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April 11, 2006

Prescott’s Housing

Libby Purves almost gets there. Why are we knocking down perfectly restorable housing in favour of new build? Why aren’t we restoring? As she says, the wholesale destruction of the old isn’t all that wise:

It is unwise to trash things wholesale (unless, like Kim Il Sung of North Korea or Ceausescu of Romania, you actively want to destroy national character for murky political reasons).

What she misses is that this is the reason. This is New Labour, remember? 1997 was Year Zero and a new nation will be built upon the ruins of the old. How can you do that if you don’t create the ruins first?

April 11, 2006 in Your Tax Money at Work | Permalink


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Well there's that reason, and there's also the Treasury take on refurbs - VAT on refurbs, no VAT on new build.

Posted by: Woof | Apr 11, 2006 8:44:48 AM

Woof: "Well there's that reason, and there's also the Treasury take on refurbs - VAT on refurbs, no VAT on new build."

Don't ZaNu Labour run the treasuary too?

Posted by: APL | Apr 11, 2006 11:32:35 AM

The no VAT on new build was likely part of GB's thing about micro-managing the economy.

From national news in 2002, not so long after NuLab had been re-elected to government:

"The new housing minister Lord Rooker today condemned the record low level of new house building in Britain as 'nothing short of a national disgrace'. . . The level of house building is also the lowest since 1924. . . He pointed out that homes in England were only being replaced at the rate of 0.1% a year, compared to 1% in the rest of Europe. He added that if that rate continued British houses would need to last 1,000 years."

Posted by: Bob B | Apr 11, 2006 12:41:13 PM

The houses that could be refurbished are mostly in areas where people don't want to live. Where people do want to live there is a shortage of housing.

I can't help thinking that a house standing in a town where no one wants to live is a bit like a job that has no customers ... its not really a job/house, just a superficial resemblance.

Posted by: johnny bonk | Apr 11, 2006 2:01:01 PM

The VAT rules have been going on for longer than Labour has been in power.

Unfortuantly it is impossible to correct this disincentive to refurbishment by simply removing VAT on refurbishments. As an EU tax once VAT is imposed on something we are treaty bound not to remove it, or reduce it's rate below the minimum level of about 5%.

Hence we will be getting Prescot buldozing perfectly reasonable houses bought cheap under compusory purchase. Then destroyed and new much smaller flats built, to be sold for a large (and purely government enabled) profit.

I wonder if Mr Prescot has any loans from building companies?

Posted by: chris | Apr 11, 2006 2:51:23 PM

Chris, it's even worse than you think.

Perfectly good brick-built houses, which have already lasted 100 years and are good for another 100, will be demolished and replaced by gimcrack jerry-built timber-framed rubbish that will barely survive long enough for the unfortunate owners to pay off their mortgages.

But then, with the upcoming changes in Inheritance Tax, everything belongs to the State anyway so why worry?

Posted by: Andrew Duffin | Apr 11, 2006 3:31:11 PM

The link claims that these particular refurbishments are cheaper than new build but I am by no means convinced. Rebuilding a victorian tenement involves crafts which are, by modern standards, labour intensive. It is perfectly possible to replace this tenement with a cheaper, higher, more draught & mouse proof structure.

Just because a house has lasted 100 years does not mean that there is any particular advantage in making it do another 100. The degree of conservatism in housebuilding is quite egregious.

Posted by: Neil Craig | Apr 11, 2006 6:03:46 PM


You may have a point about the labour intensive nature of older building methods, but labour is a resource; it can be hired. I would think it's probably more fruitful to look at the product.

When I go back to my old home townI often find myself walking through one of the less affluent areas. It's an interesting mix of old Victorian terraces and modern, socially "planned" housing. Oddly, the older streets seem to be tidier, less litter strewn and freindlier, for want of a better word. You see normal people walking the pavements. The, indian owned, small corner shop lacks burglar grills etc. The houses all appear to be in good order and people actually sem to take care of them.

200 yards further, in the 60's socialist paradise you get a true look at what the planners would have for us. Litter, grafitti and wrecked cars. The shop is a small fortress outside which feral, rat-faced "yoofs" loiter menacingly. The houses are unkepmpt and general appearance is one of decay.

Beleive me, I'll take drafty and non-mouse resistant over modern and planned anyday. Drafts and mouse access can be managed. The reesults of urban planning cannot.


Posted by: The Remittance Man | Apr 12, 2006 7:18:58 AM