A cool breeze across The Terrace at The House of Commons is a very welcome thing on a hot summers evening, so too in a different way is the knowledge that a strong group are actively campaigning on behalf of Listed Property owners.
How do the two things combine? As a member of The Listed Property Owners Club (LPOC) I was recently invited to attend the House of Commons as a guest of Craig Mackinlay MP for South Thanet, chairman of an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Listed Properties.
The LPOC has long been working on their ‘Campaign for Owners’ and December 2016 saw the group be officially recognised and hold its first meeting.
The purpose of the campaign and APPG is ‘To speak up for listed properties in the UK and raise awareness in Parliament of the role played by their owners in protecting the nation’s heritage; and to advocate policies that support owners in preserving listed properties, including tax and planning reform.’
It is a huge task ahead as initial responses from the Treasury indicate but, if there weren’t a fight ahead, there’d be no need for an APPG.
It had been a hot July day and as I entered the House of Commons I was just grateful to be heading for the Terrace and fresh air. A cooling breeze was indeed welcome as was the sight of so many attendees. A packed room heard Peter Anslow, founder of the LPOC speak followed by Craig Mackinley MP. That there is passion and commitment for the project stands in no doubt and there is an impressive list of MPs already involved with and supporting the campaign. There is always room for more and one of the things the group is keen to do is to encourage owners to lobby their MPs to become involved and support the APPG.
Behind the campaign is a desire to reinstate a VAT reduction for works required to be approved by Listed Buildings Consent. There are around 460,000 listed buildings in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. They form the backbone of our heritage historically and architecturally.
Think of ‘England’ and an image of a country cottage, a manor house or Georgian townhouse is likely to come to mind. People flock to sites such as The Shambles in York or Gold Hill in Shaftesbury and visit Sandwich (443 Listed buildings) in Kent or Rye (297 buildings) in East Sussex, Bibury (123 buildings) in Gloucestershire to name but a few, all places where our heritage is cherished and preserved, in many cases by private individuals. These homeowners have a passion for the properties they inhabit, often see themselves as caretakers rather than true owners, they feel part of a long history and want to preserve for future generations.
That passion comes with a cost attached and although owners of listed properties are aware of the responsibilities they have when buying a Listed Building, there is not only a cost implication but logistical one too.
Period homes need to be cared for, they require maintenance but not just any old maintenance. Specialist materials, the right mortar, plaster, timber. thatch, slate, clay, ironwork, ventilation and many more things to consider along the way. There is often a challenge between modern life and historical preservation. Our heritage and in many cases a huge amount of income for the economy revolves around our listed buildings. The responsibility owners have and the burden they shoulder was recognised to a degree when works that required listed buildings consent were afforded reduced VAT, a gesture to help owners cope with often higher costs for specialist materials and crafts people.
That VAT assistance was withdrawn some time ago. Talking to people around the room several things became evident. As much as I have usually found listed buildings officers to be very helpful, budgetary cuts in councils have meant there are fewer of them. There is something of a lottery as to how applications are dealt with, the time taken and responses given. To bring continuity across the board for how decisions on approval of works are made, to simplify the process and to assist homeowners to preserve a hugely important part of our history and brand UK is vital and the Campaign for Owners deserves your help, attention and appreciation. Think of them and the owners next time you admire one of our historic homes.
For more on the Listed Property Owners Club, visit their website
LPOC news on the Campaign For Owners