drawings and application complications requiring more expensive advisers. Too often disproportionate power lies within the opinion and discretion of local conservation officers with no consistency of decision-making even between adjacent local authorities and despite attempts at common national standards, in practice these are illusory.
HOW DO WE MAKE SURE THAT ISSUES LIKE VAT STAY ON THE AGENDA DURING DIFFICULT FINANCIAL TIMES?
Clearly, in this Covid period the government’s attention is almost wholly focussed on dealing with the pandemic. Looking to the future, H. M. Treasury will be hungry for cash to fill the nation’s depleted coffers: tax savings are likely to be in short supply.
Another problem as a result of Covid has been the lack of time available for parliamentary debates and also for the questioning of ministers with strict limits on the numbers of MPs who can be in the Chamber at any one time. However, with a variety of effective vaccines going through final testing and the possibility of the roll out across the population through to the Spring, I very much hope we can resume normal service. Reform of VAT on listed properties is at the top of my list of campaigning priorities, not least because the medieval town of Sandwich in my South Thanet constituency has the greatest density of listed properties in the country.
WHY DO LISTED BUILDINGS OFTEN GET IGNORED BY MINISTRIES LIKE BEIS AND MHCLG?
Obviously government has lots of competing interests and it is easy to feel that you are being forgotten about. To be fair to the government, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport champions the ‘listed places of worship’ grant scheme and the Treasury Minister responded to my parliamentary debate on VAT. I don’t think it is helpful to pit one government department against another and recognise that they have to speak with one voice.
I would also add that funding is rightly available for the maintenance of buildings and monuments that genuinely deserve financial protection, for the purposes of public benefits and not private gain, for example from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, or organisations such as Historic Scotland, Historic England, Cadw, or Northern Ireland’s Department for Communities.
HOW CAN MEMBERS MAKE THEIR MPS CARE ABOUT LISTED BUILDINGS AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO SEE MPS FROM ALL PARTIES SUPPORTING LISTED PROPERTIES?
I would hope that all MPs from all parties will want to consider very carefully any issues of interest or concern relating to listed properties, particularly if raised by a constituent and particularly if that constituent is raising an issue relating to a listed property in the Member’s constituency. Interest from MPs in listed properties is cross party. Plaid Cymru’s Hywel Williams and Labour’s Rosie Duffield, for instance, have a genuine interest in the issues that relate to the listed properties and listed property owners in their respective constituencies.
I am always happy to speak to any Member about the work of our All-Party Parliamentary Group and The Listed Property Owners’ Club so do feel free to ask your MP to contact me if they would like to become more involved.
HOW ARE DECISIONS LIKE WHAT IS COVERED BY THE GREEN HOME GRANTS MADE?
The 2019 General Election Manifesto committed to investing in green energy solutions and infrastructure and the £2 billion Green Home Grant, announced in September 2020, forms part of that commitment. In essence, homeowners and landlords can apply for vouchers to make their homes more energy efficient by, for instance, introducing double glazed windows, wall insulation, loft insulation, underfloor insulation or biomass boilers, heat pumps, draught-proofing or external energy-efficient doors.
I am, however, already getting reports of the near impossibility of finding specialist contractors within the time constraints of the scheme. For many listed property owners, because of aesthetic demands and the near impossibility of gaining approval for double-glazing, solar schemes, or externally mounted heat pumps, it is difficult to assess how beneficial this scheme will be for such property owners in practice. Therein is the root of a wider debate – how will listed property owners realistically be able to replace gas and oil boilers, the most efficient and cheapest per Kwh of heating methods, due to be phased out over time?
Heating provision simply by electric is financially impossible. This listed property owner will be buying a new gas boiler at the appropriate time! This will be a new topic that we will doubtless be returning to.
To read the full story, see the latest issue of Listed Heritage, the Club’s 150 page bi-monthly magazine. Every issue includes a dedicated section on our lobbying efforts, as well as news, features and technical guidance from across the heritage sector.
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