Tax threat to developers

DEVELOPERS WHO build houses in the countryside should face a new series of hefty financial penalties, the Urban Task Force, the group of experts set up to solve Britain's town-versus-country problem, recommended yesterday.

The new charges, to be known as environmental impact fees, would be based directly on the negative effects new housing had on the area concerned - such as loss of landscape, harm to wildlife, or increased air pollution caused by increased road traffic.

The idea, at present being tried out in Germany, is the most radical of the 100-plus proposals contained in the task force's report, Towards an Urban Renaissance, which offers a detailed blueprint of how to revive Britain's declining towns and cities and control the consequent spread of building in the countryside. After a year examining the problem, the 14-strong commission, chaired by the architect Lord Rogers of Riverside, says the Government will not meet its target of building 60 per cent of new homes on brownfield (previously developed) land without exceptional measures.

The new fees would not constitute a tax, the task force says - they would be levied by local councils, rather than by the Treasury - but would represent an "alternative economic instrument".

Roger Humber, chief executive of the House Builders' Federation, said the system would not work because it would be hard to find a national formula that would fit all places.

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